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Kensal, ND, veteran served as corpsman in Vietnam

Bernard Hoggarth served as a Navy corpsman attached to a Marine Corps unit during the Vietnam War. Here he is shown while he was stationed in California prior to deployment to Vietnam. Submitted Photo

JAMESTOWN -- After growing up on a farm near Kensal in the '50s one Stutsman County man used his service in the military to expand his options and see the world.

“When I graduated from high school there was not much opportunity, so I joined the service in 1962,” said Vietnam War veteran Bernard Hoggarth.

Hoggarth’s career goal was to become a doctor after he went for an airplane ride with Dr. Clarence Martin, a local physician.

“My goal was to become a doctor so I could give rides in an airplane,” he said.

He also had a desire to see the world, so he joined the Navy.

Because he had taken a typing class in high school, the Navy made him a hospital clerk and told him he would be stationed at Corpus Christi, Texas.

Texas wasn’t the part of the world Hoggarth wanted to see. He went to a recruiter and was assigned to the Marine Corps to serve as a medical corpsman. The Marine Corps uses Navy personnel as its field medics or corpsman.

In this assignment, he saw a lot of the world, including training in Japan, Okinawa and the Philippines.

At times, Hoggarth said they didn’t know where they were training or what mission might be in store for them. At one point, they trained for a beach landing and marched inland somewhere in California.

“We were supposed to be the next into Cuba,” he said, referring to the Bay of Pigs invasion, “but it never happened.”

Instead, Hoggarth’s unit returned to Okinawa.

“More training,” he said. “Next thing we were in a helicopter and then on a ship and then in Vietnam.”

Hoggarth spent 16 months in Vietnam before leaving the country in August 1966. He described the war as “pretty serious” by the time he returned to the United States.

“Saw a lot of different battles,” he said. “We would just go march here or there. As a hospital corpsman, I would be in the back when they took on a village or whatever.”

Hoggarth would treat the wounded, who then would be evacuated from the battlefield by helicopter.

“I saw a lot of dead people,” he said.

After the war, Hoggarth kept in touch with a few of his comrades but said they have all since passed away.

About 1.5 percent of Vietnam War era veterans die each year, according to David Bratton, veterans service officer for Stutsman County.

“The main issues are certain forms of cancer associated with Agent Orange exposure,” he said. “It’s nasty stuff.”

Along with cancer, exposure to Agent Orange is linked to some types of heart disease and diabetes, among other health problems. About 75 percent of the Vietnam War veterans remain alive today, Bratton said.

After seeing the world with the Navy, Hoggarth returned home to work toward his original goal of becoming a doctor, with the assistance of the GI Bill.

His education included North Dakota State University, the University of North Dakota and the University of Iowa.

“I thought I’d go into obstetrics,” he said, “but the idea of ladies screaming because they didn’t have good pain meds back then didn’t suit me.”

Instead, he became a pediatrician.

“From then on, all my problems were small ones,” Hoggarth said.

Hoggarth credits his time as a hospital corpsman in Vietnam with helping prepare him for a career in medicine.

“My time in the service introduced me to dying,” he said, referring to the practice of medicine as an effort to prevent death. “That is not a good thing, but there are a lot of medical students who don’t really know what they are getting into. I kind of knew what it was all about.”

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