Finding his purpose through service in three wars
By THOMAS BRENNAN | The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C. | Published: November 4, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Thirty years in the Navy left Worth Hinnant with a plethora of memories — some good and some bad — but all of them made him the man he is today.
Serving in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, the Navy corpsman earned a Silver Star for gallantry, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals for valor and three Purple Hearts. By the end of his career, he would have spent 13 years at Field Medical School at Montford Point — now Camp Johnson — instructing the next generation of corpsman. All of which, he said, he would do all over again if given the chance.
“I spent 23 of my 30 years wearing Marine Corps green,” he said “(Corpsmen) didn’t used to have our own uniforms so we wore the Marine Corps’ and damn was I proud to wear it. Being called ‘Doc’ by the Marines is a privilege. It’s prestigious, an honor and it’s something earned not given.”
Hinnant remembers that in 1943 men had to register for the draft at 18 and within a month the Army grabbed them up and sent them off to Europe. But he didn’t want to go into the Army, he said, so he joined the Navy. It wasn’t until boot camp that they found out he had gone through a six-week first aid course back home. His superiors quickly decided that Hinnant would become a corpsman thanks to his training, he said.
The services, he said, were just “pumping” troops out and sending them to war because of how many casualties they were taking overseas adding to his stress level.
Upon graduation, Hinnant was sent to a naval hospital in California for a medical indoctrination course, where he learned the ropes, he said. Once his indoctrination was complete he was shipped out to a boat unit named Lion 8, where he lived in horse stables and sat through classes in the grand stands of a race track. For a year he was trained by Marines in warfare tactics, by Navy Medicine in medical evacuations and by Navy Seabees on how to operate the boats.
“Our job was going to be transporting the casualties from ashore to the ships and to bring supplies ashore to the Marines in the fight,” Hinnant said. “I went to Guam to evacuate casualties. I only had to fire one round during the war, and I hit my target. It was a guy sneaking into our camp one night.”
Hinnant has accepted his role during World War II, he said, and is very thankful he walked away from that war unscathed. He wouldn’t be as lucky in the next one.
“The main combat I saw was during Korea while I was with a Marine infantry unit,” he said. “I was still awfully young; I just went with the flow because I didn’t know any better. But they were entrenched around us pretty good. It was house-to-house fighting. It was pretty intense.”
During the Battle of Inchon, Hinnant earned his first Purple Heart when he was hit by shrapnel. The first day of the battle was “absolute hell,” he said. Pushing through Seoul “was quite an experience,” he said, but the Chosin Reservoir was the worst time of his life. During the battle he was awarded two more Purple Hearts; and his heroism earned him a meritorious promotion to petty officer first class, he said.
“It was colder than hell and it seemed like there were a hundred thousand of them guys out there just trying to kill us,” Hinnant said. “I was lucky. I never got a broken bone. All of my wounds were through and through.”
Later in Vietnam, serving in Chu Lai with 1st Hospital Company as a senior chief petty officer, Hinnant was responsible for handling casualties that “came in by the thousands,” he said. Other than his service in the hospital, he said that he had an “uneventful” tour.
“I wouldn’t change a thing from my 30 years of service,” he said. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
“I was a little farm boy with little plans for the future. The Navy gave me the purpose I was looking for in life and I still cherish it today.”