"He loved being a Corpsman and he loved his Marines" (23 photos & video)
10yrs ago today, Navy Corpsman Petty Officer 3rd Class John T. Fralish was killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan’s Laghman Province. He was the first Navy Corpsman KIA in Operation Enduring Freedom.
After joining the Navy in 2002, he participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and served a second tour of duty there in 2004.
In 2006, HM3 Fralish, “Doc” to his Marines, was attached to 1st Battalion 3rd Marines Alpha Company 2nd Platoon for their deployment to Afghanistan.
The U.S. Marines rely on the Navy for their field medical officers, called hospital corpsmen. Navy corpsmen have a variety of duty options, including attaching to a Marine field unit to offer medical support during operations and battle. A corpsman interested in working with Marines must undergo special training and be willing to fight alongside the Marines.
“We were on a patrol in the Gonepal Valley when the ACM (Anti-Coalition Militia) attacked us,” said 2nd Lt. Austin Fletcher, Alpha Company Platoon commander, 2nd Platoon, 1/3. “HM3 (Hospital Corpsman third class) Fralish was killed in the first burst of enemy fire. We immediately returned fire, and the resulting firefight lasted approximately two or three minutes before the ACM scurried back into the hills.”
In addition to the ground battle, coalition air support was also called in, but enemy casualties were unable to be confirmed, noted Fletcher.
“HM3 Fralish always put his Marines’ safety and well-being ahead of his own,” said Fletcher, a native of Buckhannon, W. Va. “He wasn’t the type of corpsman who was ever in the rear. He was always quick to volunteer to be on the front lines with the Marines. He was a very selfless man. The bond between Marines and their corpsmen is one of the strongest bonds there is, and our bond with HM3 Fralish was especially so. He was one of us.”
(Above: John Fralish’s father James observes a ceremony in honor of his son)
After completing the standard boot camp along with other recruits, hospital corpsmen attend a 14-week “A” school that teaches advanced first aid, wound care and other basic medical duties.
“John was a man who knew something about everything,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Taylor, a 1/3 hospital corpsmen from Texas who also served with Fralish in Mehtar Lam. “He was a very caring person who would go out of his way for anyone. He loved being a corpsman and he loved his Marines. He was very passionate about the medical care he gave to all.”
Navy corpsmen are expected to have the same combat knowledge and skills as Marines. Navy boot camp is different from Marine boot camp, which focuses heavily on infantry and weapon skills. Navy corpsmen must attend a seven-week course at the Marine boot camp at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to qualify to work as Marine Force Fleet corpsmen. This training is a shorter version of standard Marine boot camp.
“He was funny, smart, wise, caring and helpful,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jerod Napier, hospital corpsman, 1/3, who served with Fralish in Mehtar Lam. “You couldn’t ask for a better friend than John. To sum it up, he was one of a kind. He seemed to be everywhere all the time, just like Captain America,” continued the Orlando, Fla. native, “and he also had these unique facial features to go along with his bald head.”
As part of a Marine unit, a corpsman is responsible for the Marines’ overall health in a combat environment. His main job during combat is emergency treatment, including dressing wounds or administering pain medication. He is expected to go into battle with the unit, firing on enemy soldiers, if necessary.
“The name of John Fralish lives on in the mountains of Afghanistan among the local population,” said Army 1st Sgt. David Schneider, a first sergeant of E Company of the 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry of the Michigan Army National Guard. “Just before he died, John risked his life to save the life of a little Afghan girl on the brink of death.”
While on patrol in the same valley a week prior to Fralish’s death, he got word from an elderly Afghan man that a little girl was in bad shape a few miles away.
Fralish, Schneider, two ANA soldiers, an interpreter and myself (your editor) left with the old man to find the girl. We were led to a small mud hut in the middle of nowhere and the the little girls leg was infected so bad, you could smell it when you walked in. Fabric from an old dress was being used as a bandage, and it was soaked through not with blood, but with puss. Fralish cleaned and bandaged the large infected wound on the girls lower leg and told her uncle, “With out proper medical treatment she will die in a few days.”
Fralish then wrote a letter explaining the urgency of the situation so she could be granted access to a coalition base with proper medical facilities. He also gave the man his crows feet (rank insignia) so they could prove the legitimacy of the letter.
“Over the next couple of days, while we were in the field, the girl’s family got her to Mehtar Lam on the back of a donkey,” Schneider said. “When we returned to the FOB at Mehtar Lam, the girl was there being treated. Her family was overjoyed to see John again, and they rightfully credited him with making this all possible.”Still, the girl’s wound and infection were too serious to be adequately treated at Mehtar Lam, Schneider said. Nothing short of amputation of her lower leg – which could not be performed locally – would save her life.
“When we heard that, everyone passed the hat around, and we got enough money together so the family could hire a car to take them to the hospital at Bagram Airfield,” Schneider said. “It was Airmen, Soldiers, Marines and Sailors — everyone chipping in together.
“Well, the girl’s family showed the note John had written, along with his rank insignia, at every check point, and it got their car through to Bagram where the little girl underwent successful surgery,” Schneider said. “She made it, and she’s recovering nicely and is alive and well now directly because of John. She has a second chance at life.”
Around the time of the girl’s surgery, Fralish was killed in action.
Above: Fralish Hall are barracks dedicated in John’s name at the Navy Medicine Training Center at Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio, Texas.
Above: John Fralish and the uncle of the girl he saved. John’s sister wrote on her FB page that she had read an article explaining that when the girl’s uncle found out of John’s death, he wept.
I found that fact touching. Amongst the chaos of war John managed to touch this man’s heart by taking the time to save his niece’s life. I told Kristine that we were exhausted and just wanted to get back to base, but John chose to show his compassion for this young girl in a mud shack in the middle of nowhere. Reports show that after that day, the village began to turn on the ACM and report their where abouts. By that one kind act, HM3 Fralish may have saved many American lives.
Above: Lcpl Andrew Galvan looks over the valley where John was killed. The same valley where John’s marines carried him 100s of meters so he could be extracted from that hell whole.
“A Navy Corpsman will go to the gates of hell to help a wounded Marine, even if it costs him his own life. These men are the embodiment of courage.
Below’s video shows how John’s legacy will be carried on. He will continue to inspire those that wish to better themselves and selflessly serve this great nation.