FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
The rain in San Antonio subsided Aug. 15 long enough for Sailors and veterans to participate in a graveside memorial service at the San Jose Buial Cemetery honoring Seaman John E. “Jackie” Kilmer, a Navy Corpsman who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor June 18, 1953.
Chief petty officers, chief selects, and officers and enlisted Sailors from the Navy Medicine Training Support Center, or NMTSC, and Navy Medicine Education and Training Command, or NMETC, at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston were among the more than 100 people honoring Kilmer, according to John Rodriguez, a Marine Corps veteran who has coordinated the annual ceremony for 11 years.
“John Kilmer gave his life to save his Marines, so it is fitting that Navy Corpsmen join local veterans to honor the memory of his sacrifice – the ultimate sacrifice,” said Rodriguez, who is from the San Antonio Veterans of Foreign War Post 9186.
Kilmer quit high school at 17 to enlist in the Navy from Houston graduated from Hospital Corps School in San Diego, Calif., in April 1948. He was assigned to Hospital Ship USS Repose (AH-16) when war broke out in Korea. His enlistment term expired in August 1951, but he soon rejoined the Navy.
After running afoul of a superior, Kilmer chose to be transferred to the Fleet Marine Force. On Aug. 12, 1952, Kilmer took part in the attack on Bunker Hill, caring for the wounded. He was mortally wounded after using his body to shield another man from enemy fire and died the next day, two days before his birthday.
Kilmer’s cousin Ray Brown, who attended the ceremony, said the Kilmer family remains grateful to the Navy and members of several local VFW posts that team up for the annual ceremony.
“It’s a really, really nice thing you guys do,” Brown said. “The family appreciates it to no end. I don’t have the words to express how important it is that nobody forgets the sacrifice John made for his country.”
The ceremony included remarks by Rodriguez and the national anthem sung by the NMTSC student choir. NMTSC CPO selectees paraded the colors, served as master of ceremonies, read Kilmer’s biography and his Medal of Honor citation, as well as laying a wreath at Kilmer’s grave. Lt. Cmdr. Scott Adams, NMTSC chaplain, gave the invocation and benediction.
Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Sandau, a CPO selectee and surgical technology program instructor at the Medical Education and Training Campus, or METC, said it’s important for hospital corpsmen, especially CPO selectees, to pause and remember where they came from.
“Participating in a ceremony like this helps give us a sense of our heritage and an opportunity to honor those who have gone before us,” Sandau said. “Remembering those who paid the ultimate sacrifice is very important.”
Brown said the time he has spent with San Antonio-area corpsmen leaves him with no doubt that today’s hospital corpsmen are just as ready and willing to make the same sacrifice as did his cousin.
“When the chips are down, I know that today’s corpsmen will show their all, just like John,” Brown said. “The Marines are depending on them, and that’s what they do.”