Heroism on exhibit: Navy Hospital Corpsmen honored at PBY Museum

Sandra Serna, left, Meylin Serna and Michael Anderson are Hospital Corpsmen from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island who joined Richard Hoover, back, in building a Corpsmen exhibit at the PBY-Naval Air Museum. The museum is located on Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor.

Part of Michael Anderson’s assignment while helping construct a new exhibit at the PBY-Naval Air Museum was to research the Navy Hospital Corpsmen who were awarded the Medal of Honor.

His work is reflected by 22 black-and-white images on a museum wall, showing the faces of corpsmen who received the United States’ highest military honor.

“I read every citation for each of those people up there and it’s very humbling,” said Anderson. “It gives me goose bumps talking about it.”

Capt. Frederick McDonald, commanding officer of Naval Hospital Oak Harbor, presented Anderson, Sandra Serna and Meylin Serna with letters of appreciation from the museum during a small ceremony last month. All three sailors are stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

The exhibit was organized by retired hospital corpsman Richard Hoover, a museum volunteer who wanted to dedicate space in the museum to the enlisted medical specialists in the Navy who also may serve with the Marine Corps.

Tucked in a corner of the museum, the display features a field uniform donated by Anderson, medical bags and other items used by hospital corpsmen in a glass case. There also is written material about the history of hospital corpsmen and other artifacts.

McDonald called hospital corpsmen the most decorated group of any rank in the Navy.

“They answer the call,” he said. “Most of them are very young people. Sometimes just out of high school, sometimes with a master’s degree. You will never know who in a moment without hesitation will step forward and charge the hill with their comrades and respond to a person down under extreme conditions. This is part of that legacy and it’s a small piece of that legacy.”

Hoover, who grew up in Oak Harbor and graduated from Oak Harbor High School in 1987, approached Wil Shellenberger, president of the PBY Memorial Foundation, a year ago about helping at the museum. Shellenberger asked if he could orchestrate a corpsman display.

Hoover’s “Unit One” medical bag is part of the exhibit.

“Typically these things were handed down from corpsman to corpsman to corpsman in a linear pattern… I was the third person to have it,” Hoover said.

He enlisted help from the Navy and got it from Anderson and the Sernas, a married couple. He was pleased with their ideas and execution in research, gathering materials and the final product.

“I’m amazed,” Hoover said. “It’s beautiful. It really is.”

Shellenberger said it is the goal of the museum to add 10-to-15 percent new exhibits each year and rotate old ones out. The idea of the Hospital Corpsman exhibit began as a casual conversation with Hoover two years ago.

“Rich took the ball from there,” Shellenberger said.

Dave Strohmeyer, the museum’s exhibit manager, provided guidance.

The next major exhibit planned for the museum will be a “Women in the Navy” exhibit, scheduled for this year, Shellenberger said.

The PBY-Naval Air Museum is located at 270 SE Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor. The museum is open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and military. Children under 6 are free.