Military Service

Picture of Alfred J. Mirabelli

Alfred J. Mirabelli posed next to a truck when stationed at Phu Bai just south of Hue, Vietnam in 1965.

Alfred J. Mirabelli on a ship

Alfred J. Mirabelli posed on an unknown ship during his time in the Navy.

A.J. Mirabelli joined the United States Navy by June 1947 and he started bootcamp. From October until February 1948, he attended the Naval Hospital Corpsman School located in Lake County, Illinois. The mission of this school was to develop, teach, and put Corpsman into the field including on ships, naval hospitals, various government medical facilities, with United States Marine Corps units. When training Hospital Corpsman (HM), they taught them a wide range of specialties including: surgery, radiology, physical therapy, respiratory medicine, and more. Altogether he received a well rounded medical education that prepared recruits for anything that they might encounter in the field.

U.S.S. Repose (AH - 16)

The USS Repose

USS Maddox

The USS Maddox

After he finished training at the Hospital Corpsman School, he was admitted to the U.S. Oakland Naval Hospital where he was treated for Hepatitis, an illness that continued to cause him complications in the years that followed. On December 1, 1948, Mirabelli received his first real deployment when he reported for service on board the USS Repose. This hospital ship had a white hull and was reminiscent of a cruise ship, except for the large red crosses located on the carrier. He only spent about six months on the USS Repose before he was transferred to the U.S. Naval Hospital Long Beach, and the USS Maddox from July to October of 1949. The Naval Hospital was a 300-bed hospital constructed in 1942, that would eventually be expanded to accommodate another 1800 beds. The facility provided a general clinical and hospitalization services in the area and served as one of the main teaching hospitals for the Navy.

By July of 1949, Mirabelli had been transferred to the USS Maddox and served on this ship until May 29, 1951, during the Korean War. Commissioned in 1944, the Maddox was an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer. The ship stayed in the San Diego area until on May 1, 1950, when it departed for Hong Kong and then on to South Korea. The Maddox spent time as a training ship, plane guard for USS Valley Forge and HMS Triumph, and it also helped prevent communist China from Taiwan. Finally on September 7, Maddox returned to Korea and began a coastal blockade until it returned to the United States in January of 1951. It is unknown whether or not Mirabelli was on board the majority of the time or if he served in the field with an actual Marine battalion. It is something to note that the USS Maddox is the ship that was later involved in the infamous 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident during the Vietnam war.

Upon his return to the United States, Mirabelli was transferred to the Naval Air Station (NAS) in Alameda, California. He spent just under two years there, from June 6, 1951 until March 13, 1953. The NAS was created just in time for the United States entrance into World War II and was one of the largest and most complete Naval Air Stations in the world at the time. NAS Alameda had two 8,000 ft. runways, three seaplane ramps and a lighted seadrome. The air station had 300 buildings and 30 miles of roads. The USS Hornet was an essex aircraft carrier that after loading in Alameda, would go on to take part in the Doolittle Raids of Japan in World War II.

By April 9, 1953, Mirabelli received orders to serve on the USS Heron, which was a minesweeper, a small naval warship which helped maintain clear and safe waterways. Heron was deployed for duty during the Korean War in 1950 where the ship helped to clear channels around the Korean Peninsula. Eventually, and when Mirabelli was aboard, Heron conducted surveillance on North Korean sea traffic following the armistice and well into January of 1954. By the summer of 1954 Mirabelli took a short assignment on the USS Cape Esperance, a Casablanca which functioned as a small aircraft carrier. This became another part of his service during the Korean War as the Cape Esperances’ mission was ferrying aircraft and personnel from the US to Japan and vise versa.

His longest post inside the United States came in January of 1955, Mirabelli was sent to Salt Lake City, Utah to serve as a recruiter for the Navy. Afterwards Mirabelli attended the Field Medical School at Camp Pendleton in January 1958. Here he went through seven weeks of boot camp-like training to become a part of the Fleet Marine Force (FMF). The school was designed to prepare Navy medical personnel to serve alongside marine operating forces and required participants to go through a Marine Corps-like boot camp as they would be attached to future Marine units overseas. They trained in basic infantry skills as well as many different specialties in the medical field by both Marine and Navy instructors.

After his training at Camp Pendleton, Mirabelli was stationed in Okinawa, Japan as a part of the 3rd Marine Division FMF from June 6, 1958 to April 1959. The probability of him staying in Okinawa this whole time was rather low, but lack of resources has made it difficult to say where else he might have been sent. He was more than likely sent to serve somewhere in Vietnam during this time as an advisor working with ARVN, but that is only speculation on part of his daughter, Carolyn Mirabelli. From Okinawa, Alfred Mirabelli returned to Camp Pendleton in April 1959 as a part of the 1st Marine Division FMF. Unfortunately, this time period during the 1950s is hard to trace with the surviving artifacts from his time in service and all that is known is that he was stationed there until sometime in 1961.

Following his stint at Camp Pendleton, Mirabelli received assignment with the Navy Supply Annex (NSA) in Stockton, California. This is notable because it was here they they sent a number of bodies from the Vietnam war to be identified and examined. As he ran a morgue, this grew into one of his biggest jobs at the NSA. From a conversation with his daughter, Carolyn, this is where Mirabelli saw some of the worst things that he had ever witnessed in his military career. One of the most vivid stories she recalled him telling her was the frequency of bodies from Vietnam that he encountered which had drugs and other contraband sewn into them as a way to smuggle illegal items into the United States. Mirabelli continued to serve at the NSA until March 1, 1965.

Following that station, he was then sent back to Camp Schwab in Okinawa, again with the 3rd Marine Division FMF. This would be his final overseas station in his long military career.  From here we have quite a few surviving records and we can see that he actually spent most of his time in Phu Bai Combat Base, just south of Hue in Vietnam. At this point in his career, he was a Chief Hospital Corpsman and at Phu Bai he served as the Battalion Surgeon.There are hundreds of photos that he took that survive to this day that feature the camp, local people, fellow Navy Corpsman and Marines, as well as the Battalion Aid Station (BAS).

During his time at Phu Bai, Mirabelli was very active in a program called “people-to-people” which was aimed towards civilians in Vietnam, namely women and children. It was a sort of outreach program that provided aid and supplies to the people of South Vietnam. This was just one of many efforts by the United States to win the “hearts and minds” of the people in and around South Vietnam. This is also where he saw a lot of unfortunate sights, some of which haunted him following the war. When his daughter, Carolyn, was planning on joining the Navy, she wanted to follow in her father's footsteps as a Hospital Corpsman, but due to what he had seen in the war, he forbid her to enlist as a corpsman.

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The 60 mm mortar bullet that hit Mirabelli in 1965

On December 24, 1965 in the late morning, Mirabelli and one other were driving in a Jeep to check on some of the men involved in a situation outside of Phu Bai. While they were driving, Mirabelli was hit with a 60mm mortar round that failed to go off but struck him on the right side of his chest at the opening of the flak jacket. Due to the impact, he sustained many broken ribs as well as a small laceration and was thus in a great deal of pain and felt incredibly sick for a long time after. He was quickly taken to the medical battalion at the Phu Bai base where a medical tag and papers were being prepared, he was X-rayed, and four marines had been brought who were either dead or critically wounded. As a result of this event, Mirabelli was given a Purple Heart. Once healed, he was sent back to his unit where he served until he retired in May of 1966. One interesting thing to note about this incident is, as he mentions in a letter, that "division units suspended offensive operations during the Christmas cease fire 24-25 December, though twenty contacts were made with VC forces during the no fire period." During the course of the war there were many ceasefire agreements between the United States and North Vietnam, most of which were broken or ignored.

Military Service