Karen Thompson Meter served as a US Navy Corpsman during the Viet Nam War in hospitals on both the East Coast and in the Midwest. Her love of her job and of veterans is a testament of her commitment to her country and her fellow service members.
Always an intellectually curious and social person, Ms. Meter grew up in a log-house in North Dakota. Karen liked school; it was a place where she felt accepted. However, small town life was not the plan Ms. Meter intended for her future. Fed up, a nineteen year old Ms. Meter marched four miles in heels to the Navy recruiter’s office where MM1 John Densley impressed upon her that in the military “no two days are ever the same.” Marveled by this prospect, Ms. Meter left Bismarck, seeking opportunities not available to women in her small town. When Ms. Meter enlisted she wanted to be a Musician; however, even this occupation was closed to women at that time. Ms. Meter’s recruiters guided her down the path to becoming a Corpsman. She later encouraged her younger brother, Charles, to join the Navy and become a Corpsman as a result of – what she describes – finding the job of her dreams.
After completing Basic Training in Bainbridge, Maryland—a training center that is no longer in operation—she moved to Great Lakes, Illinois for training as a Navy Corpsman. The experience put her close to Chicago—the city Karen would return to after leaving the military years later. When Ms. Meter arrived at her first duty station she was met with shock and surprise: there were no women stationed at Parris Island, South Carolina. After looking over her orders the Marines who greeted Karen quickly realized their error – her orders were for the Naval Hospital at Beaufort, South Carolina only miles away.
Ms. Meter fell in love with the community at Beaufort. The hospital staff, the Marines, and the surrounding community were her new home. She spent off hours assisting good will missions to the rural areas neighboring the Hilton Head islands to deliver much needed medical care to the civilian inhabitants.
Ms. Meter was then transferred to Naval Hospital Great Lakes, Illinois, during the height of the Viet Nam War. She recalls the day that the space shuttle Apollo 11 landed on the moon. She was on call as an ER technician assisting the triage effort. Sick and wounded were being flown in on helicopter from Glenview airport, service members fresh from the battlefield in Viet Nam. They were being brought to Illinois to be closer to their hometowns while recovering from their injuries. Ms. Meter’s recollection of the support she and the other Corpsmen provided to those who sacrificed is a story of sacrifice in and of itself. These were men who needed care, physically and emotionally, and Ms. Meter and her fellow Corpsmen answered the call.
We honor you, Karen Meter.