Corydon M. Wassell was born on July 4, 1884, in Little Rock, Arkansas. He graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1909, and began practicing medicine in Tillar, Arkansas. In 1913 he left Arkansas for Wuchang, China, where he worked as a missionary in a hospital. He spent a total of twelve years in China. In 1927 he returned to Little Rock, Arkansas. During the depression he worked in the CCC camps treating malaria. In 1936 he resumed regular commissioned duty in the U.S. Navy Reserve. When the U.S. became involved in World War II in December 1941, Dr. Wassell was ordered to Java. It was here that he began treating the wounded sailors from the USS Marblehead and USS Houston.
The Japanese soon invaded Java. The U.S. Navy gave orders that all US personnel were to be evacuated. The wounded were to be evacuated as well, but only those that could walk. Dr. Wassell moved the wounded to the port to be evacuated. He tried to get twelve sailors onboard ship that could not walk, but they were denied boarding. Dr. Wassell decided to stay behind with these twelve sailors to care for them while they waited for the Japanese to capture them. However, Dr. Wassell then decided to try to get the men to the coast to be evacuated on another ship. Dr. Wassell managed to transport these wounded men to the coast, all the while keeping just ahead of the Japanese forces. Dr. Wassell managed to get them onboard a ship called the M.S. Janssens. From there they managed to reach the harbor of Fremantle, Australia.
At a time when the war was going so badly for the Allies, the courage of Dr. Wassell became legendary. He was awarded the Navy Cross. President Roosevelt told of Dr. Wassell's exploit during a radio address in 1942. A book was written about the incident entitled The Story of Dr. Wassell by James Hilton. A movie was even produced by Cecil B. DeMille titled The Story of Dr. Wassell This movie is shown regularly on the AMC and TCM cable television networks, and it is also available on video cassette through Universal Cinema Classics. According to his great grandson, all of the proceeds that Dr. Wassell received from the movie were donated to a hospital for the deaf and blind in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Dr. Wassell's story was also told in the Mid-January 1945 issue of Our Navy. The following links are to the article in PDF file format. This requires Adobe Acrobat to view.
Dr. Wassell died on May 12, 1958 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was 74 years old. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
You may view and sign Dr. Wassell's memorial page on Find A Grave by clicking here
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