In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding continues describing his experiences at Bethesda Naval Hospital and volunteering for duty in Vietnam.
Bethesda has and always will be dear to my heart. I feel this is where healthcare became one with me. I was pretty good at it and took good care of my patients and a lot of times I went the extra mile with them.
When Bill Wedekind was admitted to the ward he became my patient and as I state in my book he was a sight to behold. I admitted him, which means I had to thoroughly go over his whole body and note everything that was wrong with him. He was, by far, the most challenging of all patients. Starting from the top of his body, his head on the left side had a chunk out of it including a piece of his skull, he had no eyes, he had no hands, he had a very bad fracture of his right leg, and he had little bits of shrapnel all over his body that looked like blackhead pimples. He also had a tracheostomy tube in his throat and a nasal gastric tube down his nose leading into his stomach.
That night, I stayed on the ward cleaning him up and removing all those small pieces of shrapnel from his body, it took me about five hours and another hour or so to bandage all the larger wounds. The next morning, I went to breakfast and then to the ward for work. I was a little tired from the long previous day’s work. When I got to the floor, I saw Dr. Early talking with Lt. White and they both turned to me and thanked me for the wonderful clean up I did on Cpl. Wedekind, I felt very proud and couldn’t wait to see my patient.
The next several months went by and I felt a desire to volunteer for Vietnam, because of all the wounded young men coming home, I started feeling a call to duty. It was my turn. Call it patriotism, duty, or country, I felt the need to go. I was not seeking glory nor was I seeking any type of heroic plan and I sure didn’t feel that I could change anything. I merely wanted to do my duty to my country, my patients, and my future warriors.
Because of all the wounded young men coming home, I started feeling a call to duty. It was my turn. Call it patriotism, duty, or country, I felt the need to go.
I volunteered for the “Nam” and got turned down, volunteered a month later and got turned down again, didn’t volunteer the next month and I got orders to the 3rd Marine Division Republic of Vietnam, my heart started pounding and I was glad, I finally could go and do my duty. The day I got word of my orders, my good buddy Bill Farmer got his. We would be leaving Bethesda the same day and checking in to Treasure Island San Francisco at the same time. I was very glad he and I would be going at the same time, that meant we had someone familiar to go there with.
My last few months at Bethesda were uneventful, just continuing to go to work and fill my days with some last touring of the D.C. area. Dr. Early kept telling me when I check in over in Vietnam I should ask to be stationed at 3rd Medical Battalion because I would learn a lot there and he felt, with my experiences at Bethesda, I would be better utilized there in the treatment and triaging of the wounded. Little did he know, and little did I know, that was not the way it worked, but I would soon find out.
The day of leaving Bethesda came and I got up that morning and turned in my bedding and checked out of the barracks. One of my dorm buddies came over to me and handed me a two-dollar bill and said to keep it for luck.
Bill and I went to breakfast, and then on to disbursing to pick up final paychecks, and then to Personnel for service record and orders. While we were waiting in line at disbursing, one of the guys I worked with came out of disbursing and came over to me and hugged me, wished me luck, and handed me another two-dollar bill. He said it will bring you all the luck in the world. You will be coming home!
Bill had his car and we parted our ways at the parking lot and I caught the bus to head for the airport to fly home for a little leave before heading to the Nam. The bus took off and, as I could see us driving away from Bethesda, I couldn’t help but ponder over all the good times that took place at this wonderful duty assignment. All the experience that I got there and all the friends I made. I was feeling very good.
This is where there will be a gap in my writings to you, Grandson, because this is where you should read my book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story. I will, however. Continue to write you letters from the time I left Vietnam on the LSD USS Colonial.
More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.