Stan Gerding

Dear Grandson: Leaving Nam and Returning Home

In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding writes about leaving Nam, the ship ride home, and a couple stops along the way.

 

Dear Grandson,

We are looking back to shore and saying our final goodbyes to the Nam.

There are sixteen of us Corpsmen, one is a Senior Chief and the rest are 2nd or 3rd Class Petty Officers, and about one hundred forty Marines on board. In the well of the ship were trucks, tanks, artillery, and jeeps. Once we got far away from the shore where we couldn’t see any more land, one of the ship’s cooks came out on the deck and told all of us Corpsmen to follow him.

The cook took us to the galley and showed us the kitchen and on one of the counters he had several boxes of crackers sitting there opened. He told all of us to grab a handful and eat them and then he would explain the reasoning for doing this. After we had munched on the crackers, he told us that this would help us from getting sick while we were underway. He explained that this ship was a flat-bottomed ship that will easily take rolls at sea and the rocking could make us sick. He told us we can go back up on the deck and be entertained by watching all the Marines heaving over the side of the ship.

We went topside to the deck and, sure enough, he was right, we were being entertained watching those Marines hang over the side of the ship throwing their guts up. I kind of felt sorry for them, but it was a good laugh.

We were given duties while on board, seven went to work in sick bay and the others were given watches on the quarterdeck. I was in the group that stood watch on the quarterdeck. They were real easy watches for us, mainly our job was to be a gofer. You know, go do this, go do that, go take this here, or go take that there, etc. I learned a lot about the running of a ship by just watching and listening to the normal everyday operation.

One of the things I noticed was the fact that there were several officers on board, but the peculiar thing was that a 3rd Class Boatswain’s Mate actually ran the ship. He seemed to have more power than anyone on board. He was a red-headed Irish man and looked to be about 30 years old. When he spoke, everybody listened; and if he was giving orders, the ship’s company did exactly what he wanted. I talked with him on several occasions and he made no beans about it, “I am in charge. You think these officers know what’s going on? Forget it, we would probably run aground.”

The nights were calming, and the sea seemed still. I loved walking out on the deck, looking at the moon and listening to the water splashing along the sides of the ship.

 

The nights were calming, and the sea seemed still. I loved walking out on the deck, looking at the moon and listening to the water splashing along the sides of the ship.

 

I wasn’t really that anxious to get home because of what we had heard from home in one way or another. With me, it wasn’t news that I would get from family as much as it was from newspapers that some of us received in our care packages. Most of our families would wrap items in newspapers and our curiosity made us read those papers. The news was totally wrapped up in all the protesting of the Vietnam conflict. The burning of draft cards, kids crossing the borders to avoid the draft, and marching on all the capitals of the states. Many protests were taking place on college campuses and on my beloved mall in Washington, D.C., a place I always loved to go. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go home.

A couple of days later, the seas started getting choppy and the word came down from the Captain that there was a major storm brewing in the Pacific and we were going to be affected by this disturbance. All non-essential personnel were to report below decks. We were told to hunker down in our berthing areas until the storm subsided. When we hit the storm, the ship was going side to side and a lot of the people were getting sick from the rolls, but it didn’t last real long, maybe a couple of hours. When calm was restored, the news from above was that we were only two days away from Okinawa and we would be docking there for a couple days so that we could be replenished with food and fuel.

When we got to Okinawa and docked, we were told that we, the transients, would not be getting off the ship to go on liberty. Liberty was a term used for time off and time away from the ship. In other words, you could go into town and have a good time. The ship’s company got liberty and we just stayed on the ship and watched them go ashore. We were there for three days and then headed out to sea once more. Our next destination was Hawaii. I was looking forward to seeing that island once again.

The next few days were uneventful and most of us were looking forward to getting back stateside and getting on with our lives. We started hearing rumors that we were going to have a parade in San Diego in our honor, but that’s all it was, a rumor. We were in Pearl Harbor for one day and then back out to sea and headed for Red Beach, Camp Pendleton, California. One of our last days at sea, the Captain treated us to a steak dinner with ice cream and a movie, I can’t remember what the name of the movie was.

When we were getting close to the beach, the Captain dropped the well deck and opened the back of the ship so that all the amphibious cargo could head to shore. They brought troop carrier boats out to pick up the rest of us. It was sort of a beach assault landing and apparently there were reporters on shore to record us and interview us. We all agreed not to stop and talk to them and instead kept going to where we were supposed to go.

All the Marines got on 6×6 cargo trucks and the Corpsmen got on a bus, we were supposed to go to customs but only the Marines went there. We headed for our barracks. The barracks was part of the 5th Medical Battalion which we were going to be assigned. We settled into our barracks and that evening we were given the honor of eating in the elite dining facilities of the 5th Marines chow hall. The cuisine was absolutely nothing to write home about. After we all dined at this exquisite dining establishment, we made it to telephones to call home and let our families know that we were okay and back on the shores of the USA.

More later, Grandson.

 

Love,
Grandpa

 

Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.

 

Stan Gerding

Stan Gerding is a retired veteran after 23 years in the Navy that included a tour of duty in Vietnam as a corpsman, 1968-1969. He has since been the administrator of various healthcare organizations, a high school science teacher, an author, a singer, and is the father of Greg Gerding and grandfather to Jack.

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