Stan Gerding

Dear Grandson: Encountering War Protesters at Home

(Frank Wolfe - Lyndon B. Johnson Library)

In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding describes what it was like when he was confronted by war protesters back at home.

 

Dear Grandson,

You know that the 2-star General’s inspection is on Friday and we were not invited to attend because Tightass did not want us there, but all of us wanted to be there.

The day before the BIG inspection we were told by Tightass to just go to the exchange and waste time. Since we were all good Corpsmen, we don’t waste time, we use it. When Friday came, we all hung out and waited for the right time to jump in the ranks with all the regulars. Picture this, we are in Marine dress greens, fresh haircuts, full ribbons including the Vietnam ribbons, purple hearts, and spit-polished shoes. We got ourselves situated in the rear of the regulars, where we had one whole row of just us fifteen.

When the General came around the bend to inspect our row, you should have seen the look on old Tightass’s face, his jaw was hanging down to his knees, his eyes were bugging out, and you could see beads of sweat coming off his forehead. The General came by each one of us, shook our hands, and asked what our names were and welcomed us back home.

The General looked down the line and said, “I am so proud of our Navy Corpsmen, and especially you fellas for just coming back and carrying all the traditions and the flag of the 3rd Marine Division.” (He was referring to the decommissioning of the Division due to President Nixon’s pull out of troops from the Nam.) When the General moved to the front of the troops, he turned and saluted the LCdr and told him, “Well done,” and added, “most of the other officers would’ve kept those men out of the ranks, I commend you on your decision to have these men among your regulars.”

He saluted ol’ Tightass and then saluted all the troops, and then he departed. When he was gone, Tightass turned towards all the troops and stated, “I want to apologize to all the returnees. I realize that my treatment of all of you was so wrong, I kept thinking that you all would embarrass me and, truthfully, you all look really sharp and you make me proud. I learned something today, from here on out, I will not mistreat you.”

We all kind of snickered a little for when he turned around, we didn’t notice the “wedgy” anymore.

 

I read the following statement: “You are to report to the Personnel office at the Navy Yard Washington D.C. in CIVILIAN CLOTHES.”

 

I continued to work as the Corpsman for small details all over the base and one by one we were called to headquarters to talk with the detailers in Washington D.C. One day, I got my call and talked with this petty officer from the detailing office. He told me he had a nice assignment in Washington D.C. at the Navy and Marine Corps reserve training center as an active duty Corpsman to work sick bay. I told him I would love to go to D.C. again and it was done. He told me that it would be a few weeks before he would be able to send the written orders and that he would be in touch to give me the exact dates.

The days seemed to drag on forever and finally I got word I would be leaving the very next week. I went to Personnel to sign my orders and the person I had to see showed me where I was to sign and then he told me to read the remarks section of my orders because there was an important message written there.

I read the following statement: “You are to report to the Personnel office at the Navy Yard Washington D.C. in CIVILIAN CLOTHES.

Several things went through my mind in reading this and none of them touched the real reason for the “civilian clothes.” The fellow in the Personnel office called the Navy Yard there and found out the reason for this was because of the active protesting of the Vietnam war and its veterans at the front gate of the Washington Navy Yard. It wasn’t safe for personnel to be entering the base in military attire.

Wow. That hit me hard and a big reality check came over me. What we had been reading about over in the Nam that was happening stateside was real. I got over the shock of this and couldn’t wait to go home.

 

 

The day I left Camp Pendleton was a weekday and no other personnel were headed to the airport. When personnel left the base, they went to Oceanside to catch a Greyhound bus to LAX airport.

The bus arrived, and I got on the bus, and I am in the Marine Corps dress greens with my ribbons and the Navy rank on one sleeve compared to the Marines who had their rank on both of their sleeves. I was walking down the aisle and I noticed a bunch of young people in the back of the bus laughing and carrying on, and then there was silence and I felt them all staring at me.

All my military friends would have called them hippies, but I preferred the term “flower children.” “Flower child” originated as a synonym for hippie, especially among the idealistic young people who gathered in San Francisco and the surrounding area during the Summer of Love in 1967. It was the custom of “flower children” to wear and distribute flowers or floral-themed decorations to symbolize ideals of universal belonging, peace, and love.

I went about halfway down the aisle and found an aisle seat. The bus started leaving Oceanside and I just sat there, quietly, and looked out the window. I could hear them whispering in the back and making some sort of plan to mess with me. Then, suddenly, they started getting louder with their muttering and now were yelling, “baby killer,” “mama-san f***er,” “war lover,” and a few other choice names. A few of them became very bold and came up the aisle and sat beside and behind me and kept chanting “baby killer” repeatedly. One spit on me and one pushed me to taunt me into a fight.

I sat there very still and not once did I speak to them or move towards them. First, I was outnumbered and, second, all I wanted to do was get home in one piece.

 

I sat there very still and not once did I speak to them or move towards them. First, I was outnumbered and, second, all I wanted to do was get home in one piece.

 

There was no letting up … they kept chanting and pushing me to the point that a few of the other passengers started telling them to leave me alone. It was at that point that the bus driver pulled over to the shoulder of the interstate and stopped the bus and got out of his seat and walked to the back where I was sitting and told them to go back to their seats and sit down and keep their mouths shut, and if there was any more disturbance he would stop the bus again and throw the whole lot of them off the bus.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, but I could hear them talking. I thought I heard one of them say we will see him when we get off the bus at LAX.

We finally arrived at LAX and the bus driver waved to me to come up front ahead of everybody else. I got off the bus and got my bag and headed towards the terminal. I turned and looked behind me and saw the flower children hurrying to get their bags and were walking very fast in my direction. On my approach to the terminal, I saw several Marines standing outside the terminal smoking and I walked towards them and even stopped to ask them for a light and of course they obliged me and even called me Doc.

When I turned around, I noticed the flower children turned and headed for another terminal. One of the marines asked me if I encountered any problems with that group and I said, “No.”

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.

Related posts

*

Top