In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding describes what it was like reuniting with his family again after his tour in Vietnam and his newest duty station in D.C.
I said my goodbyes to my fellow Marines and went to the ticketing area and placed my voucher on the American Airlines counter and I got my ticket, flying to Chicago first and then on to Cincinnati. I was soon to be home and I knew I wouldn’t be spat upon there. I boarded the plane and found my seat, I looked around the plane and nobody paid any attention to me, thank god.
While I was sitting there, I couldn’t help thinking about landing in Cincinnati and getting off the plane and seeing the family there and what they would think, looking at me and the change in my looks. I left home at 222 pounds and was returning at 151; I left home wearing Navy blue and was coming home in Marine greens; I left very pale in color and was coming home very tanned. I just smiled and couldn’t wait to get there and see their faces.
The flight was a good one to Chicago and an even better one into Cincinnati. When the plane landed, I stood up to gather my things and started the walk up the aisle, you see I was probably the last person on the plane. I reached the door and started walking down the steps to head into the terminal, as I approached the door, I saw the whole family, Mom, Dad, my brothers, their wives, and the nieces and nephews holding signs “Welcome Home, Uncle Stan.”
I could see the concern on their faces because I had changed a lot and they did not recognize me. When I came closer, my mother finally realized it was me, she grabbed me and gave me a big hug and said, “Let’s get you home and feed you.” I guess she thought I was a refugee and needed fattening up. By the way, my brothers seemed to have put on a little weight while I was gone, funny how the tables had turned. After all the hugs and kisses, it was time to head home. And by the way, my father gave me a big hug too. I was very happy and feeling very safe.
When I came closer, my mother finally realized it was me, she grabbed me and gave me a big hug and said, “Let’s get you home and feed you.” I guess she thought I was a refugee and needed fattening up.
When we got home, there was a lot of chatter about the upcoming holiday, Christmas and quite a bit of eating and a little drinking. Everybody was respectful towards me and did not mention anything about Vietnam. I was glad about that because I was having nightmares about my tour over there and I wasn’t ready to talk about my experiences.
I bought a car while at home on leave and enjoyed the family and the holidays. I was feeling more and more safe, but I knew that my stint in the Navy was not over, I still had another year to go for my time to be up and, at that time, I felt that I was going to get out of the Navy and go back to Kentucky and settle down there. While home on leave, I got married and then moved on to Washington, D.C., to check into my new duty station.
My new duty station was the Navy & Marine Corps Reserve Training Center, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. I pulled up to the front gate in my car with civilian clothes on and saw quite a few protestors all around the gate. I checked in and went up to the second floor and walked into the medical department and introduced myself to the Chief and the 2nd Class Petty Officer. The Chief gave me a little indoctrination to this assignment and told me what was expected from me.
We were tasked to give first aid classes to all the reservists and my duties included having to be there one weekend a month and every Wednesday evening from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. to be there while the reservists drilled. The 2nd Class was there one weekend a month and every Thursday evening. We also made sure the reservists had their physicals and immunizations up to date. We had several physicians that were reservists and they would help us by doing the physicals. The job was a piece of cake and I felt I could do this standing on my head. The one interesting thing about this duty assignment was that several movie stars were Navy Reservists and would come to our center to do their drilling. I met Ernest Borgnine and Glenn Ford both were Navy Reservists. Ford did some Navy training films and that was part of his duty assignment.
Admiral Elmo Zumwalt was the Chief of Naval Operations at that time and was coming out with his infamous “Z-grams.” Z-grams were directives that he sent out Navy-wide that were meant to incentivize sailors. One of the big Z-grams was where a sailor could grow a beard if it was neatly trimmed. The Commanding Officer (CO) that we had was very old-school and made it known that he did not approve of beards and if the men wanted to grow one, they would have to put a special request in to him for approval. The original Z-gram did not require a sailor to put a special request in for CO approval.
The word around the center was that this was unfair, and they felt that the CO was not following the guidelines of the Z-grams. Most of these guys were probably ten years older than me and this type of duty station was one of their last ones before retiring. In other words, they were a bunch of old salts, guys that were close to retirement or over twenty years in the Navy. All these guys were afraid of putting in a special request to grow a beard for fear of repercussions from the CO.
I had no intention of growing a beard, but I got tired of hearing these guys complain day in and day out, so I went ahead and put a special request in to the CO to grow a beard. I got called down to the CO’s office to talk to him about my request for growing a beard.
When I walked into his office, I heard him say, “Gerding, the rebel rouser, come on over here and have a seat.” He tried to convince me that it wasn’t in my best interest to grow a beard, that it wouldn’t look good to all the reservists to see me with a beard.
I told him that I thought it was ridiculous that we had to put a request in to get permission when the Z-grams did not mention having to do that. He tried to come up with some lame excuse that it was his prerogative to do so.
I looked at him and said, “Captain, are you denying my right to grow a beard?”
He signed the request and out the door I went. All the guys were in the lounge and I walked in and showed them my request, signed. I started growing my beard the next day, and all the guys started putting their request in for signature.
The year went by and as soon as my tour was up, I was ready to get out and go back home. I was pressured by the Chief and the detailers to stay and reenlist. They offered me a three-year tour in Scotland and a bonus, but I said no. I was heading home to Kentucky. You see, Vietnam had me spinning and I did not want to return there. I had this feeling, if I reenlisted, they would send me back, and I surely had enough of that. Time to go home.
More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.