In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding is nominated for Service Member of the Year and takes his son to pro ballgames while living in Philadelphia in the ’70s.
The draft was over and the number of physicals we were getting was down a whole bunch. Lots of times we were doing menial tasks for the center and two of the Army guys were transferred to Fort Dix [Philadelphia] to work in the dispensary there.
I was named Military Service Member of the quarter and the Commanding Officer selected me to compete for Service Member of the Year nationwide. It was a real honor; first to be chosen to compete, but also because I was the first Navy guy to be selected for this competition.
I had to drive to Fort Lee, Virginia, for this competition. So, here I am in my Navy dress blues on an Army base filled with lots of green. I found the building where this competition was being held and was directed to a room at the end of this long hallway. I entered the room and there was a total of seven guys all wearing dress green Army uniforms and they were looking pretty sharp, two of the guys were wearing Green Berets and their creases were so sharp they could cut flesh.
I can’t explain the looks on their faces when I entered the room, seeing this Navy guy walk in and sit down, the silence was deafening. I glanced at all these fellows and saw that only four of them had Vietnam ribbons on their chest, I made five. Finally, one of the Green Berets piped up and asked me, “How did you get the Purple Heart?” I quickly gave him a little history on Hospital Corpsmen and how they get attached to the Marine Corps and that I was in combat with them in Vietnam. The silence was broken and now there was a lot of chatter in the room. I was starting to feel more and more comfortable in this setting, too comfortable.
This Army Sergeant came into the room and gave us the procedure for going in the next room and walking in front of the board. The board consisted of five individuals: an Army Colonel who oversaw the board, two Army Majors, a female Army Nurse (a Lieutenant Colonel), and an Army Sergeant Major.
He said, “You will march into the room with cover [hat] on and file to the middle and front of the board, hand salute, and state your name and rank.”
I am sitting there with so much on my mind and recalling all the instructions I received in boot camp about the wearing of covers indoors and outdoors and the process of saluting, when to and when not to.
He then asked, “Are there any questions?”
I quickly raised my hand and told the Sarge, “In the Navy, we don’t wear covers indoors and we do not salute indoors, no matter who we go in front of.”
He told me, “You will wear your cover and you will salute the member in charge of the board.”
I was not satisfied with that response.
I can’t explain the looks on their faces when I entered the room, seeing this Navy guy walk in and sit down, the silence was deafening.
The Sarge called us, one by one, in order of our rank. He took one of the Green Berets first and left the room with him. Then he came back to get the next person. The ones he took never came back, I found out later they put them in another room so that they would not come back and tell us what was going on in the room with the board.
Of course, I was the last one to go in.
The Sarge came for me and, as we walked out of the room, he told me, “Put your cover on.”
I said, “No, I will not. That’s not the Navy way.”
He said, “At least go to the front of the board and salute the Colonel.”
And again, I said, “No, it’s not the Navy way.”
I entered the room and there was this long table with all five of the board members sitting there waiting for my entrance and to acknowledge who I was and what my rank was.
I got to the middle of the table, holding my cover, and said, “HM2 Gerding, U.S. Navy, reporting to the board as ordered, sir.” (No hand salute.)
The Colonel told me to take a seat. He then explained that the five board members would be asking me a series of questions. He started with one of the Army Majors.
The Army Major asked me, “Why didn’t you wear your cover? And why didn’t you salute the Colonel?”
I answered, “In the Navy, we do not wear covers indoors because the roof over our heads is considered a cover, and Navy personnel are instructed not to salute indoors.”
The Major said, “I have never heard of such a thing.”
All the way down at the other end of the table, the Sergeant Major acknowledged, “He is correct. Not wearing the cover and not saluting indoors is a Navy thing.”
I was so nervous, but when the Sergeant Major acknowledged my reasoning, I felt so comfortable.
Each of the board members asked me several questions and I felt it went fine, but I was also sure that I was going to be sent home empty-handed. After I was finished being questioned, I was sent to another room where all the other candidates were. We were told to sit tight while the board made their decision.
The Sarge came back into the room and told us the board has made a unanimous decision and this year’s Service Member of the Year award went to HM2 Stan Gerding. I was given the trophy and some paperwork, and my picture was taken with the board, and then I was back on the road headed for Philadelphia.
I was living in military housing in south Philadelphia and took the subway every morning to work and again in the evening to go home. I caught the subway at the old Veterans Stadium where the Phillies and Eagles played their home games, and on the other corner was the Spectrum where the 76ers and the Flyers played their home games.
I used to take your father (my son, Greg) on my shoulders up to Veterans Stadium to see some baseball games. With my military ID card and fifty cents, your father and I would get into Vet Stadium. Of course, your father was free.
One night, we went to see the Cincinnati Reds (the Big Red Machine) play the Phillies. It was Hat Night, so your father got a free hat and free admission, and it cost me 50 cents with my ID.
Your father was wearing a Cincinnati Reds hat and a Reds shirt and the guy at the gate told your dad, “I’ll give you a Phillies hat, but you must wear it and take that Reds hat off.” The man at the gate was, of course, just messing with your dad.
So, I took the Reds hat off him and replaced it with the Phillies hat.
Now, this admission entitled us to sit in the cheaper seats, which were so high up the pigeons were flying below us. By the time we got to our seats, Greg had already replaced the Phillies hat with the Reds hat. We were sitting there around a bunch of Phillies fans and they were looking at me and your father kind of funny; of course, they knew we were there for the Reds.
When the announcer started announcing the Reds, he had a peculiar way of talking and he would say, “Batting first and playing third base, number 14, Pete Rose,” and after a pause, he would repeat “ROSE” again.
Your father picked up on that quickly and the next player was, “Batting second and playing second base, number 8, Joe Morgan,” and your father would holler really loud, “MORGAN” in unison with the announcer.
The funny thing was, the Phillies fans were smiling at your father, and he ended up doing the same thing for the Phillies lineup when they were announced, and the fans started cheering your father. It was hilarious!
The game started and it was not a contest. That night, the Reds were winning 9-1 and in the sixth inning the Phillies fans started cheering for your father and the Reds. What a night it was and several of those same fans bought your father and me a box of popcorn and a soda … too funny.
One time, when the Boston Celtics came to town, I got two tickets for that game and later found out that your father was eligible for free admission because of his age. So, I asked Sergeant Kirkwood, who also lived in housing and worked in the medical department with me, if he would like to go to the game with Greg and me, and he said, “Yes.”
I kept telling Kirkwood that I went to high school with Dave Cowens who was one of the stars on the Celtics, but he didn’t believe me. When we got to the Spectrum, we got there early to watch the players warming up. I told the Sarge to watch your father so I could go down close to the floor and holler at Cowens.
I got down there, hollered to Cowens, and he came right over.
“Gerding! What are you doing here?”
Cowens then got us seats right behind the Celtics bench. There, Sergeant Kirkwood, you believe me now? We saw a great game and the Celtics won by 25.
Fun times in Philadelphia. More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.