In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding shares about his continuing education, getting a dog, fun times with his son, and running out of gas on the highway.
I was on my way to Portsmouth Naval Hospital school command. I checked in and my class was to start the following Monday. I had made 2nd Class Petty Officer at the Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station (AFEES) and I was the senior-ranking member of my class. The instructor HM1 Gus Rivers made me the class leader, which meant I was in charge of the class when the instructor wasn’t around. I also had to run mustering in the morning and when the day was through (in other words, call roll to see if the class was all there).
All total, there were 24 members of the class and they were a pretty good group. The course of instruction was 14 weeks long and upon completion we earned the Navy Enlisted Code of 8501, Basic Lab Tech. This program involved learning, Phlebotomy, Urinalysis, Hematology, Basic Chemistry, Serology, Microbiology, and specimen collection. We had classroom for the next six weeks and then on to the main hospital lab to rotate through those departments. Then we went back to the classroom for the next six weeks of didactic (classroom learning) and then back to the main lab to rotate through those departments.
I was enjoying what I was doing and couldn’t wait to graduate so I could move on to the next assignment and get hands-on in the lab. We were in our seventh week on lab rotation when I got called to Personnel. I thought something was wrong, but when I got there I was told to inform the whole class to be on the grinder at the school command for a Commanding Officer’s inspection and to be in dress blues for the ceremony at the school’s command on Friday at 0800.
That Friday at 0800 the whole class was on the grinder for the inspection and so were the rest of the schools that were at Portsmouth. We were all in our separate classes when we were called to attention and the Commanding Officer came out and started the inspection. After he completed, he went to the podium and said a few words and then he called my name to come forward, front and center. I was flabbergasted to hear my name called.
I marched up to the front where the Captain was, saluted him, and said, “HM2 Gerding present, sir.”
He started reading a citation and awarded me with a Joint Commendation Medal for my work at the AFEES in Philadelphia. I was very proud that day, to say the least.
The rest of my time there at Basic Lab school was very uneventful and the time went by extremely fast. We were constantly busy in the classroom and with actual hands-on in the laboratory of the hospital.
The 14 weeks went by and now I’m moving to an apartment in Virginia Beach, not far from the clinic where I was going to work, Joel T. Boone Clinic Little Creek, Virginia. Joel T. Boone was a Naval Officer and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross and six Silver Stars for his heroism in World War I as a medical person, but he also was a Doctor. The only reason I am mentioning this is because he served in WWI, the Banana Wars, WWII, and Korea and retired as a Vice Admiral, truly an amazing man.
I checked in and went directly to the laboratory and met the Chief of the lab and the Pathologist. The Chief told me that I would be rotating through all the departments of the lab and when I was finally done with that rotation, I would be given an assignment. When I finished, he made me in charge of Blood Drawing and Urinalysis, and I had a couple of young corpsmen working for me.
Our job was to draw the patient’s blood and have them submit a urine specimen for us. We would then take the blood specimens to the appropriate departments for analysis and we would process and test the urines. In the meantime, I was able to interview with the laboratory at Virginia Beach General and I got a part-time job working in their lab on every other weekend and every Wednesday night.
I was quite busy with that schedule, but I always made time for your dad. We also bought a dog from a breeder of Boston Terriers. We went to this farm in the country to look at the litter that they were selling and, frankly, we couldn’t afford what their asking price was except for the ugly one of the litter. I know that sounds cruel, but this puppy had one blue eye and one brown, one black ear and one white, the rest of his head was white and his body was all black with four white boots. Yeah, he was ugly, and they were only asking $50 for him so we bought him. It was a real chore training this pup, but we got it done.
Your dad and I had fun going to the swimming pool and hitting plastic balls with a plastic bat in the back of the apartments. One night, we were at this park, just your dad and I, and on the way home I ran out of gas. We were on the expressway. I could see a gas station, but in order to get to it we had to climb a fence. To make a long story short, we did that and got some gas for the car and we were on our way home. By the time we got home, it was already past your dad’s bedtime and we ate supper and your dad almost fell asleep eating, he was so tired. When I got him to his bedroom and tried to put his pajama top on, he had a heckuva time getting his arm into the sleeve. Out of the clear blue he says, “What the hell is this?” I started laughing, then he started laughing. What are you going to do?
While I was assigned to Boone Clinic and working part-time at the hospital, I found time to get some college courses under my belt. Saint Leo College of Florida was offering classes on the main base of Little Creek, so I enrolled. In a period from December 1975 – March 1976, I completed four college courses: Survey of Liberal Arts, Fundamentals of Speech, Introduction to Psychology, and Ethics. I successfully completed those courses with two A’s and two B’s.
I also put in for Advanced Lab Tech school and was accepted into the very next class starting in August 1976. So, here we go again, packing up and moving … to San Diego, California.
More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.