In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding shares about his son’s Big Wheel, Tee ball, bumper stickers, and an operation in the desert of 29 Palms.
We started settling into at our home in Vista, California. We got your dad enrolled in the first grade at Buena Vista Elementary School in Carlsbad. I looked into the Carlsbad Boys and Girls Club to see if they had a baseball program and they did. I signed him up to be a member of the club and I also signed him up for Tee ball in the spring. I also volunteered to be a coach.
I bought your dad a Big Wheel to ride around on. He used to ride his Big Wheel with a boy who lived down the street he called “bubba.” They were really close just like brothers. By the way, he was black and the only reason I am mentioning this, it will come out much later in our letters. I also became very good friends with bubba’s mom and dad. Your dad took to school very well and seemed to get along with everybody.
In the meantime, I was adapting to the Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton and enjoying my time in the blood bank. We also drew our own units of blood from the Marines stationed at the base and did all our own processing of the units, we were a totally self-sufficient blood bank and rarely ever had to get units either from civilian blood banks or the blood bank at the Naval Hospital San Diego. There were three of us that worked in the blood bank.
Sometimes when the Pathologist needed someone to help assist with autopsies he would come and grab me to go to the morgue and assist. I learned a lot about the human body assisting the Pathologist because, as we were examining the body, he would describe in complete detail what he was handling and what was right or wrong about the organs or the overall framework of the body. It was an experience I will never forget, sort of like the combat time I had in Vietnam.
I bought your dad a Big Wheel to ride around on. He used to ride his Big Wheel with a boy who lived down the street he called “bubba.”
One day, I was driving on the base and I would drive in the back gate in order to get to the hospital when the guard at the gate told me that I would have to remove my bumper sticker on my car, remember the one that said, “The Marines already have a few good men, Hospital Corpsmen?” I asked him why and he told me in so many certain terms that it was offensive. I shrugged it off and went on my way. As I was driving down the road, I look in my rearview mirror and I saw a military police vehicle following me very close. I watched my speed carefully and did exactly the speed limit and about a mile down the road his lights went on and he pulled me over.
The MP came to my car and asked for my registration, license, ID card, and proof of insurance. He wanted to know where I was stationed on the base and what I did at the hospital.
I asked, “Why did you pull me over?”
He said, “We don’t like that bumper sticker on your car. You will have to remove it, if you want to keep driving on this base.”
I asked, “By what authority do you have to make me remove an innocent bumper sticker?”
He said, “The Commanding General’s authority.”
I said, “I’ll remove the sticker by tomorrow.”
He followed me all the way to the hospital.
I called my Marine Corps Unit 1st FFSG and talked with the Master Chief and he told me to go ahead and remove the sticker just to appease the marines. That night, I removed the bumper sticker, and all was well with the Marines. It never was meant to disrespect them because I have always had the greatest respect for the Marines. I served with many heroes in Vietnam.
Right around Christmas time, I got word from the division that we would be going on an operation in the desert at 29 Palms, California, for about a two- to three-month period. That Christmas was a little bleak knowing that I would have to leave your dad for that long of a period. I dreaded telling him.
Right after the holiday, I told your dad, my Bud, that I would have to go with the Marines for a spell, but that I would be back and we would get ready for baseball. The morning I left, I had to go into my Bud’s room and wake him to tell him I was leaving and that was a sad time for both of us. He hugged me real tight and whimpered some, I assured him I would be back as soon as I could. I went out the front door and my ride was waiting for me and we headed to the base.
We convoyed from the base to the base at 29 Palms and it was a long ride that normally would take three hours but in a convoy of Marine vehicles it took us around four hours. We arrived at the base and immediately drove out to the desert area of 29 Palms to start setting up our tents and our medical facility.
© Glenn Francis, www.PacificProDigital.com
It was January and a little warm, but as we were setting up the tents, I noticed they were putting in space heaters in all the tents, so I knew it probably got cold at night. This will become very important later on in our desert operation. We were all briefed on what this operation was going to do for our troops, especially if we were to fight a battle in the hot desert. Someone was spreading the rumor that there was a bet between an Army General and a Marine Corps General that Patton’s march in the desert during WWII could not be matched by the Marines, but I did not believe this at all. What I did believe was that sometime in the near future there would be an altercation in the Middle East that would require combat in a desert area.
Ironically, 12 years later or so, that was exactly what happened. So, we finished getting our tents up and we started stocking our medical facility with medications, treatment tables, everything that we would need in a combat situation. We watched as the Marines brought in the tanks. What noise! What power! That was a sight worthy of pictures.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Thomas Mudd
That night, the Chief took us senior petty officers into the main part of the base to have a hot dinner at the NCO club (non-commisioned officers) because it would be our last official dinner out. All of our meals after that would be served in a chow tent by the Marine Corps cooks. I was really looking forward to those meals, reminders of the ones I had in the Nam.
That night, it got so cold the space heaters did nothing for us. I probably had three blankets on me through the night. The next day, we got up and had another meeting and each of us were given our assignments for the duration of the operation. I was sent to the laboratory, which was a given since I was a lab tech. Our medical facility was ready to go and the next day the Marines were ready to go and so the operation officially began.
More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.