Stan Gerding

Dear Grandson: Desert Operation and Tee Ball

(Photo by Vinnie Ahuja, Creative Commons)

In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding shares about the continuing desert operation and the tragic loss of lives, and coaching tee ball.

 

Dear Grandson,

During the desert operation, the days were hot and dry, the nights were freezing cold, so I can say with some certainty that the desert was downright brutal. The food being served at the chow tent was also brutal and I could tell I would be losing some weight.

One day, while the Marines were doing their thing in the sand with the tanks, a Marine slipped in front of a tank and was run over. Unfortunately, he was killed and the operation came to a halt, temporarily. There were meetings for the next few days about the incident and the Master Chief told us that the operation would resume the following day.

Morale was a little down, but the worst of the operation would take place that following night. A large tent that was directly behind the medical berthing tent where I was staying went up in flames at about 9:30 p.m. (2130) and three Marines were killed in this mishap.

I will explain a few facts: the tents that the Marine Corps uses has a canvas that is soaked in a type of oil or petroleum and the space heaters are fueled by gasoline. Apparently, these three Marines felt that the space heaters needed to be refueled and they had theses containers filled with gasoline and they were about to fill the heaters up. The heaters had been running for about three hours prior to them refueling and so the heater was hot and the spout that went up to the roof of the tent was also hot. When the gasoline hit the heater and the spout, flames shot up to the top of the tent and spread fast.

The tent was gone in a matter of minutes and so were the Marines. There were a few of us Corpsmen in our tent and we heard the screams from those Marines, but by the time we came out of the tent, the tent was already burned to the ground.

The next day, there was an investigation of this scene and the NIS found that these Marines were not trained on refueling of these space heaters.

Morale was at its lowest and the Commanding Officer decided to let everyone go main side for a dinner and, of course, that even turned worse. Some of the Marines went to the club and got drunk and a fight broke out and one Marine got beat so bad he lost an eye and the other Marine kicked him in the groin so bad he had major problems that needed attention, stat. The doctor who was with our medical facility called for a helicopter right away to get this Marine to San Diego and they asked me to fly with the doctor to San Diego.

A chopper came to the landing zone to pick up me, the doctor, and the patient, and we took off for San Diego. The flight was a mess because we went right through a severe thunderstorm and I thought a couple times that we were going down. The chopper pilot was awesome, and we made it to San Diego safely. An ambulance met us there to get the patient to the emergency room. The doctor and I spent the night at the hospital, and, in the morning, we were flown back to 29 Palms. That flight was uneventful, no storms.

 

(DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey, U.S. Air Force. Source: Flickr)

 

When we got back to 29 Palms, there was word that they might stop the operation and send us back to Camp Pendleton, which didn’t break my heart. It would’ve cut the operation short about a month.

There were meetings for the next few days and, sure enough, they called an end to the operation, we were going home. We convoyed all the way back to Camp Pendleton and eventually back home.

Your dad, my bud, was happy to see me and I sure was happy to see him.

The next couple of months went well, your dad was adjusted to the school and doing very good, and I was back at the hospital and working the blood bank and I was doing very well.

One day, there was a very bad accident that happened on the back roads off the base but close enough for the ambulance to transport some of the casualties to us. Apparently, there was a truck filled with migrant workers that hit a semi-tractor trailer head on and the driver and several of the passengers were killed and there were about twenty-three others that were sent to our emergency room. There was a call from the ER telling us they needed blood and lots of it. We were busy typing and crossmatching one patient after another (we would type their blood into A, B, O, or AB and then crossmatch them with the appropriate unit of blood) but the thing that made it very rough on us was that these patients had no identification on them and so the ER was labeling them Migrant #1, Migrant #2, etc.

We were getting low on blood and we started making calls to the local blood banks for some help. That was a very busy day and it lasted until late that night, but we got through it. We did not lose one patient that came to our ER and eventually they were either released on their own or were transferred to other facilities.

We got a call from the Boys and Girls Club that there was a meeting of all parents and coaches for tee ball. The coaches would all be assigned their teams at another meeting. Bud’s first time playing organized baseball (well, tee ball) and my first time coaching … should be easy enough. The coaches had their meeting and we all got teams assigned to us and then we were given a list of ballplayers and their phone numbers. Of course, Bud was automatically on my team.

That night, I called each child’s parent and let them know that we would have our first practice on the following Saturday. This would give me a chance to see who could play and who needed help. I was truly amazed that Saturday to find out that Bud was the only one on the team that could catch a baseball. Remember, I worked with Bud ever since he was two years old and he could catch, throw, and hit well. I had a lot of work to do.

Assigning each child a position was difficult, but I rotated them between positions trying to find the right place for each; except for Bud, I had to put him at first base because he was the only one who could catch. We worked very hard for the next couple of weeks before the games began, and we were looking pretty good. Well, we were looking okay.

 

It really was a fun time coaching these little ones, but the cutest memory I have was in a game when we had this little guy named Billy playing in right field.

 

It really was a fun time coaching these little ones, but the cutest memory I have was in a game when we had this little guy named Billy playing in right field.

He kept fidgeting around out there and when they came in to hit, I asked him, “Are you okay?”

He said, “I’m fine.”

The next inning, he was out in right again and out of nowhere he started crying. I asked the umpire for time and I ran out to see what the problem was and, when I got out there, he was crying because he wet his pants.

I asked him, “Why didn’t you say something?”

He said, “I didn’t want to be replaced.”

He thought if he went to the bathroom he wouldn’t be allowed to play anymore. I assured him that I would not replace him.

The season went well, and I got Bud signed up the next year for the pitch and hit league, no more tee hitting. So, during the off season I would take him to the field and pitch to him, he was really getting good at hitting.

One day, there was an accident on the base involving a Marine Corps truck and a civilian car. The truck driver was driving very erratic and swerved right into this car. The driver of the car was not injured, but the truck hit the car and then wound up in a ditch and he was carrying several Marines in the back and they were thrown. All the Marines had some sort of injury, but the driver was the one with an injury that put him in the hospital.

The bloodwork they did on the driver showed he had PCP (Phencyclidine) also known as “angel dust” in it, which causes hallucinations, violent and distorted behavior. They put him on a ward in a guarded room, but he overcame the guard, took his gun, and started walking towards an open ward full of patients.

A quick-thinking Corpsman was able to lock one end of the ward, thus preventing the armed patient from entering the ward. The guard quickly went to the other side, locking another door and completely closing off this patient from any contact with personnel or patients. MPs were called to the scene and were able to disarm the patient and put him in handcuffs and carted him to a room where the doctor could examine him. The doctor gave the okay and the MPs carted him off to the Brig (jail).

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.

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