In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding continues his singing career, manages his son’s Little League team, and wraps up his time in San Diego that ends in a tragedy.
I did a group singing class at the college and the instructor was a lady named Betsy Firestone. She taught us how to properly warm up for singing engagements and we did quite a bit of things in her class. One day, she had us bring a song in to sing solo, there were some very good singers in the group. She came to me and asked me if I wanted to earn a few dollars singing a song at the Miss San Diego beauty contest. I agreed. She told me that the theme for the contest was country and asked me to learn the song “Lady” and so I did just that.
Betsy told me that the contest was going to be televised locally and the emcee was a local news anchor from one of the local TV stations. The night of the contest, I showed up in a very nice suit and the director of the show told me I was to sing my song for the final ten contestants and that she wanted me to sing to each one of the contestants by walking and singing a few bars to each one of them and eventually getting back to the middle of the stage for the ending of the song. I thought, That should be a piece of cake, and then it came time for me to do my song.
The emcee introduced me, and I walked out onto the stage. Now, picture this, these ten girls are standing in a horseshoe shape in the middle of the stage and they are dressed in their bathing suits. I am supposed to walk to each one of these girls dressed in bathing suits and I am singing a love song to them. I was a little taken back … no, I was a lot taken back. I had no clue this was going to happen like this. So, I put on my best showmanship face and started the song, sang to each one of them, and wound up back in the front, middle of the stage and ended the song. I received a standing ovation and bowed, shaking like crazy, and got off that stage.
I received a standing ovation and bowed, shaking like crazy, and got off that stage.
I was paid and learned a big lesson from this engagement: find out everything you can about the gig you are going to perform so that you are better prepared.
Things at the office were good, the new guys were all doing well, and the students seemed to have taken to them. Walt and I were having our daily racquetball workout and beating each other up. My classes were going great and we were sending some great Lab Techs to the fleet.
Bud was doing very well in school and during the off-season from baseball we were going to the field a couple of times a week to stay sharp with fielding, pitching, and hitting.
The season started and I was the Manager of the Astros. I asked one of my fellow Navy instructors, Les Ouderkirk, if he would be my coach and he agreed. We had some great practices and the team was really shaping up to be pretty good. I had 15 kids on the team, six 12-year-old’s, eight 11-year-old’s, and one 10-year-old (a spunky little guy who was a catcher). When the season started, I felt good about the team and the kids, we won the opener by a big margin and then lost our next one in a heartbreaker by one run. We wound up with 14 wins and 7 losses (five of our seven losses were by one run), these kids played their hearts out.
In the meantime, our office staff was playing softball in a San Diego city league and our sponsor was the TomTom Café in the North Park area of San Diego. We were having our ups and downs, but we managed to come in second place amongst a league of fifteen teams, not too bad. Greg enjoyed coming to some of those games and all the guys would treat him good.
I was about one year out from my four-year tour at Lab School and I was starting to feel it. By this time, I had already put twelve classes through Blood Banking and still, by my calculations, I would put through four more classes in my last year and, of course, coach the kids one more season. I only taught two more classes, my relief was there and learning from me.
I was in contact with the detailer and I was begging him for a ship assignment so I would be able to lock in on making Senior Chief. The detailer told me that he needed for me to go to Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes, he felt my combat experience would better serve the Navy if I was teaching these young sailors how to be good Corpsmen and get the knowledge from a combat experienced Corpsman. He was a helluva salesman, so I agreed to take that assignment.
My final season coaching the Astros in the Murphy Canyon Little League was an amazing one, to say the least. Not only for the team, but for Bud too. (Of course, here comes the father bragging about his son.) He had an awesome season batting well over .400, errorless at shortstop, and a winning pitching record (7-0). Bud developed a pitch called the “little league change-up” that he had learned at the San Diego School of Baseball camp. The pitch was thrown like a fastball, but it slid out from his thumb and forefinger and reacted like a curve ball. The batter would think he was getting a fastball, then saw it as a change-up, but there was a slight hooking motion that made the ball curve.
I enrolled Bud in the San Diego School of Baseball and was able to go as an observer because I was a Little League coach. I met some great coaches and even shook hands with San Diego Padre superstar and Baseball Hall of Fame great, Tony Gwynn. He gave Bud some very good batting tips, since both were left-handed batters; all-in-all it was a great class for Bud to attend. I would say it was a successful season for the Astros in 1983, first place in the league with a record of 17 wins and 4 losses.
Our softball team wound up in first place in the city league but lost in the finals of the tournament play. We were a good team, probably one of the better teams that I played for in my life.
I was cast in a play that final year of my tour and it was a spoof of an original play call How the West was Won but our play was called How the West was Fun. One of the scenes that I was in I played a gambler and while I was in this saloon playing poker with these men, I sang Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler.” It went over well.
Nearing the end of my tour, our office was devastated by the following events.
Remember me mentioning Commander Meyers and how he left Lab School and went across the street to run the main Lab at the hospital and almost all the staff either knew him from being a student there or having him as an Officer in Charge? Right before Christmas, he came to the Lab School offices for a visit and took time to talk with each one of us. He spent quite a bit of time with me, remember he came up to Camp Pendleton to recruit me for Lab school as an instructor.
Commander Meyers was in a jovial mood because he was going to spend time with his family on Christmas Eve. You see, we had heard that he and his wife were separated and she was living in an apartment with their son, but this Christmas Eve she agreed to come over to the Commander’s house and she would be bringing her brother and the son. He left the office that afternoon and my fellow instructors gathered around me and we discussed his mood and the consensus of the staff was that he was hopeful that the family would be getting back together.
On Christmas Eve, Commander Meyers killed his wife, son, brother-in-law, and himself in his home later that night. I read about it the next day, which was Christmas, and made a few phone calls to some of my fellow instructors. We were all taken aback from these events. Several weeks later, there was a memorial service for the family at our chapel on the base. It was very sad.
Time for our next move … Great Lakes Hospital Corps School, Illinois, here we come.
More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.