In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding talks about loving (and losing) the family’s beloved pets and moving from San Diego to Waukegan, Illinois.
I would be remiss if I did not talk about a few things that happened in San Diego before we left for Great Lakes.
Our Boston Terrier “Pug” contracted a debilitating disease known as Cauda Equina. It involves a spinal cord dysfunction where the animal loses the ability to hold up their back legs for a period. We would take him for a walk and his back legs would just give out and his whole back end would flop down and, when he walked, he would drag his hind legs on the ground. It was sad to see, so I took him to the Vet who told me there had been some experimental surgeries performed and some were very successful. He told me that it was extremely expensive, but we might be able to get some help from the UC of Davis veterinary school. I called the school and they had done a few of these cases, but they ran out of money.
I felt bad for the dog because of the pain he was in and there was no way I could pay for such a surgery, and with an upcoming move I had to consider putting him down. Pug was always a very spunky and spirited dog, and to see him in pain, broke my heart.
(Pug and Bag Lady, sharing the sun)
Right before Pug contracted this disease, a stray cat that hung out in the neighborhood befriended Pug, we called her “Bag Lady.” I would sit outside with Pug and this cat would come over and lay beside him and when we took walks the cat would follow along with us. She became our outdoor pet and we would feed her and allow her to sleep in the garage at night. She was pregnant and I think she befriended us because her motherly instinct was to prepare for the birth of these kittens.
One night, Bud and I were waiting for her to come home, we saw her crossing the street but, in her condition, she was a little slow and a car hit and killed her. I made sure she was dead, and we buried her in the backyard. It was a very sad night. I even think Pug was sad or in pain.
Bud made the Murphy Canyon All-Stars at shortstop and pitching, and they got to compete in the district tournament. The first team they played was the team from El Cajon and they were leading them into the final inning but ended up losing by one run on a throwing error. That El Cajon team went on to lose in the finals of the Little League World Series. Our all-stars had a lot to be proud of that year.
Before we moved to Illinois, I took Pug to the vet and had him put to sleep, he died in my arms. He was ready. Normally, he would put up a fuss going to the vets, but this time he didn’t. I figured he knew what was about to happen. It was a sad day for us.
Time to move on to the next duty station and next home for us. The trip going from San Diego to Great Lakes, Illinois, was a good one for sightseeing. We took Interstate 15 North and we stopped in Las Vegas for one night, then on to sightseeing in the Grand Canyon, Arizona, then to Salt Lake City, Utah, where we spent a couple of days touring the sights. We then moved on to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and through there to Chadron, Nebraska, to see my good friend Les Ouderkirk.
(Les in Nebraska)
Les was who I was stationed with in San Diego and he helped me coach the Astros for one season. Visiting him in Nebraska was a real treat because he lived out in the middle of nowhere and I felt we could have easily been in covered wagons on some of those roads. We had a great visit with him and then it was on to Omaha, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa, and then through Chicago to our destination at Great Lakes, Illinois, and our next home for this four-year tour.
I placed our name on the housing list, but the wait was long, so we decided to buy a house in Waukegan. Waukegan was the hometown of Jack Benny the comedian and Bud would be going to the 7th grade and would attend Jack Benny Junior High. There was no Little League in that area, but they did have Pony Baseball, so I made sure Bud was signed up for the spring and, in the process, I went ahead and volunteered to coach. We moved into the house in the month of August and it was very hot and I thought, I can’t wait till it starts cooling down a bit, … but look out for what you wish for in Great Lakes, Illinois.
Meanwhile, at Hospital Corps School, I was assigned to a team; typically comprised of a Nurse officer, a Chief, a 1st class petty officer, and a 2nd class petty officer for teaching purposes, and we would divide up all the areas of instruction. I shadowed a few of the instructors just to get the knack of this team concept and get me out of the Laboratory Technician mode and into the general duty Hospital Corpsman mode, one that I especially loved. Before I picked up my first class of students, I was helping other instructors with their classes in the grading of their students in what we called labs at the Naval Hospital in first aid, splinting, bandaging, shot giving, bed baths, bed making, medication delivery, and other medical classes the students were being taught.
Remember I was saying it was hot in August? Well, the temperatures started going down in September and by the time I got my first class we were having temps in the single digits and it was C-O-L-D.
My first class was 84005-B, which meant they would graduate in 1984 and they were the 5th class of the year and would graduate early February, and we had enough students going through that we broke them into two groups, A and B, thus 84005-B. This class was a very good one, they were very professional and were always militarily sound, I never had to worry about them. As an instructor and a leader in the military, you must always be cognizant of your people and what they’re doing all the time.
Once I got to know this class, I had no worries. I was working out every day for 45 minutes (lunch hour) and learning a little about Pony Baseball and the uniqueness of that organization.
Bud was adjusting well to his teachers and the school but seemed to be troubled with his fellow students. The white kids would all hang out together, the black kids did their thing as well as the Hispanics, there wasn’t any mingling amongst the three groups. He and I would talk about this and I asked if he made any approaches to the other groups and he said he did but to no avail they would just ignore him. The school seemed to try different things to get the groups to come together, but once activities were over the groups went right back to being separated. It was interesting because Bud had never experienced this before in California and he seemed perplexed, he always got along with all groups of kids.
One day, the gym class had a day outside on the baseball field and these kids got to see what all the other kids could do playing baseball and, of course, Bud did well with baseball, so when he went up to some of the black or Hispanic kids after that they were responsive to Greg. The baseball-playing kids would start mingling together and eventually that felt worked out and I could tell that Greg’s mood had changed for the better.
We were getting all kinds of information about the Waukegan Pony Baseball League and I had gone to some coaching meetings and, for lack of volunteers, I wound up being a manager of a team.
More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.