In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding takes part-time work at Lake Forest Hospital (where he bumps into Bears) and he also performs in Camelot.
My class was doing good and making me very proud. I was working out every day trying to stay in shape and became good friends and jogging partners with a Navy Nurse Lieutenant who was new to our team and an HM2 who also was very new to the team.
There weren’t many Vietnam veterans at Hospital Corps School and it just seemed to make a lot of sense that this nurse and I got attached. You see, he was a Hospital Corpsman Navy Seal and highly decorated from his time in Nam. This nurse wore a Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, several Bronze Stars, and several Purple Hearts, a true hero in my eyes and well-liked by all the students and staff members. (The only reason I am mentioning this individual is because he and I ran a class together and that I will bring him up again in future letters.)
I was able to land a part-time job at Lake Forest Hospital, working every Wednesday and every other weekend. I did various duties in the lab, working in all aspects of the laboratory. This was very good for me to do simply because it kept my hand in the lab since my duty assignment for the Navy was back to the basics as a Hospital Corpsman.
There were several funny stories that happened to me while I was employed there. Lake Forest was the training site for the Chicago Bears and many players lived there; Lake Forest being considered a suburb of Chicago. One story that I recall, I came into work this one Wednesday evening and the lab staff kept telling me that I was going to be drawing blood on Jim McMahon, the Chicago Bears’ Quarterback. I knew he was in the hospital because he had broken his arm, but I had no idea I would have to draw his blood that night.
Now, you must understand, I am not a Chicago Bears fan, I am a Cincinnati Bengals fan, and the story I got on Jim McMahon was that he was a showboater. So, it came time for me to go up to the floor where he was and draw his blood.
I got to his room and the door was closed so I knocked on the door and heard this voice say, “Come on in.”
I opened the door and he was on the phone and he motioned me to come over by the bed. So, I placed my blood drawing tray down on the table and got my blood drawing equipment together and waited for him to finish his conversation.
When he was done, he hung up the phone and said, “You’re here to get my blood.”
I replied, “Yes. Can I ask your name and see your patient wristband?”
He said, “Everybody knows me.”
I looked at him and said, “I am sorry, but I don’t know you.”
He said, “I am Jim McMahon.”
I said, “Fine. Can I see your wristband?”
He showed it to me, and I confirmed that he was Jim McMahon. So, I drew his blood.
After I completed the whole procedure, he said to me as I picked up my tray, “Would you like an autograph?”
I politely said, “No. Would you like mine?”
I came into work this one Wednesday evening and the lab staff kept telling me that I was going to be drawing blood on Jim McMahon, the Chicago Bears’ Quarterback.
The second interesting story about the Chicago Bears involved William Perry, a.k.a. “Refrigerator” Perry, because of his size. His wife was in the Lake Forest Hospital having their baby. I met him in the cafeteria.
I was going to the cafeteria for my dinner break and, lo and behold, Perry was in line next to me. The cafeteria offered about five entrées with their dinner menu and Perry had one of each, plus vegetables and dinner rolls.
The point I am making is his tray was completely full and I looked at him and said, “Are you going to eat all of that?”
He looked at me, smiled, and said, “Look at me, of course I am going to eat all of that, I’m hungry.”
He invited me to sit with him and I did, and it was an enjoyable dinner. He was delightful and talked my ears off. He got a big kick out of my Jim McMahon story.
Bud was doing exceptionally well in school and the Pony League was developing into something I thought would be great for Greg.
My first class was about to graduate and move on to other duty stations and make me proud and, of course, make their next duty stations proud.
In the meantime, I saw in the Waukegan newspaper, the Lake County Sun, that the Waukegan Players were having open auditions at the Genesee Theatre for the play Camelot. I thought I would go and try out for a part. Auditions were being held on a Saturday at noon and I drove to the Genesee.
I met a lot of nice people that were auditioning and when I got called up I was asked if I had ever heard the song “If Ever I Would Leave You” and I said I did and they played the first stanza of the song and I belted it out. I was then told to have a seat in this separate section, and I was told that I was going to be considered for the part of Lancelot.
There were three of us that were considered for the part and they were expecting us to have a French accent for this part and of course this ole Kentucky boy couldn’t muster up a French accent. I wasn’t selected for the part of Lancelot, but they liked my voice and selected me to play Sir Pellinore. When the auditions were completed and the cast was selected, we were told to have a seat to get our schedules for rehearsals. I was quite busy with this production, but I still maintained my working two jobs and coaching Pony League baseball.
The play was on three consecutive weekends for a total of nine performances, Friday and Saturday nights, and matinees on Sundays. The play was a success and nearly sold out for every performance. Unfortunately, that was the last play put on by the Waukegan Players while I was assigned at Hospital Corps School, but not an end to my singing. I sang the national anthem at my first class’s graduation ceremony and everyone after that, plus a few of the other instructors, would ask me to sing at their class graduations.
I picked up my next class 84023-A, which was a very unusual class because the Adjutant of the class was a First-Class Petty Officer. I can’t remember his rate, but to see a First-Class coming through an A school was rare. He was a good guy and a great leader for the class. I had absolutely no problems with this class and they were exemplary.
The Pony League was starting at this time and we had practices in the bitter cold. I felt sorry for the kids. Hell, I felt sorry me. We had no choice, we had to prepare for the season and these kids were good.
The Waukegan area had a very good reputation for baseball and the promoting of players to college and pro levels. While I was a part of the Pony League, there was a kid in the Colt League who got an offer for a full four-year scholarship to Creighton University and an offer from the Montreal Expos. This kid was smart and took the college scholarship.
I was excited for all these kids and the opportunities that awaited them.
More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.