In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding talks about what it was like to walk into the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. for the first time, and his dad’s Alzheimer’s.
I had to fly ahead to Washington, D.C., for a couple of reasons.
One, I was asked to sing the National Anthem at a Navy Captains retirement and, two, I needed to check into my new duty station for an orientation/indoctrination of the rules and special items that I would need at the Office of the Attending Physician to Congress. Wow, that really sounded like a very cool place to go, we shall see.
So, the day I was leaving I was requested to fly out of Glenview Naval Air Station on a Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye a tactical airborne early-warning, all-weather aircraft. I felt honored to be getting a ride from such a prestigious plane.
U.S. Navy E-2C Hawkeye, DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George R. Kusner, U.S. Navy. (Released)
We landed at Andrews Air Force Base and I was shuttled to National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The Captain that was retiring was stationed at that center, he and I had met one time before when I sang the National Anthem at a Marine Corps Colonel’s retirement and I guess he liked the way I sang the anthem. The ceremony was the next day at 1000 hours and I was given a room at the Chief Petty Officer quarters. The ceremony was great, and the anthem was sung. The next day, I was to take the subway to the Capitol for my orientation.
(Photos above by Matt, Eleven Photographs, on Unsplash)
I got up early the next morning and took the Metro (DC subway) to the Capitol. My instructions were to wear a civilian suit and to come to the Rotunda where the Capitol Police were standing guard and where the metal detecting apparatus was and to let the police know who I was and that I was there for the Office of the Attending Physician to Congress.
I told them and they told me to hang tight, someone from the office would be there to greet me. I waited a short period of time and this fellow in a civilian suit came over to me and introduced himself as a Senior Chief and his name, I will call him John Doe. He told me to follow him and to go through the metal detectors, and so, I did, and the detectors went off when I passed through the opening and the Capitol Police quickly came over to me. The Capitol Police pulled me off to the side and I explained to them that I still had shrapnel in me from Vietnam and that must have sent the detectors off. I was detained a short period of time and then released to John Doe.
I was taken down these steps to this hallway and all I could see were these offices with closed doors and no nameplates on the doors to indicate who was behind each door. He opened one of the doors and we walked into this office and off to the left were two desks side-by-side and behind one desk and along the sides were about ten file cabinets. To the right was a small waiting area with four chairs and a table in the middle with some of the latest magazines. On the walls were many paintings of landscapes and some notable politicians from the past. Straight ahead there was an opening to another area in the back, and to the right of the waiting area was another doorway and that door was closed.
John Doe was explaining to me that the function of this office was to medically treat the Senators, Congressmen, and the Supreme Court Justices.
The door opened and another gentleman walked in wearing a nice suit and I was introduced to him; he was a fellow Chief and he worked the admin section of the office. John Doe had to do something, so this fellow Chief was asked to show me around and give me the complete tour of all the spaces that housed the Attending Physician to Congress.
The back room of the main office had a few treatment rooms and blood-drawing stations and I was introduced to two civilian nurses and two Navy doctors, one a Commander and the other a Lieutenant Commander both dressed in civilian clothes. They all welcomed me very warmly.
We went back out to the waiting room and there was that other doorway. We went over there, he knocked on the door and was told to enter. We went in and there was a physician behind this great big desk and off to the side was a treatment room. I was introduced to the doctor and he was a full bird Captain. He seemed nice.
We then left that office and were back in the hallway and we walked down a couple of doors and walked into this office and it was a full x-ray department with two machines and two individuals in civilian clothes with lab coats on and I was introduced to each one of them. One was a first-class petty officer and the other a second-class petty officer. They were getting ready to take an x-ray of an individual that was there. I recognized the person as a congressman.
The Capitol Police pulled me off to the side and I explained to them that I still had shrapnel in me from Vietnam and that must have sent the detectors off.
We then walked down the other hallway to another closed door. We walked in there and it was a full laboratory and I met a second-class petty officer (in civilian clothes with a lab coat). The office to the right of the lab was the Admirals office and we did not go in there. The office on the left was a full physical therapy room with two hot tubs and I met the first class that was in there.
We continued down the hallway and passed a room on the left which was the staff lounge with tables and chairs, refrigerator, microwave, and a sink. There were two civilians sitting in the lounge and I was introduced to them and they were drivers for the office. Across the hallway was another office and its door had a window in it and this was the pharmacy and it had a Lieutenant Pharmacist and a Chief Pharmacist mate in it, I met both and they were cordial.
We turned around and went back down the hallway and back into the main office where John Doe was sitting. He told me he would see me when I checked in on a future date and he asked me if I received a check for my civilian clothing allowance. I told him I had not yet received that, and he said one would be coming and that when I showed up for my first day to come in civilian clothes and that I was free to go.
I walked out of there and headed for the Metro and back to Bethesda to set up my flight back to Glenview Naval Air Station. I had a few extra days at Bethesda before the E-2 Hawkeye would be traveling back to Illinois. When I finally got back, we packed up and headed for Northern Kentucky for a short visit with my Mom and Dad and then on to Washington, D.C.
The visit to Northern Kentucky was sad, to say the least. You see, my dad had Alzheimer’s. He was diagnosed at 62, retired at 62, and really didn’t get to enjoy his retirement because he kept getting worse and worse. The typical Alzheimer’s where the person starts losing their memory and loses the ability to do simple things anymore. It was sad to see this brilliant man lose his mind and his physical abilities.
My mother was a saint trying to be his caregiver. All my dad did was follow her around all day long and just hover over her. He went from doing small tasks to not being able to do any of them.
I never saw my father cry until he had this wretched and horrific disease. Sitting watching a TV show sometimes would set him off into a crying episode for absolutely no reason. He was a good man and I just wondered why he was the one to get this disease. His mother had it and, if I recall correctly, all his siblings had it except the oldest one. I know me and my three brothers always hoped that we wouldn’t get it. More about that in a later letter.
Back on the road. Our destination is now Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Capitol and whatever lies in store for Bud and his education and sports.
More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.