In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding talks about settling into the D.C. area and the difficulty of working within a bureaucracy.
Our travels to the D.C. area were uneventful, thank goodness, and we wound up staying in the military lodge on Fort Myer base in Arlington Virginia, which was the home of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard.” This unit was responsible for all burials in Arlington National Cemetery, the guarding of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and as escort to the President.
(Photo by Kyler Becker, Creative Commons)
It was a short stay at the lodge, and we spent a lot of time looking for a place to buy and checking all the schools in the Maryland area. We were looking for the International Studies Program, like the one in Waukegan. We found an International Baccalaureate Program at the Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, so we went there to learn more about that program. We found out that this was their first year of this program and the counselors didn’t have a lot of information but thought that it was a good fit for Bud, so we enrolled him in the program.
Now, we had to find a place to live. We found a townhouse in the Silver Spring area of Maryland and purchased it. We moved into the townhouse and got Bud busing for him to travel to Richard Montgomery. I had to find a route for me to get to the Capitol and I did find a route that kept me off the Interstates, which I was glad, because of the heavy traffic in that area. I was able to park my car right behind the Capitol, how neat was that? My 1976 Plymouth Fury parked in the back of the United States Capitol. I got a lot of stares from the Capitol Police when I pulled into the driveway and all the barricades that I had to go through. Really neat! But, hold on, there is so much more to come at this duty station; some good, but mostly bad.
(1976 Plymouth Fury)
Bud was taking the bus to school and that was going well, he was meeting lots of friends and seemed to be having a good time.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t having such a good time at my job. The Senior Chief assigned me to the front desk with him and our jobs were to take care of the Congressmen, Senators, and the Supreme Court justices when they came into the office for various appointments or whatever their needs were, we were there to handle them. If they came in, it was our job to get their healthcare record and direct them to whatever or wherever they needed.
Sounds simple enough, but not in an environment that was so extremely sensitive in making sure everything was perfect. This walking on pins and needles was made by the administration of the medical office and it made everybody in the office very tense. I watched Senior Petty Officers getting chewed out for the most meaningless things and, yes, I understand that the office should be of the utmost excellence in giving medical care, like any healthcare facility should. You can still do this without the tenseness which causes people to make mistakes.
We had to wear suits or dress pants with a sports coat every day and no one who was visiting the Capitol would know that we were active duty military personnel. I have always been proud of my Purple Hearts and so I purchased a Purple Heart lapel pin to wear on my suit coat or my sport jacket. Who would know that this was the cause of my negative situation there at the Capitol? More on that, shortly.
When I was off work, Bud and I would go to a nearby baseball field and we would toss baseballs. I would pitch to him and hit grounders to him. Bud wanted to do this in order to be in shape for the baseball season with the Richard Montgomery High School Rockets.
One day, we were doing our usual practicing and normally nobody was around because this was fall and nobody in their right mind would be playing baseball unless their names were Greg and Stan Gerding. I noticed a car pull up on the hill by the baseball field and I could see that there was a gentleman inside the car who seemed to be watching us. We continued to practice for about an hour and then this guy gets out of his car and walks down to the field. He introduced himself and told us that he was a San Francisco Giants baseball scout and that he lived right up the road from the field and was on his way home when he saw us there. He shook hands with both of us and he gave Bud a pair of batting gloves and his card. He told us that he would be scouting Greg throughout his last two years of high school. He told me that he thought Greg had a helluva swing and that the majors was always looking for left-handed batters. What a proud moment!
Back to the craziness of my new duty station.
One day, Congressman Sonny Montgomery (G.I. Bill) of Mississippi came into the office and sat down in one of our waiting room chairs.
I was getting ready to ask him if I could help him when Senior Chief John Doe says quickly, “Congressman, I will let the Admiral know that you are here.”
He said, “Thanks.” And as he looked over at both of us, he noticed my lapel pin and said, “Son, is that a Purple Heart on your jacket?”
I acknowledged to him that it was.
He said, “I thought so. Senator Dole always wore his Purple Heart on his jacket.” He got up and came over to my desk and sat on the corner of my desk and said, “Vietnam, Son?”
I said, “Yes, I received two Purple Hearts in Vietnam.”
We had a little discussion about the war and this went on for about five minutes and then the Admiral walked in the door and asked if the Congressman was ready to go.
He said, “Yes.” He then looked at me and told me, “We should continue our conversation another day, maybe over some ice cream from the Congressional cafeteria.”
I smiled and told him, “I look forward to that day.”
As soon as the two men were out the door, the Senior Chief looked at me and told me never to do that again and that we are not to speak to them about our personal lives.
I told him that when someone talks to me I was taught by my parents to be nice and talk to them and if they want to carry on a conversation you do so. To me, this was common knowledge and common respect.
He told me that he ordered me not to converse with any of the dignitaries that came in that office.
I looked at him and told him in so many words to kiss it.
He gave me a nasty look and told me to stay at the desk and that he would be right back.
When he came back, he told me to go up and see Mr. Moran, the Administrator of the office and a retired and former Lieutenant Commander Medical Service Corps, US Navy, a guy who enlisted in the Navy and worked his way up the chain and was commissioned as an officer.
I went up to his office and he invited me in and told me to sit and I did. He commenced to go over the same rules of the office and I told him the same thing I told the Senior Chief. He told me in so many uncertain terms that they could easily get rid of me.
I told him to do it. I don’t need this harassment and BS in the last years of my Navy career.
He told me to get out of his office and he will see to it that I would be gone in a few days.
More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.