In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding talks about his routines while working at Capitol Hill, attending his father’s funeral, and moving to another duty station.
I thought for sure I would be leaving the Capitol in two days [read previous letter], but that didn’t happen, simply because they didn’t have the power that they thought they did. I’m pretty sure I was making the Senior Chief’s days miserable as I was sitting there next to him. He wouldn’t even talk to me, which didn’t bother me at all.
Every time there was an errand to be run, I was given that task. It might have been to the Senate or the House offices and I would have a ball. You see, there are trains (small ones) running from the Capitol basement to the Senate buildings (Russell or Dirksen-Hart) or to the House buildings (Rayburn or Cannon) and I would use these to deliver whatever I was carrying, usually an envelope with medical paperwork for a Senator or Congressman, and once in a while I would get a chance to visit the Supreme Court Building.
(Photo credit: Architect of the Capitol)
I rode the train with Palm Springs, California, Mayor Sonny Bono and had a ball talking with him. I rode with the Speaker of the House Jim Wright of Texas and other prominent people.
One day, I was sitting in the office and Congressman Sonny Montgomery came in to meet with the Admiral and to go for ice cream at the House cafeteria. He greeted me and invited me to go with him and the Admiral for ice cream and I could see the Senior Chief was seething in his chair. When I agreed to go with them, I am sure he was beet red.
The Admiral walked in and the Congressman told the Admiral that I would be going with them, he smiled and nodded in the affirmative. I enjoyed the ice cream and the conversation that I had with them both. I do believe that the Admiral took a liking to me and I am sure he was told that I would be leaving the Capitol soon, I never once made a negative comment about the office to them.
Amid all this anxiety and crap, I got a call from my brother Gene telling me that my father had passed away. I was told he died of pneumonia and that it wasn’t the Alzheimer’s. I was sad, but, in a way, I felt my father died when we found out that he had the dreaded disease at age 62. He never was the same after that and neither was my mother.
My mother’s role as caregiver took its toll on her because, I feel, she aged beyond her years. More to come on the Alzheimer’s issue in future letters.
Bud and I got on a plane and flew back to Northern Kentucky for the funeral. I have to tell you that I just despise funerals. I know this is one of my biggest hang-ups in life, but these are my reasons: the body lying there in the casket is really no longer there and they put makeup on these bodies to make them look “good.” Seriously, they do not look good, they are dead and gone.
The other part of this is the fact that relatives and friends come out of the woodwork to be there for this big occasion, some you haven’t seen in 30 or 40 or more years and you know the first things out of their mouth is “he or she really looks good” … WHAT!!! He is dead for @%*&# sakes!!!!!!!
Back on a plane and back to the craziness at the Capitol.
The next couple of weeks, I continued to deliver medical papers all over Capitol Hill and enjoyed the many stops and the sites that most people do not get to witness. The architecture in the Capitol is stunningly beautiful and, trust me, that is an understatement.
I finally got a call from the Hospital Corpsman detailer and was able to chat with him in private with no other ears listening in. He told me that I was requested by a Captain at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, to be the Leading Chief of the Laboratory. Of course, I did not hesitate, I said, “YES!”
I had a meeting with this Captain the very next day and he was a gentleman that I knew at the Naval Hospital in San Diego. We chatted for hours and even had lunch together. He told me that he called the detailer and asked which Chiefs were available for orders and that he needed a very good Chief to replace the Chief of the Laboratory.
He said the detailer mentioned my name and he said, “I want him.”
I told him that it would be an honor to serve with him again. He said that I probably would be receiving orders within the week and if I needed time off I could do so. I quickly told him I will check in the day after I have the orders in hand.
I was ecstatic.
I talked with the detailer and he told me I would have orders in hand by the end of the week, this was on a Wednesday. Now, of course, the orders would be received by the administrative staff of the office in the Capitol and so I was expecting to get some last-minute harassing from them, and I prepared myself for the worst.
The very next day, I was called upstairs to talk with Mr. Moran and he was extremely pleasant to me and commenced to tell me that when I see the evaluation marks for me, I will see the best evaluation anyone could get and that I shouldn’t say a word to anyone that reflected on this office in a negative way.
In other words, “We are bribing you with a great evaluation, but we do not want you to bad mouth our office (duty station).” I just smiled at him and didn’t say one word. I did not agree to anything that he wanted from me.
The very next day, I got my orders in hand and I left that office saying goodbye to only the staff members who supported me.
I was happy that I would be going back to real Naval medicine again and wearing the Chief uniform that makes me proud to be who I am, where I have been, and what I have done.
I checked in to personnel on that Monday with the biggest smile on my face. When I was done, I checked in with the Captain and we met with the Chief Pathologist of the Lab, another Captain. We talked for about an hour or so and the doctor told me that there were several (12) young pathologists in the lab that needed real Navy direction and he hoped that I would be able to do that. I assured him I was the Chief that could do that task.
The Laboratory at Bethesda was the largest lab in the military, worldwide, and it had 398 personnel, both civilians and military, and it had every aspect of laboratory that you can imagine, even a forensics section.
I met with the current leading Chief for the rest of the day and he shared all his duties with me and told me that he would be with me for about a week, because he was retiring from the Navy. I was to be introduced to the lab personnel the next day and I would start in the morning meeting that was held at 0900 every morning in a large conference room. This meeting was attended by all the pathologists, all medical service officers, and all heads of each of the lab departments, such as Hematology, blood bank, etc. The purpose of the meeting was to pass on information about the day and night, the goings on that affected the hospital, and other pertinent information that needed to be passed on.
More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.