Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, November 12, 2006


It surprised me at my dad’s funeral when, at the graveside, my cousin, who was the funeral director, got on one knee and said to my mom, “The president of the United States thanks you for Mike’s service, on the behalf of a grateful nation,” and gave her a flag that two sailors had ceremoniously folded. My dad had enlisted in the Navy in 1961, after having gotten married and graduated from college. He was proud of being a vet. He served in Vietnam on a supply ship, overseas for 7 months, saw no fighting, and got out in ‘67.

When my cousin invoked our president, he was invoking the office and not the person. This cousin served in the Navy too, was in Lebanon in ‘83, and recently retired after 20 years in the Reserves. The ceremoniousness of the flag-passing was odd and touching and real. My dad was a Republican who volunteered to serve under Democratic presidents.

Dad was a moderate Republican, pro-choice and anti-racist, and when the Republican Party left him he didn’t realize it and stayed loyal. Every other year or so for the last 10 or 12 we would get into a horrible argument about politics.

For the last few years on Veterans’ Day he would ask me what I was doing that day to honor veterans. I always held my tongue and did not say, “I’m supporting Democratic politicians,” even though it would have been an honest answer -- the D’s have consistently for many years been better on Veterans’ issues than the R’s.

This year it looked like rain, my beloved spouse had a cold, and the community gyms where kids could play were closed, so I looked in the paper for somewhere to take the kid. The Boeing Employees Concert Band was playing a concert of patriotic music at the Museum of Flight. The kid & I dig brass bands, so we went.

They nailed the Sousa and struggled with Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” but it was still great to hear it live; likewise two movements from “Suite Francaise” by Darius Milhaud. But the medley of service hymns tore me up. They asked the veterans if each branch of the service to stand when their hymn was played. Vets from all four branches of the service played in the band, so they led the way for the standing, and as these mostly elderly men, all in blue jeans and flannel shirts, stood up, everybody applauded. I missed my dad.

A couple of months after he died I learned that the VA medical services he availed himself of were only offered to veterans with service-related injuries and to low-income veterans. My dad was the latter. I grew up middle class, but after I was grown my parents were consistently under-employed. They managed to hold onto their inherited property, but Dad qualified for VA medical assistance.

I recently read that the American Legion has been asking Congress to make VA medical service available to all veterans regardless of income or injury status. The Legion wants it because the smorgasbord of managed care options is an expensive, irritating, bewildering labyrinth for most people. People who have crunched the numbers admit that the VA delivers higher quality health care for less money than any other system in the country public or private. But the government won’t expand it even though we would save money. Something about an anti-government ideology getting in the way.

Single-payer universal health care. It’s cheaper and better. Here’s hoping.

Before it was Veterans’ Day, November 11 was Armistice Day. Peace.
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