Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh

OK… maybe not everybody wants to know I’m going through some personal stuff lately.  But here goes.  If you don’t want to know, stop reading now.

As some of you know, my dad passed away.  He died officially on the 15th.  How’s that for paying the ultimate tax!  Well he went heavily medicated and peacefully.  He was 87 years old.  I am now officially an orphan.  All of my older relatives have passed away except for a cousin and my dad’s sister who is also in her 80’s.

Though I’m not the executor of the estate, I am trying to do my part to help arrange for a memorial service for my dad.  Most recently my job has been to obtain a burial flag because he’s having a military send off.  Someone should write some directions for this stuff since nobody seems to be in agreement for what is needed or who to get it from –even the people who do it all the time.

The fellow who is officiating the military ceremony is from the DFW.  He told me I needed to find his DD214 (evidence of honorary discharge from the military).  Well, Houston we have a problem!  All of his important documents are locked up in a safe deposit box.  My brother (who is the executor) has applied for power of attorney, but that won’t come through before my dad’s service which is scheduled for May 8.  So, I had to dig through my dad’s papers to find something that would have his military service serial number.  It took a while, but I finally found a folder in a file called “mementoes” hidden away in a metal box in the back of his closet.  I have to say, he was such an organized man and never threw away much of anything.  There were love letters bundled that he’d received from my mom. (Probably every one she’d ever written.) There were notes and home-made cards that he’d received from us kids.  There was even a little tiny handmade envelop with a note in it that he had written when he was little to his dad and his grandfather.  Judging by the handwriting I’m guessing he was about seven or eight at the time. 

Finally, there was a plain brown, well-worn letter sized envelope.  In it were my dad’s “orders” marked CLASSIFIED at the top. (He’d saved every one.)  A letter thanking him for his service signed (for real –not a stamp) from President Harry Truman.  And a record of his service that showed when he entered the service, what he did while he was there, medals he earned, when he was discharged, and (thankfully) his serial number.  Dad was in the Army Air Corps and served as a first lieutenant as a pilot in the Pacific Theater.  My whole life I grew up hearing stories about trips to China, Japan, Okinawa, Guam and The Philippines.  Of his 87 years, this period was from 1943 to 1946.  It was that important to him.  In his later years, he often wore a bill cap that said “WWII” on it and was just what was needed to strike up conversations with other vets –especially the newer ones having recently served in the Gulf.  He had his pilot’s wings attached to it, so of course there was a lot of talk about airplanes and flying.  When he was in his early 70’s my mom gave him a glider ride for his birthday.  He talked about it for years!

So with paper in hand, I went to the post office (as directed by the DFW guy) to claim the flag that would be used in the service.  Wasn’t so surprised when the clerk said I had to have a form filled out (not the DD214) that came from the Veteran’s Administration.  She said I could also get one from the mortuary where he had been cremated.  Since I didn’t know exactly where that was, I went to the local vets hospital.  Clearly, they didn’t get that request very often –actually never. “It’s a veteran’s form!” I said to the clerk, “Certainly you must have them somewhere!”  After several minutes, he returned with papers in hand –two copies in fact (in case I screwed up the first one I guess) and a mile-long list of rules regarding the handling of the flag. (I must really look like an idiot  ‘cause there were two copies of that too!)

My next stop was to Fed-Ex Kinkos to make copies of the service record as it was required to be attached to the form.

Then back to the post office I went.  This time the clerk that waited on me was a woman who clearly had never had a burial flag request before.  She was agitated and didn’t know quite what to do.  The clerk next to her said, “You sign and date it then she does. Then you go get the flag.”  After the signing ordeal, I said “You’ll need this service record to attach to the form.”  "Oh nooo," she replied.  “I don need dat.”  “Oh yes you do!” I answered.  “See it says so right on this form you just signed! Go ahead and take it, you might as well since I went to the trouble to make it for you!  It can’t hurt.”  She took the papers and retreated into the back room and appeared with a smile on her face and a box.  Handing it to me as if it were a box of chocolates, she said “Enjoy!”  Okay, not the kind of comment I would have expected, but at least I finally got the flag.

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4 responses to “Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh

  1. Oh man, Pam! What an ordeal!I’m very sorry to hear about your Dad. I guess I qualify as an orphan too, since Dec. Going through my mom’s very organized files and boxes of letters undid me. I submerged myself in my family’s history and cried alot. I have begun saving emails between my siblings and I, because I realize we won’t have that rich history in letters like our parents did. You’re in my thoughts!

  2. Thanks Kit. I appreciate your comment very much. Finding those letters was just scratching the surface. My dad was a photographer and left behind thousands of 35mm slides that my brothers and I have to go through. We’re going to put together a slide show for his "celebration of life" party that we’re doing. It is wonderful to find little snipits of his life that I wasn’t privy to, like the little childhood note I found. It’s sad you can go your whole life and only see someone through the perspective of your own experience with them –until they die. I agree that with the internet, the age of letter writing has slipped away along with the ability to save those special notes in a tangible way. Do save your family emails on some sort of storage media. I had an email account (MSN) that just "lost" all of my important emails. It was my business email and I lost ALL of my client emails and MSN couldn’t recover them.

  3. Pam thanks for sharing — and I am sorry for your loss. Sounds like your dad was an amazing man. I will admit — this hits me — it makes me think about my own morality and of course how exactly my girls will ultimately remember me. (funny thing is I think I had a similar comment for Kit when she posted on her dad). And I know it may sound a little self-centered for me to say that, but I think rather it is a testament to you and your family. I wish you better luck with the remaining planning you must do for the celebration. Regards.

  4. I appreciate your comment JB. I know this must strike a chord with many who are anywhere close to my age when we start losing our parents and older relatives. I’ve lost 10 of them in the last five years (including my parents). Someone mentioned there should be a course taught or maybe it should be included in Life Skills 101 (or whatever they call it in high school nowadays). Problem is, we’d probably forget the important stuff by the time we got old enough to use it! Heaven forbid we would have to use it when it is fresh in our minds. I’m grateful I’ve had the many years that I’ve had with them. I’ll miss them everyday for the rest of my life and hope my children will not forget me long after I’m gone. Mortality is what it is. I do think our society doesn’t deal with it and thus doesn’t prepare us for it. Isn’t it amazing that we can teach our children to deal with every other moral issue these days whether it will actually impact their lives directly or not, yet we still do not prepare them for the inevitable loss of ourselves and other loved ones.The flag thing was but a bump in the road but it helps me to remember this otherwise very solemn time with some humor which I know my dad would have appreciated! I’m glad I shared it with you and everyone else who felt compelled to read it. I’m glad I have support from so many.