"He does not exist!" the man insisted.
"I assure you he exists or I wouldn't be standing here," I told the man at the V.A. or Veterans Administration whose vinegar attitude contrasted sharply with the aloha spirit of Hawaii which is where I was. I looked him straight in the eye and said, "He is my father."
I figured that the guy was a government worker and doing the best that he could. So, I drove to my parent's condominium and picked up the handsome photo that my mother kept near her bedside, the one where my father is in his officer's uniform and has medals draped on him, and drove it back to the Veteran's Administration. "Here," I said to the same vinegary man. "Here is my father," and I repeated his name, rank, and gave him his social security number. Again.
"Sorry, he doesn't exist," the V.A. guy said. Again. I took a big breath. I am not combative. I let my burnt toast win me over in the morning. But this time I was fighting for my father. This was different. He was 81-years-old and it was time he got some of his veterans benefits. He was in the hospital and his doctor had suggested it. And my mother was at his side helping him.
"He attends Veterans of Foreign War meetings on Fridays and even has the hat to prove it!" I blurted out like an idiot. Where was my cool, logical, reasoning mind? That's right. I didn't own one. Not when I was this upset. Get it together, for heaven's sake! For Dad.
I decided to take a walk on the beautiful green grounds under turquoise skies. I left with the handsome framed photo of dad when his hair was jet black and curly and his eyes were a penetrating shade of sapphire blue which they were still. Only his thick head of curly hair was now white and shone like a beacon in a crowd. He took such pride in his appearance -- I never saw my father with whiskers -- not once, ever! I sat down under a coral tree to think.
I had his helmet. But the V.A. would never believe me that it was his. I even had his footlocker and he had given me his army jacket which was leather with a beaver collar. Nah, they wouldn't care. Then I remembered my father's files. I raced back to my parent's place. I had never touched my father's files but I touched them now. I found files that were from WWII and went into Dad's leadership skills in terms of leading his men -- "exemplary" was the word that kept popping up.
Yes, it was all there: His building of officer's clubs here in the United States then his service in war for George Patton in North Africa. All to fight against Hitler. He had been a career military officer... until the night he was injured by the Germans. It was right there, too. So, why didn't dad exist in the system?
I found out. There had been a fire in the wood files that encased his files that were in St. Louis or someplace like that and the "Rs" had been burned to the ground. Couldn't we have been told that? Instead, we had to re-construct dad from bits and pieces and our papers were not to be considered because they were the carbon copies and not the originals. Poor Dad! He was MIA within his own army!
Eventually, the V.A. acknowledged that he was one of their own but it was not with any grace or poise or any gratitude for my father's service as a career military officer or someone who was wounded in action and lived with a war injury and its horrific consequences each and every day the rest of his life. He finally received his benefits but died two years later.
At a time when the V.A. is in the news, this is my story. Until we recognize and thank our soldiers, especially our wounded ones, for their service and dedication, we do not have a proper Veterans Administration, only a disgraced one.
Thanks to all of our soldiers for their dedication and service. Let us recognize and thank them for their courage and devotion to our country and the freedoms they help preserve. Happy Memorial Day.