Notes from a soldier’s daughter

My father was buried last week, with military honors. There aren’t many of them left now, those of the World War II generation called “The Greatest.” My father’s war was so very long ago that were it not for his eye patch, a very visible reminder of the cost of war, it was easy to forget that he was a veteran. He didn’t talk much about it and when he did it was by way of humorous anecdote. 

In Arkansas last week, I was reminded on many levels of just how good Veteran Administration benefits can be. All of my dad’s medication came from the local VA hospital, at a fraction of the cost they paid for my mother’s meds. His hospice care was completely paid for, and we could have chosen any hospice in town—it did not have to be the VA Hospital. Shortly before his death, he saw his ophthalmologist and got a new prescription for eyeglasses.  The VA gave him two new pairs—free.

When he expressed the wish to die at home, the wheelchair, the hospital bed where he spent his last days, all the bandages and potions and unguents needed to care for a bed-ridden patient, all were provided by the hospice and covered by his VA benefits. Likewise the visiting nurse who came weekly and the orderly who came each day to change the dressings and bathe him.

Part of his funeral expenses were covered, and because he was buried in a U.S. National Cemetery, the government paid for the opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a headstone and a burial flag. The graveside ceremony was brief and beautifully done. Two Army soldiers, in dress blues, performed the flag-folding ceremony with dignity and precision, presenting the flag to my mother and thanking her for her “loved one’s service in the Army Air Corps.” (The Army Air Corps did not become the US Air Force until 1947, just after my father was demobilized). The service ended with the playing of “Taps”—maybe the most poignant, lonely song ever written. It seemed right and fitting to hear it in that setting—it was composed during the Civil War and played this time in a cemetery where Union and Confederate soldiers are buried side by side.

There has been a lot in the news lately about various VA Hospitals and centers and how abominably they have treated our vets. Luckily, we have an excellent VA hospital just up the road in Bedford. There are numerous Carlisleans who volunteer there in various capacities, but I suspect that the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital can always use more. As of next week I hope to be among their number. I think my dad would approve. ∆