Saturday, July 01, 2006

Veteran Affairs

Thanks for the kind thoughts, folks. You'll be glad to know that the funereal events earlier this week went—well, about as well as such things can go. My back is still sore from five or so hours in a limousine traveling to and from Florida National Cemetery—and that after a very Catholic funeral. I had forgotten that, before illness and age caught up with him, my uncle had spent a quarter of a century ushering at the beachside church where the ceremony was held. He had also been active in the Knights of Columbus, and many of those who came to the visitation and the funeral for his wife were fellow Knights, their wives, and others who remembered my uncle from his years at the church and who came out to support him as he mourned his wife of 55 years. You can keep all the jiggery-pokery with the bread and the wine and the waving around of hands and the solemn intonations and hey! presto! Transubstantiation!—I gave up Catholicism many years ago and have no plans to go back anytime soon—but I must say that I am grateful to the parishioners, the Knights, and to everyone else for their kindness and support for my uncle during a very trying time.

I've mentioned the beauty and strangeness of the veterans' cemetery where my aunt and my parents are interred—and where, eventually, my uncle will join them—before. As I said, it presents an odd combination of pastoral loveliness and military efficiency. Interments there are rigorously scheduled: funeral parties arrive (hearses, acccompanied by what are sometimes veritable convoys of limousines and family cars); they are escorted to one of four open-air "committal shelters"; final goodbyes are said; funereal parties depart, leaving the casket behind (the actual interments are not public); the shelters are readied for the next funeral party, which is often already lined up and waiting. On some days, I was told, the cemetery handles more than 60 funerals. It was certainly busy there earlier this week; our hearse and limo were two of two or three dozen vehicles parked along the road by the Visitors' Center at one point, awaiting clearance from death traffic control to proceed to final departure. Stackups in veterans' cemeteries are mute testimony, I guess, that the "Greatest Generation" is, alas, vanishing before our eyes.

Speaking of veterans, you may remember that last month I puzzled for a while over a New York Times op-ed by a reserve Marine major named Owen West who is one of the founders of an organization called Vets for Freedom. The op-ed, titled "The Troops Have Moved On," was mystifying because it was relentlessly vague—nay, grandiosely vague. From what I could gather, West was trying to tell us that "the troops have moved on" from debates about whether the war in Iraq was waged on false pretenses and, indeed, from debates about whether we should fight a "war on terror" in the first place (as opposed to more sanely fighting terrorists and trying to stop terrorism)—and now, so should the rest of us. In other words, Shut Up And Get With George Bush's Program, America.

Although my instincts shouted front group! as soon as I read West's vague op-ed and started poking around the VFF website, at the time, I saw no clear sign that the organization was anything other than what it claimed to be: a group of veterans who have banded together to support "the mission," or the "the Global War on Terror," or whatever vague abstraction they champion. Silly me; I should know by now, after almost six years under the Bush-Cheney regime, that cynicism is usually justified when you're dealing with pro-Bush punditry. At the time, there was also nothing about Vets for Freedom at the invaluable SourceWatch site; over the last month, however, SourceWatch has pulled together a ton of interesting information about VFF, its leaders, and its connections:

That's it: I'm going to become Catholic again, just so I can give up trust for Lent. Here I was, willing to give West's vague pro-war op-ed and his vague "pro-mission" organization the benefit of the doubt, only to discover that my initial suspicions were right: there is a method to their vagueness. VFF looks like just another front group: an independent-seeming mouthpiece for hidden interests. Will they wind up being the Swift Boat Vets of 2006? We'll see.

In other news, here on the "Space Coast" we're awaiting the space shuttle Discovery's hopeful return to space later today. For those interested, a great place to monitor launch developments (for shuttles and most anything else being sent up at the Cape) is The Flame Trench blog run by Florida Today. The latest news: Discovery seems to be having trouble with a "vernier thruster heater." Between the usual last-minute technical glitches and today's iffy weather, if I were a betting man, I'd bet that Discovery will not fly today. I'll be keeping an eye on launch matters, though, and if she goes, I'll be joyfully watching from the backyard and wishing the craft and crew well.

It would be nice to have an uplifting end to this trying week, I must say.


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