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Final Honors for Vets

This Veterans Day, as I have for the last few years, I will be thinking about my dad. My dad was buried in a Department of Veterans Affairs cemetery near Tampa, Florida, four years ago.

The ceremony was dignified and moving, and would have made my dad proud. When we arrived from the funeral home where the viewing was held, his casket had been placed on a low platform under a small pavilion and draped with an American flag. A Coast Guard Auxiliarist/Jewish rabbi recited the Hebrew prayer for the dead, as our family gathered around, listening or reciting with him. Then two young airmen, their uniforms taut and their backs razor straight, marched out slowly and stopped alongside Dad. One raised a bugle to his lips and played a stirring rendition of “Taps.” Then the two airmen folded the flag and presented it to my brother, Dad’s primary caretaker at the end. “Please accept the thanks of a grateful nation for your father’s service,” one of the airmen stated, in acknowledgment of my father’s years as an Air Force fighter pilot in World War II. Then the casket was moved to the burial plot and placed in the ground.

When people think about veterans benefits, I suspect most picture the education benefits or health care. I doubt many join the military so they can be buried in a VA cemetery.  However, it’s actually a valuable benefit and a moving final tribute to vets. The plot and headstone are free, as, of course, are the military honors. If you’ve researched funeral costs, you’ll know that’s significant. And the grounds at my dad’s location, and I suspect at all 131 VA cemeteries throughout the country, are lovely and well-maintained. I for one am comforted to visit my father in such a beautiful place.

Not only veterans, but their spouses, are eligible to be buried in a VA cemetery. And there are other services available to vets and their families. The booklet Federal Benefits for Veterans, Spouses and Survivors 2010 will help vets and their families learn all about them.

This Veterans Day, I salute my dad and all veterans. And I thank them for their sacrifice and dedication to keeping America strong and free.