Among my father’s letters to his mother in WWII, I also found these two letters to him from Harry Truman and General Omar Bradley. These are two major figures from the history of that era that I have of course been exposed to over and over in school, movies and books. But seeing their signatures (even though they are just stamped) on the letters to my father made it all seem somehow much more real and less just a story in a way that all that other exposure did not.
These letters to my father remind me of a story from my own past. (Warning: long, pointless and somewhat political rant below.) I have my own certificate from a Washington figure in regard to my “service” to the country during a time of conflict. At some point during the first administration of G.W. Bush, Congress decided that the cold war was indeed over and that they needed to recognize those who had “fought” in it in some capacity. Although the idea is admirable in theory I suppose, it’s a pretty tricky task to identify those who actually served in that conflict. After all, the “cold” modifier on the word war is evidence that the confrontation involved much more than physical battle.
Not wanting to leave anyone out, or maybe just to make it easy on themselves, the powers that be decided that they would just give a certificate of appreciation to any federal employee from post WWII up to that time, regardless of the branch of government they worked for. The only stipulation they made was that you had actually ask to receive one. By virtue of my four years working for the Indian Health Service back before the Berlin Wall came down, I qualified. That didn’t make sense to me since the closest I got to dealing with the Russians is working with some of the Eskimos and Aleuts that Russian names by virtue of the Russians presence there way back when. Or maybe they figured because I lived in Anchorage not far from Sarah Palin’s place up the Knik Arm I could see Russia from my house. (I could in fact see a long way out toward the Aleutians from my cabin up on a mountainside south of town, but to be honest I don’t think I could really see much beyond the outline of the volcano Mt. Redoubt, which is still safely in American hands.)
I thought the whole concept of rewarding the likes of me quite silly, which of course made requesting my certificate a necessity. I submitted my name and my evidence of “service” (an old paystub I found in my desk), and a few months later I received my certificate dutifully stamped with the name of the current Secretary of Defense and architect of a not-so-cold war in Iraq, Donald “Rummy” Rumsfeld.
Like I said I thought the whole thing was a joke, and one that was insulting to my many friends and the other military veterans who had served in Korea, Viet Nam and the other not-so-cold parts of our tiff with the Communists during those years. Rummy himself may have felt somewhat the same about the absurdity of all this, as the certificate I received contained some nice words and his signature but no image of any government department seal or any other decoration. It was almost as if they printed out a draft of what was to go on some more official looking paper and then decided, heck, this is good enough let’s just send them out like this.
I probably still have my certificate, but it’s way down at the bottom of my pile of notable keepsakes and attaboys—certainly way below that nice Christmas card I got from the Obama’s one year. At least it had the first family’s photo on it.]]>