Every now and then, the fact some things have gone very wrong is made unarguable and real, right in front of me.
The administration of our Presidential Pretender isn't doing right by veterans. Anyone who reads what's under headlines containing the words "Veterans Affairs" knows funding for vets has been cut by $15 billion in this administration.
But that's a distant issue for most of us. Last time I used the services of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Cooper Drive, everything seemed fine. I got the arthritis medication I needed and left without a single complaint. They haven't closed my clinic.
Not yet anyway.
So most of the time, the fact President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld don't care about veterans is something I know in a theoretical sort of way.
But the other day, solid evidence of how things are changing for veterans was demonstrated right in front of me.
In 1953, I witnessed my first funeral where full military honors were rendered. During the Spanish-American War, Great Uncle Joe carried a Krag rifle down in Cuba. When he died, that brief piece of his life was commemorated with a firing squad from the American Legion.
At the end, the mournful notes of Taps were played by a distant bugler half-hidden by oak trees in and around the Stewart Cemetery in Clearfield.
The melody echoed from the hills and, when it came back to us, sent chills up my 6-year-old spine.
Three weeks ago, we buried Uncle Jim Stewart in the same graveyard, under the same trees. Jim had more than 30 years in the Air Force. He served in three wars, and half a dozen Bronze Stars attested to the courage of his career. Like Uncle Joe, Jim was carried to his final rest with an American flag draping his coffin, and a troop of Legionnaires fired rifles at the end of his graveside service.
Then someone stepped forward and pressed buttons on a toy horn. From a distance it looked real, but the thing was a camouflaged boom box.
Rather than spring for real buglers to play over the remains of veterans, the VA has instead issued hundreds of these things, which have an imbedded computer chip to play an electronic version of Taps.
It doesn't fool anyone. The "bugler" had to stand very close to mourners to be heard, and there were no echoes from the hills. Anybody standing anywhere near those hills wouldn't have noticed it at all.
The fact that government --especially this one- -- favors form over substance is no surprise. That they cut services for the taxpayers who pay their salaries and maintain a "good enough for who it's for" attitude toward veterans isn't news either. And Lord knows, plenty of things are going on that are more important than the authenticity of funeral bugles.
Of course, our Presidential Pretender doesn't go to military funerals, at least not for enlisted guys like Uncle Jim, no matter how many Bronze Stars they wore. When they bring kids' coffins home from Iraq and Afghanistan, there's a ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the bugles may be real, I dunno. Bush, who's never attended one of those services, wouldn't know either.
This small thing looms large for me: Even the bravest vets of past wars get a toy trumpet at the end. It says a lot about how seriously this court-appointed administration takes the concept "veteran." And for the afternoon we put Uncle Jim to rest, it made the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld agenda much clearer than newspaper headlines about $15 billion cut from veterans' benefits.
Children of the men who bled in Vietnam, grandchildren of those who landed at Normandy and Okinawa and Inchon are encouraged every day to enlist and maybe earn their own share of nightmares later in life.
Before raising their hands, those youngsters might want to ponder how much their leaders respect their sacrifices.