Monday, October 11, 2010
The Mysterious Presidential Citation
Six months after my father died and was buried with full military honors, I got a "thank you for your father's service" in the mail from the President of the United States. It was a heart wrenching surprise and it took a little digging to discover the origins of this mysterious Presidential Certificate.
The certificate didn't actually come to the mailbox at my house, but arrived at the funeral home in my name. The funeral director told me he had "checked the box" and had one for my sister too. The envelope said "Department of Veterans Affairs" and the signature was that of Barack Obama!
The certificate or citation reads: "The United States of America honors the memory of William Ashley Chapman. This certificate is awarded by a grateful nation in recognition of devoted and selfless consecration to the service of our country in the Armed Forces of the United States. (signed) Barack Obama, President of the United States"
Well, holy cow!
I Googled around to try to discover the origin of this mysterious certificate. My father had won many medals and honors, but I couldn't find the name of this one anywhere. I did see one On Line that had been signed for a veteran back in the seventies by POTUS Richard Nixon, and one signed more recently for a veteran who later joined the CIA and had been killed in the line of duty. The latter was signed by POTUS Bill Clinton.
Finally, I found an article by Molly Shomer which explains the certificates. They are available to the family of any honorable veteran who dies, and it is never too late to apply for one. She writes: "The Department of Veterans Affairs administers this program, which has been in effect since 1962. [Ed's note: perhaps this was an early JFK idea?] They prepare the certificates, each of which expresses the country's grateful recognition of the deceased veteran's service to the nation, and each of which bears the name of the veteran and the signature of the current President of the United States." She continues:
"This certificate, which honors the service and the memory of an honorably discharged deceased veteran, might mean a great deal to some bereaved family members. Unlike the nation's flag, which can be presented to only one family member, more than one memorial Certificate can be provided so that all next of kin of any age can receive one. Because it can take several weeks from the time it is requested to the time a certificate is received, it will usually not be possible to receive them in time for an immediate funeral. However, they make exceptionally meaningful gifts for family members who may be attending a memorial service scheduled at a later date. They are also especially meaningful when presented on Memorial Day or Veterans' Day." She concludes:
"There is no time limit for requesting a Presidential Memorial Certificate, so if certificates were not requested at the time of death they can be requested at any time."
What a valuable tradition was begun under President Kennedy! This certificate arrived and my heart swelled with pride. I knew and my father knew that he had served and served proudly. But it was a reminder than I will not soon forget.
My father, the lifelong conservative, would likely have chosen, if he could have done so, to have had it signed by President Ronald Reagan. But in our country, we honor the office, no matter our political party. So thank you, President Obama. My father and the Gipper are consulting about you at this very moment, and coming up with a list of suggestions that might help you in the future. Or might help replace you with President Petraeus. But it isn't personal, sir. It's just politics.
For more information on the Presidential Memorial Certificates for Veterans, go to the web site of the Department of Veteran Affairs.