I met an old man last week, eating breakfast at Las Palapas. He sat in the booth next to mine, and since we were both single, he faced me like we were at opposite ends of a long table. The diner was empty, save a busboy and our waitress, who refilled our coffee cups before taking her morning break.
“Shame. Shame on this newspaper.” He opened a quarter-folded copy of the local, but corporately-owned rag. “It says here, ‘The problem boils down to money. Uncle Sam gives veterans a government headstone or marker, burial flag, presidential memorial certificate and perpetual care of the gravesite if it is in a VA cemetery.’ But no casket. How can they say that?” His thick lilt was punctuated by a hard tap on the table with his fist. “That the problem boils down to money? I gave twenty-seven years of my life to protect my country.”
The busboy asked a question in Spanish.
My new friend answered, “Sí.”
His coffee was refilled.
“What price to pay? The problem isn’t about money. It’s about respect.”
I agreed, but I couldn’t offer any homily that would help, so I listened and nodded.
*To be fair, the article congratulates a local charity that provides caskets in San Antonio, but not Abilene, where two homeless vets died. Read more here.