Ask Amy: Families should hold on to discharge papers

Dear Amy: My father died three weeks ago.

After his death, I talked with a close friend whose father died in 2007.

Our experiences inspired me to write to you, and I ask you to please publish this as an alert to all veterans and to their immediate families: Please keep your military discharge papers in a safe place, and be sure your family members know where these documents are located!

Our fathers were both veterans who were buried with full military honors, but they were almost denied that right due to bureaucratic issues.

In both cases, the funeral homes contacted the VA for our fathers’ discharge papers, only to be told that the VA had no record of their service. (Some years ago, a fire destroyed a VA building, which may explain why some records were lost.)

Without those papers, it was impossible to prove they had served, and without that proof, neither of our families could have had the honor guard at our father’s funerals. By superhuman effort, an employee of the office that stores some of my father’s documents found his discharge papers and got them to the funeral home just in time for the honor guard to be arranged.

My friend’s father had been active in a veteran’s organization whose members were able to arrange the honor guard on his behalf, but for both our families, it was a near miss and very stressful.

It’s never easy to discuss topics like these ahead of time, but if you or your closest family members were in the service, please get this straight before need arises. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what we did.

Thank you for the good work you do.

— Proud Daughter of a Veteran

Dear Proud Daughter: I’m very sorry for your loss, and I appreciate being able to publish this as a helpful public service to readers.

I also offer your advice in honor of our “Uncle Bud,” whose funeral I attended just last week.

Bud had just turned 104 years old when he died; in addition to being a wonderful man, he was a very proud veteran of World War II, after which he served in the merchant marines.

The honor guard ceremony Uncle Bud received was so beautiful, dignified, and moving. Every servicemember who has served honorably also deserves an honorable final send-off, and I thank you for reminding family members to keep these important papers on hand.

Military One Source ( has a comprehensive guide of eligibility for military honors. Interestingly, this does not only include members of the military. Members of the Commissioned Officers Corps of the Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are also eligible.

Dear Amy: What can I say to people who unnecessarily idle their cars while sitting in a parking lot? We do NOT need more pollution!

These idlers are generally not happy when I knock on their window and bring up the subject.

What firm-but-polite words can I use?

I’m even thinking of printing business cards to leave on the vehicle, because sometimes the owners of the idling car are not even in it!

— Greg in Minnesota

Dear Greg: Unless there is a human or animal in the car waiting while the car’s owner dashes into the pharmacy for some life-saving medication, there is no justification for an empty car to sit idling.

Rather than printing up cards, I suggest a very colorful flier, placed on the windshield of an empty idling car.

According to the Department of Energy (, “Researchers estimate that idling from heavy-duty and light-duty vehicles combined wastes about 6 billion gallons of fuel annually. About half of that is attributable to personal vehicles, which generate around 30 million tons of CO2 every year just by idling. While the impact of idling may be small on a per-car basis, the impact of the 250 million personal vehicles in the U.S. adds up. For saving fuel and reducing emissions, eliminating the unnecessary idling of personal vehicles would be the same as taking 5 million vehicles off the roads.”

Dear Amy: I could not believe that you told “Past Completed” that she “owed” three bully friends “a debt of gratitude” after they apologized for long-ago bullying behavior.

This person does not owe these jerks anything!

— Upset

Dear Upset: The context of this “debt of gratitude” was that “Past Completed” might feel grateful that these bids for forgiveness were summarily shredded, and the circle is now closed.

I agree that she owes them nothing!

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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