On a Sunday, my 13-year-old grandson and I were on our way to the Unitarian Universalist Church to refresh ourselves spiritually. Since we were early, we detoured to the Resthaven Cemetery on the way. As we walked solemnly and respectfully among the final resting places of hundreds of people, I discussed with him death. After sharing with him about cremation, my select means of disposing of my body, and the traditional burial six feet under the sod, he turned to me and said “Papa, I’ll come to visit your burial place if you have one.” On that Sunday, I experienced a deeper intimacy with my grandson, Brett.
As a veteran, I have a death benefit. If I choose, my survivors could request a military funeral with a flag, firing of the volley, playing of TAPS, a Chaplain from Fort Campbell to say a few meaningful words, and a single gravestone marker. I can be buried at the new Kentucky Veterans Cemetery. These benefits are available even with the increasingly popular cremation. Every American veteran deserves such benefits, especially those killed in action.
Recently in the Church and State newsletter, I read a story of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, killed in the war, whose family was denied the privilege of full military honors. In Missouri, we use the metaphor “that causes my blood to boil” to express our outrage, anger, and righteous indignation.
What disqualified Sgt. Stewart and his family for this benefit? This is the inside story:
“…Sgt. Patrick Stewart was killed in combat in September of 2005 when his helicopter was shot down. The Department of veterans Affairs refused to put a pentacle, the symbol of Stewart’s Wiccan faith, on his memorial marker. Roberta Stewart (his wife) sued. to settle the case, officials in the department greed to add the pentacle to its list of disapproved religious symbols.
“Patrick was my everything,” (Roberta) Stewart said in taped remarks. “I decided to fight because I decided that if I didn’t, I felt felt it made our love not as valid, and I wasn’t willing to accept that. Nor was I willing to accept discrimination. We took our vows underneath a pentacle, on our altar; the pentacle was a huge part of our lives. Every special moment in our life, there was a pentacle present. And there would be one on my husband’s headstone.”
“…(Roberta Stewart) regrets nothing about battling the federal government. She noted that president George Bush even called her to apologize after she was left out of a meeting with family members of deceased veterans.
“My husband was a military man…there was no way (he would forget) his brothers on the front line, his Pagan brothers, his Wiccan friends. I had to fight and continue to litigate.”
Discrimination does exist, although it’s done covertly. Through spiritual growth and especially fellowship with others of different denominations and major faiths, we can be aware of our religious prejudices and control and conquer such latent evil in us. The VA under pressure expanded their policy to include even unpopular religious so-called “sects.” VA benefits for all regardless of their faiths. Religious symbols on memorial markers are normally Christian and Jewish, but now, because of one wife’s insistence, the surviving families of all deceased veterans will have their requests granted, even when their faith is not on the “popular list.”
As I read this story, I gave a prayer of Thanksgiving for Americans United for their support of Roberta Stewart. AU accepted a member of our greater US Army family. The AU is dedicated to serving everyone, including the members of minority faiths.