This is not a virus-related story, so if you're weary of them, this might divert your attention for a few minutes.
Yes, it's a Navy-veteran related epic that probably isn't difficult for other Vietnam era veterans to believe.
In my possession is the DD-214 that I received when I departed from Uncle Sam's Navy. It tells where I've been and what medals I have earned. (None are noteworthy. There is no Navy Cross or anything for extraordinary bravery under fire, just medals to prove I was in the service and went to Vietnam.)
I never asked the U.S. government for anything after my service except that I entered the Veterans Affairs medical service, in the event I would need care later in life and could not get other medical insurance.
Thus far, I've only gone to the VA clinic on the Coast Guard Training Center for checkups annually and a flu shot.
Other than that, I've given Uncle Sam back what he said I owed in taxes.
Those who read my column over the years know that I was aboard the USS Gallant (MSO-489) which sailed from Long Beach, Calif. to Cam Rahn Bay, S. Vietnam in the summer of 1971. We spent from June 14 until late August or early September there. Then, my father's death resulted in an emergency leave from Gallant, and pretty much the end of active duty.
Fast forward to earlier this year. I read with interest about the Blue Water Navy Veterans Act passed in 2019 by Congress. Since I have been diagnosed with one of the conditions outlined in it, and since I was there, I figured I would apply for whatever benefit might be available for me.
At the outset, I knew it would be an uphill climb, as are most things related to the U.S. government.
The first step I took was to the county's Veterans Bureau. I took my paperwork there and was warmly received.
The chap there said the first thing I'd have to do was find the Gallant's deck log to prove that the ship I was aboard was in coastal waters in the time the act stated. No problem, I thought, the paperwork was there to prove it. Chances are, I might well have penned some of those locations since I often was called on to write in the log on the bridge.
Guess what? Gallant's log wasn't among the logs accessible at the moment.
I learned that the ship log was among those being digitized by the Navy for the National Archives. Seems Congress passed the act in 2019 and the Archives started digitizing deck logs in August 2019.
Sorry, Al, can't get to the log until the project is ended.
I wrote to U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, whose office was awesome in trying to help me, but to no avail. When the project ends, the log will be available to everyone.
So, it was with consternation I recently read several million dollars had already been awarded to vets who suffered from Agent Orange in the coastal waters of Vietnam.
From the outset, I realized that, if anything, I would get $5 or $10 a month, if that. So I wasn't put out at the news.
This was my first brush with U.S. government bureaucracy. Whether or not I will live to claim any benefit, I do not know. I empathize with other veterans who suffered longer and for greater hardships than did I.
It remains difficult for me to imagine that I was on a ship that crossed the Pacific Ocean that somehow disappeared for a time in the bowels of the Navy and National Archives. It was as if it had never existed; gone without a trace.