Recently my friend Bob Hansen invited me to a monthly dinner at one of San Francisco’s chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 4618.
Held in Chef Hung’s on Clay Street in Chinatown, this was a gathering of mostly Chinese -American veterans of the Vietnam war; there was one old soldier, Jimmy, who served during World War II but apparently never saw action.
I brought along with me a little tin box where my father — long deceased — had stashed his dog tags and good conduct medals for his service during World War II. Since I have no heirs I really didn’t know what to do with this memorabilia. I thought someone at this meeting might have a suggestion.
I showed the box and its contents to the chapter’s head. He saw no historical interest in it and suggested I give it to my children. When I explained I didn’t have any he asked, “what about your nieces and nephews?”
“I don’t have any.”
“No one? You have no one?”
True enough but his pointing it out embarrassed me. He fell silent. I thought of the difference between the tightknit Chinese families and my own.
Later during dinner I turned to Bob with the same tin box and its contents. He took it from me and said he could find a place for it in a veterans museum in Sacramento.
My father served behind the lines. I had no illusions that his dogtags and good service medals had any historical significance. But I couldn’t see myself throwing them into the landfill. Bob’s solution was kind and diplomatic.
Later in the evening, one of the Post’s members, Patrick, remarked that their group was like family and I could consider it my own if I wished.