His son told me how he'd got caught in an ambush between two hill tops in Laos during the war, lost some buddies, taken some lives, and wound up with a bullet in his lower spine that he carried to his death -- and grenade shrapnel -- which tended to slowly work its way up and out through his skin piece by piece over the decades following. According to this vet, his records were full of redactions and the military lied about his wounds -- saying his back injury was due to falling off a water buffalo. Of course he was "never" in Laos. All of this sounds plausible enough. It squares up with a lot of similar stories that have been documented over the years. But what really stings right now is that the family doesn't have the money to bury the man with his body intact, as he wanted. They say the government refuses to take care of this and won't bury him in a national cemetery. I can't say that I'm sure I know the whole story, but if they're essentially correct, then it does seem like a terrible insult added to grave injuries. More importantly at this point is the pain this situation is causing his survivors, and the risk of alienation from society that goes with it. I didn't even know what to tell the kid. I just apologized that I didn't know the right words and told him there simply were no right words.
Whatever the story is in its entirety, I think it's clear that we could do better than this. If the man had been in the Viet Cong, the Vietnamese government would surely have allowed his family to claim the body, make a pine box, and bury him on their own. I could even have secured him a plot in an old family graveyard. But instead they'll have to cough up a ridiculous two grand just to have him cremated against his wishes. Just -- pathetic.