With John Sibley on my mind, I thought I’d stop by the Veterans Hospital to get registered in case I might someday need their care. John was a brave machine gun squad leader who didn’t make it home from Vietnam.
An Illinois republican, John used to quote Everett Dirksen, “I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.” Inside John’s chest, beneath his St. Christopher medal, beat a heart bigger than Illinois.
As I entered the waiting room of the Veterans Hospital my heart sank when I saw the condition that some of those ahead of me were in, and feeling healthy as a tick in a dog’s ear, I felt a little ashamed to be there.
But I stayed, pulled out a Mark Twain Journal, and wondered what John might look like with white hair.
Most of those waiting to be seen were in a melancholy mood, except for one fellow who brought his little Chihuahua. This particular fellow was in a good humor as his Chihuahua snapped at everybody who tried to pet him, including me.
The VA administrator who asked me to step forward was most courteous, responsive and caring, that is, in comparison to the Motor Vehicle Department. He asked if I had served in an area of Vietnam where Agent Orange was used. I said I had. He then went on to enumerate the maladies that Agent Orange can cause and I flinched visibly with the mention of each one. He then explained the benefits of claiming Agent Orange disability compensation, and I could feel my mouth starting to water.
“So?” he asked.
“No thanks.” I offered almost apologetically.
He looked at me a moment before asking, “May I ask why?”
“Well, I figure if I buy into the possibility that I might get some of those God-awful things you just mentioned, then sure as rain, I’ll come down with every last one of them, and maybe a couple thrown in for good measure that you didn’t mention.”
“Well. That’s a new one on me,” he said. “I’ll make a note of it.”
I stood up, shook the gentleman’s hand, thanked him for his service, and walked out of there feeling like the luckiest man in the world. I was home from Vietnam and healthy all these years later, and here was the Veterans Administration, ready to help if and when I needed help.
As I stepped into the fresh air I looked up to the clouds scudding overhead and singled out one big white one as John Sibley.
I stopped there on that Reno sidewalk, smiled, locked my heels together, saluted, touched a sleeve to my eye and muttered, “I wish you were here, John. By the way, and I hate to tell you this ol’ pal, but your Cubs could be eliminated from post season play any day now … I wish so damn bad you were here.”
Learn more about McAvoy Layne at www.ghostoftwain.org.
I was home from Vietnam and healthy all these years later, and here was the Veterans Administration, ready to help if and when I needed help.