I don’t usually write in first person on the Kane County Connects blog, but I’m breaking the fourth wall to share a personal experience that I think can help a lot of people connect to a valuable government service.
My dad, Ralph A. Nagel, died last week at the age of 96 — a good long life, well-lived and worthy of celebration.
In making the funeral arrangements with Malone Funeral Home in Geneva, my friend and high school classmate Dennis Malone knew that dad had served in the Navy and wondered if we’d like military honors for the memorial or graveside service.
Dennis asked if we had a copy of dad’s discharge papers — because those are essential to getting the government OK. My brother and sister and I looked through our records and dad’s belongings but couldn’t find them.
We’d have to go without the military honors, I thought.
Then I’m sitting in the Dec. 14 Kane County Human Services Committee meeting and listening to the monthly report by Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission Superintendent Jake Zimmerman, and it hits me: maybe I should “Ask Jake.”
A quick side note: The Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission is an amazing Kane County government service. It exists to help veterans access the benefits they earned for serving our nation.
Whether you are looking to apply for health care, dental insurance, disability compensation, a home loan, the GI Bill, or state benefits, the KCVAC office can help.
The office provides a number of additional services and resources, including cutting through red tape for burial benefits.
To find out more, please take a minute to check out the Veterans Assistance Commission web page, “Like” the Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission Facebook page and sign up for the Veterans Assistance Commission newsletter.
Before the Human Services Committee meeting was over, I’d sent Jake a personal e-mail, asking if the VAC might be able to help. I couldn’t provide a lot of information, though, except his name, rank and that he had been stationed in San Diego, CA.
After lunch, I was working at my desk when I heard a voice in the hallway asking if Rick Nagel was in. A few seconds later, in walks Jake, holding a piece of paper in his hand.
It was dad’s honorable discharge certificate. A photo of it is embedded above.
“This is to certify that Ralph Arthur Nagel, an electrician’s mate third class, is honorably discharged from the U.S. Naval Personnel Center Great Lakes, Illinois, and from the Naval Service of the United States this 9th of May 1946,” it said. “This certificate is awarded as a testimonial of fidelity and obedience.”
Burying a parent is never easy, no matter how long the life or expected the end might be. But in the two days following dad’s death, while I felt awful in a thousand ways, I hadn’t gotten teary-eyed, even for an instant.
I did then.
For some reason, it was moving to see that piece of paper — tangible evidence of that Ralph Nagel walked this earth, full youthful vigor and sense of duty. He was part of that “Greatest Generation” whose legacy will forever be remembered.
A couple days later, I called Jake on another matter, and thanked him again.
“Just to let you know, it wasn’t just for you,” he said. “This is something we do for everyone.”