A few weeks ago, I was working through documents and remembrances my parents collected over the years. My father is long passed, and my mother, at 97, is in a nursing home. Tucked into an envelope with Dad’s discharge papers from his WWII Navy service were a commendation from his admiral for extraordinary service during the invasion of Okinawa and a letter, apparently never mailed, written in the 1980s to a high school friend. My dad never talked about his Navy service, except to laugh about stealing a wheel of cheese and enjoying K-rations as snacks during late-night watches. The only time he indicated a dark side to his service was when I asked him to join me deer hunting. “No, son,” he said quietly, “I’ve removed too many parts of too many bodies from too many gun turrets to do that.”
So, the commendation came as a surprise, but the letter came as a shock. Dad told his friend in three handwritten pages more than he told me in 35 years. During the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, his was the only ship berthed in Tokyo Bay, and they regularly patrolled the port area with rifles and a .45 in hand. He always took the midnight to 4 a.m. shift because General MacArthur and General Wainwright used his ship as headquarters and sometimes would meet at his duty station under the command center to talk and ask him to have a drink with them. And they always had better liquor than you could get anywhere else.
I am reminded of these things as we commemorate the 95th Veterans Day on Nov. 11, marking the end of World War I. I can’t help but think of veterans who returned home from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan and other places with more troubles than when they went into service. Yes, many have returned to successful and fulfilling careers and lives. But many still struggle. Indigent veterans face even greater challenges. This is where lawyers can and have stepped in.
The Veterans Law Center is a free legal clinic in Madison staffed by volunteer attorneys, law students, and paralegals. Modeled on a program developed by Marquette University Law School, it was started by the U.W. Law School Pro Bono Program, the Dane County Bar Association, and the Dane County Veterans Service Office (DCVSO) with a State Bar Pro Bono Initiative grant and operates in space provided by Porchlight, a shelter for homeless persons. DVSCO staff work at each clinic to provide information about veterans’ benefits and other resources.
Ongoing funding is provided by the legal community through Habush, Habush & Rottier; the business community through Epic Systems; and the faith community through Zion Lutheran Church.
Since November 2012, 130 volunteers have provided legal services to more than 200 veterans. In recognition, the State Bar Legal Assistance Committee presented the 2013 Pro Bono Award for a Firm or Organization to the Veterans Law Center at the State Bar 2014 annual meeting in June.