Veteran’s Day 20 Years Ago

Bill Burkett
6 min readNov 20, 2023

(I did get back to duck hunting briefly after 2008. Even a couple Veteran's Days. But the money from my eventual SS settlement ran out and I banged myself up with falls and stumbles in rough flooded pastures, and now I am essentially housebound with injuries and ailments and old age. I miss being outdoors in November…)

November 11, 2003. 9:10 a.m., Des Moines Marina.

Low gray rain-heavy clouds and a brisk SW wind with whitecaps on Puget Sound. The kind of weather I always loved on Veteran’s Day; duck-hunting weather on a day off I felt fully entitled to, being a veteran.

There is fresh resonance to Veteran’s Day this year, with Americans occupying Baghdad after an historic armored dash. The world is changing. I am still uncomfortable in this new century; a throwback. A war baby. (Which war, someone might well ask.) Sixty years old and grumpy with it. Officially disabled for ten years. Obese on top of that, at 327 pounds, 87 pounds heavier than my usual weight. Divorced; living in Des Moines with a bisexual redhead more than two decades younger. I made the move the Fourth of July 2001 but don’t feel particularly liberated.

My father died Valentine’s Day that year; his housekeeper Alice asserted he left her his money, his properties, his cars — everything. My stepmother, in late-stage Alzheimer’s under Alice’s care, died quickly enough after him for the deaths to be considered simultaneous under the bogus “trust” Alice produced. I hired a lawyer who negotiated a settlement extinguishing the bogus paperwork and recognizing their original “lost” wills which left the estate equally to my son, daughter and me. They objected to Alice’s share under the settlement, and paying a fee to my lawyer. Hired their own lawyer when my ex-lawyer sued them to get his fees. The Kentucky court cases drag. The lawyers get fat off the estate while I subsist on welfare.

Before all that, N. flew across the country with two cats to cast her lot with me. She warned me trouble followed her like the dark cloud above the head of that Al Capp character with the unpronounceable name. I laughed; shouldn’t have done that. Before she moved, we were having lunch when she coughed. Just coughed — and blew her back out again. Wound up in an emergency room in excruciating pain.

She initially injured her back working as a Ritz-Carton chef in Boston. Based on her chef-school scores, the hotel hired her right after graduation; she loved cheffing and the hotel, and thought her career set. Trying to shift huge sacks of flour alone on the night shift she messed up her back so badly doctors and physical therapy couldn’t repair it. A chef unable to stay on her feet for a shift is an unemployed chef.

She used settlement money (piss-poor amount) to move to Washington and rent a place. She found a job at a Seattle call center so she could sit, and her sales skills made her a star. Then she was hit a glancing blow by a Seattle Metro bus driving in her old Honda, first car she ever owned. The Honda survived — tough little car — but the impact screwed up her back again. The company wouldn’t release her for medical appointments. When she went anyway, they fired her and said she abandoned her position, to try to avoid paying unemployment. I sure was beginning to wish I hadn’t laughed at the idea of a black cloud dogging her.

We had tense arguments about unemployment insurance. I said they couldn’t get away with what they did but after losing her claim against the hotel she was ready to drop it and try to move on. She is one of the brightest people I have ever known, and has that intelligent arrogance that she knows best how to handle problems. I am not accustomed to people questioning my bureaucratic skills. Somehow I got her to file the right paperwork with Employment Security. They raised hell with the company; more importantly they, granted unemployment benefits, including back pay.

This all happened in and around her breaking a toe; damn near electrocuting herself when she touched a wet coffee pot sitting on the running dishwasher (911 medics for that one); toxic reaction to tooth-pain gel that sent her to an ER, and my Kentucky legal battle. There was painful oral surgery that left her prostrate for weeks and an emergency gall bladder operation where she had a hard time coming out of the anesthetic. She dragged me to an ER twice with chest pains that proved not to be heart attacks but my recurring hiatal hernia; given her run of luck, she thought my weight gain had triggered an infarction. HarperCollins did not pick up its option for a third Bloodsport book and fired my editor.

I am officially disabled; Vocational Rehab is trying to help me start a home-based editor business. Social Security Administration denied my disability claim despite: sarcoidosis, sleep apnea, bi-aural hearing loss, arthritis, clinical depression, obesity — the boring litany; I probably forgot some. Oh yeah, severe bilateral carpal tunnel. I have memory lapses too.

The marina is my last refuge. Rain taps on my old ’88 Bronco’s roof; the heater is still busted so it’s good the weather is mild. My XXL pile-lined Levi jacket barely snaps. A morning pipe; I no longer observe discipline of my working years of no pipe till after lunch. I average one a day, sometimes none, sometimes three; so take them when I choose. It is pleasing to puff my pipe here on a duck-hunting kind of day.

The ducks are safe from me this year — fifth year running. I stare at those words with incomprehension. Scoters, Barrows goldeneye, migrating widgeon and homegrown mallards; there have even been flocks of Brant at the marina. After that single shoot in 1998 I skipped five duck seasons. Not by choice. Disabled, on Welfare and food stamps, duck hunting is a luxury beyond consideration. I live under the financial thumb of a woman who requires me to turn over my monthly income to manage; insufficient for a place of my own. Her unemployment pays the rent. Even with food stamps I’ve had to use the food bank to eke things out.

My Marsh Hawk sleeps on cracked tires in storage with decoys not wet since 1996. My Spanish sixteen-gauge double went to a guy at the gun show for a refinishing project. Most of my guns were tossed out of the troika of survival while Social Security refuses disability pay. N. appropriated the gun money to manage our survival. I spend most of my time in a depressed fog. My few oldest guns are stored with the duck boat and decoys; if I give those up, I might as well be dead. My wool hunting pants are gone for $10 a pair to an elk hunter; largest waist size was 46. I wear 52. My jet sled sold for $6,000, half its acquisition cost; I paid my library fine for overdue books with $9 of the cash. It will dwindle away in dribs and drabs; I’m under constant pressure from N. for chunks of it.

I don’t want to think about that now because I have a Maigret mystery to read, set in Brittany. It’s November on the French coast with a southwest wind, so the resonance is powerful with a southwest wind blowing up the Sound. Whoever translated The Yellow Dog did a masterful job, converting French to short pithy sentences worthy of Hemingway. I seem to recall Hemingway was a professed admirer of Simenon.

I jot these musings because I miss my hunting logs. I hope to tuck these pages in the logs someday. The Spaniard philosopher Ortega y Gasset said one goes hunting not for the hunt, but to have hunted.

On a day like this, I kind of understand. Sleep-deprived on top of the stress about selling my sled, with the southwest wind blowing and ducks flying, it eases my soul to remember my hunting logs in storage with my last duck boat. They prove that whatever comes, I have hunted.

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Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.