Honoring veterans; and breaking a vow against litigation

Written by Jayson Jacoby April 16, 2010 02:10 pm

It seems to me not so long ago when most every Second World War veteran I met looked hale enough to still wield an M-1 Garand or drive a Sherman tank.

But that era, however near it might feel to me, has passed us all by, inevitable as the tides.

There is nothing to be gained from pretending otherwise.

Although I’ll bet some of those aging fellows still get their buck.

The math is simple, and blunt.

The war ended in August 1945.

Even allowing for those soldiers and sailors who turned the military’s flank, as regards the minimum enlistment age, it’s unlikely that any veteran is younger than 82.

Which means even those men, who probably took up a weapon before they ever handled a shaving razor, have already been defying the actuarial tables for all of half a decade.

The statisticians, of course, must win in the end.

Figures vary, but from what I can gather about 1,000 World War II veterans die every day.

Accounting for the occasional Methuselah, I suppose we needn’t worry about losing the last of these heroes for another couple decades.

Yet the roster of those who are both physically and financially able to visit the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., must be considerably smaller than the veteran population as a whole, and dwindling at a comparable rate.

This is why the Honor Flight Network exists.

The nonprofit organization has a singular, and noble, purpose: To help veterans see and photograph and touch the memorials which their government erected in their honor.

Sadly, and in my view inexplicably, the need for the Honor Flight Network wasn’t acute until May 2004. That’s when the World War II memorial was dedicated.

Barely a year later the first Honor Flight, consisting of six small planes bearing a dozen veterans, flew from Springfield, Ohio, to the nation’s capital.

Since then the program has expanded to almost every state. Thousands of veterans have traveled to Washington, D.C., at no charge.

Oregon’s Honor Flight chapter was incorporated late last year, said Gail Yakopatz of Grants Pass, president of the chapter’s board of directors.

More than 200 veterans are on the chapter’s waiting list; the inaugural flight, with 25 Oregon veterans, is scheduled for June 17, Gail told me in a telephone interview last week.

But here’s the unusual part of this story.

Gail didn’t call me to tout Honor Flight — although she clearly thinks a lot of the organization.

She didn’t try to cajole me into writing a complimentary column.

What she emphasized, in fact, was that the group has pretty much neglected Eastern Oregon veterans.

I don’t think Honor Flight ought to feel ashamed, considering its relative infancy.

But Gail wants to make amends, not excuses.

There are, she said, just three veterans from the east side who are on Honor Flight’s waiting list.

That’s not nearly enough, she believes.

I agree.

This problem, fortunately, is simple enough to fix.

Veterans, or their friends or family, can download an application at www.honorflightoforegon.org.

Or they can phone Gail at 541-955-4544.

Finding veterans is not Honor Flight’s only objective, though.

The organization also needs money, and volunteers to serve as guides for veterans.

The cost to sponsor one veteran is $300, and that includes lodging, food and a private tour bus and guide in Washington, D.C.

(Southwest Airlines covers the air fare.)

Guides pay their own expenses.

Although Honor Flight is concentrating its efforts on World War II veterans because their numbers are declining at such a rapid rate, Gail said the organization also caters to men and women who fought in the nation’s other wars, including Korea and Vietnam.

Terminally ill veterans, regardless of the war or wars in which they served, are moved to the head of the list for the next available flight.

The Honor Flight Network is a fine outfit. And like the men and women it helps, it is worthy of our admiration.

And our dollars.


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I’ve managed to get through almost four decades without suing anybody.

But the urge to see the word “plaintiff” beside my name grows ever stronger, and my resistance falters.

The latest tempting offer to litigate came by mail.

As is typical with this sort of unsolicited scheme, I stand to profit for doing nothing much of consequence.

Although I have to do it by the end of August, apparently.

The words in bold font at the top of the 3-by-5 index card caused me to briefly entertain the notion that this deal might secure my early retirement.

“If you purchased a lawn mower with a gas engine up to 30 horsepower you could receive benefits from class action settlements,” the card claims.

Well it happens that I did once buy a lawn mower. Still have it, too. Lawn mowers, with their rapidly spinning, keenly honed blades, are tailor-made for class action lawsuits.

Luckily my mower runs on gas — that’s what I’ve always poured into its tank, anyway, and it keeps running.

I’m sure it has fewer than 30 horsepower.

(If it had more than 30 I’d have unbolted the engine and put it in a go-kart. Thirty horsepower, by my reckoning, is too many horsepower to be squandered on a task so prosaic, and seasonal, as cutting the grass.)

But then I scrolled my eyes down to the fine print.

(With mail offers there’s always fine print, and it always spoils everything.)

“The lawsuit does not concern the safety of the lawn mowers,” the card admits.

Not about safety?

Right then I couldn’t imagine a single lawsuit-worthy lawn mower defect that doesn’t have to do with safety.

Sure I’ve cussed at my mower a few times when it didn’t start after the first half-dozen pulls. But I never considered consulting a lawyer.

I immediately reminded myself that this is America, and this dissipated my confusion.

In America, after all, a product that works precisely as designed can be deemed as dangerous as a puff adder, provided you hire a clever lawyer who picks a sympathetic (or better still, narcoleptic) jury.

Even so, I figured that if my mower isn’t likely to spontaneously detonate and inundate my property (and myself) with shrapnel, then I’m probably not apt to get rich by joining this class action.

After dredging a bit deeper into the fine print, it looks like I’ll be lucky to realize a pair of cheap hiking boots.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants — among them companies well-known for their yard-grooming machines such as Honda and Briggs & Stratton — tried to pull off a trick that, in the annals of industrial malfeasance, seems pretty innocuous compared to Ford Motor Co. and its little problem with the Pinto’s gas tanks.

Their unconscionable sin?

“Defendants misrepresented and overstated the horsepower of their lawn mowers and lawn mower engines.”

Horrible.

In other words, I’ve been laboring (and no wonder) under the mistaken belief that my mower is putting out the full 5 horsepower brashly claimed right there on the engine cowling.

The card doesn’t say how egregiously the companies exaggerated the horsepower. But considering somebody went to all the trouble of filing a lawsuit, I’ll bet my mower isn’t making any more than 4fi horses.

At least I know it wasn’t my fault that the blade bogged down sometimes when I tried to plow through tall grass still damp from a thundershower.

The interesting thing about this card is that it was delivered to me on April 9. Yet the card says anybody can join the class action who bought one of the underpowered mowers between Jan. 1, 1994, and April 12, 2010.

I suppose I could have gone out over the weekend, bought a dozen mowers and really cashed in.

Except the maximum settlement for a walk-behind mower is just $35. And you can’t hardly find a new model these days for less than $125.

I’ve got until Aug. 31 to turn in a claim.

I’m thinking, though, about making a counteroffer.

Instead of $35, I’d settle for the company sending over a mechanic to tinker with my engine.

Plumb in a miniature nitrous system and I’ll bet the mower would spin out 10 horsepower, easy.

The wet turf would have no chance.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.