It arrived in the mail last week: a large manila envelope with “Office of the Mayor” in the return address space. It sat in a “good intentions” pile on my desk for a few days. Probably wasn’t urgent, I thought. Probably a report on water quality or some propaganda for streetcars.
When I finally found time to open the envelope and examine the contents, I discovered an invitation to attend the Special Veterans Memorial Council Memorial Day ceremonies, a brochure about “The Missing Man Table,” and a copy of the Memorial Day Program.
At first, I was mystified: Why me? Why this year? The invitations from the Madison Mayor’s Office are sent to the families of Madison veterans who have passed away since the previous Memorial Day. My father died in 1998.
I started reading the honor roll of Madison veterans printed in the program, searching for a clue. There were many names I recognized, but they belonged to friends, acquaintances, fellow Central High School alumni, not relatives.
Near the end of the list, I finally found the name that had generated the invitation: Edward S. Maxcy. His name was not listed under World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, or Desert Storm. It was listed under a classification we often forget: “Peace Time.”
Edward S. Maxcy, known to many people as Alexis Lauren, was an actor. He was drafted after he graduated from college and spent two years (1956-1958) in the U.S. Army, but few were aware of his military service. I knew about it because he’d mentioned it when I interviewed him in 2001 for a feature story published in the Wisconsin State Journal.
When Ed died last December, I served as special administrator for his estate, so my signature is on all the official documents, including the VA Form 40-1330 (Application for Standard Government Headstone or Marker). That’s probably why, although Ed was not a relative, I received the invitation
For every actor who can demand millions of dollars for his or her work, there are countless thousands who barely squeak by from month to month, who spend most of their lives living on the edge, or who must subsidize their art by working at other jobs. Despite hard work, dedication, and an enormous talent, circumstances forced Ed to spend most of his life living very frugally. There was no money in his modest estate to pay for an elaborate memorial or grave marker, but because Ed had served in the U.S. Army, he was eligible for a free standard government headstone.
A standard government marker contains certain mandatory inscriptions: “Name, Branch of Service, Year of Birth, and Year of Death.” Optional items include highest rank attained, awards, and war service. None of these optional items seemed appropriate for a man whose primary identity was actor, not soldier; but simply inscribing the stone with the mandatory items didn’t seem sufficient.
Enter Kathy Lange, deus ex machina. Kathy works at Forest Hill Cemetery and is one of the kindest, most helpful, and knowledgeable civil servants I’ve ever encountered. Kathy is the person who pointed out the fine print at the bottom of VA Form 40-1330, the part that reads, “ADDITIONAL ITEMS may be inscribed at government expense if they are requested on the initial application and space is available. Examples of acceptable items include terms of endearment, nicknames (in expressions such as “OUR BELOVED POPPY” OR “LOVINGLY CALLED DUTCH”), and military or civilian credentials or accomplishments such as DOCTOR, REVEREND, etc.”
Kathy wasn’t certain if what I wanted inscribed on Ed’s stone was “acceptable” but she encouraged me to submit the request, advising me that I’d probably receive a telephone call from the VA if there was a problem. My phone didn’t ring. The stone arrived and has been installed. The inscription, as you can see in the photo accompanying this post, honors Ed’s service to his country and his life in the theater.
Note: You may read Ed Maxcy’s obituary HERE.