[Mark] Ketterson contacted the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and told them that Fliszar, Class of ’71, had wanted to have his ashes interred at the USNA’s Columbarium, a serene white marble waterside crypt next to the school’s cemetery.
The memorial coordinator asked about his relationship to the deceased. Ketterson said that John Fliszar was his husband.
“They were always polite, but there was this moment of hesitation,” Ketterson recalled. “They said they’re going to need something in writing from a blood relative. They asked, ‘Are you listed on the death certificate?’ ‘Do you have a marriage license?’ ”
He was and they did, the couple having been married in Des Moines when gay marriage became legal in Iowa two years ago.
Ketterson sent a copy of the marriage license. That changed everything.
“I was respected,” he said. “From that moment on, I was next of kin. They were amazing.”
The USNA says Fliszar’s interment followed standard operating procedure.
“His next of kin was treated with the same dignity and respect afforded to the next of kin of all USNA grads who desire interment at the Columbarium,” said Jennifer Erickson, a spokesperson for the academy. “We didn’t do anything differently.”
Shipmate magazine, the publication of the USNA’s alumni association, ran Fliszar’s obituary. It noted his two Purple Hearts for “having been shot down from the sky twice in military missions.” It noted “for the rest of his life he would joke about his ‘government issued ankle.’ ” It noted “his burly but warmly gentle manner.” It noted he was “survived by his husband, Mark Thomas Ketterson.”
“The word ‘husband’ in the obituary has created a bit of a stir,” said Ketterson, a Chicago social worker. “I’ve heard from a number of officers. It’s been amazing. This has not been absolutely confirmed, but I think I’m the first legal same-sex spouse who planned a memorial.”
A marriage certificate was the key that let the USNA know how to treat Ketterson in relation to his husband’s service. Gays in the military and gay marriage are thought of as separate issues, but without legal gay marriage, or at least civil unions, how can the military know who gets the folded flag?
“I am a patriotic American, but I know this is not a perfect world,” [KEtterson] said. “The point is, when the chips are down, when the issue was patriotism and honor for a veteran, they were wonderful. Whatever their private feelings, they made me proud to be an American. We really do get it right sometimes.”