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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My only son recently died due to complications from a heatstroke he suffered while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa. Upon notifying us that he was in serious condition, the military requested that my daughter-in-law, Billie, and I travel to his bedside in Okinawa.

Billie was able to leave immediately, traveling with military orders and her dependent military ID in lieu of a passport. I, however, having no connection with the military, had to get a passport in a hurry.

The State Department was marvelous. A passport can take up to six weeks to receive, and there are only three cities where one can be obtained in one day -- New Orleans, Los Angeles and Houston.

I flew to Houston on Father's Day Sunday, received my passport, and left for Okinawa the next morning. Upon arrival after this long journey, I found my son had died just six hours earlier.

Abby, my point is this: If I had already possessed a passport, I could have accompanied my 18-year-old daughter-in-law and been there in time at least to have said goodbye to my son. I would like to encourage all parents who have children in the military to get a passport now. I hope they'll never have to use it except for pleasure -- but if a loved one is injured overseas, they won't have to waste precious time, as I did. -- LINDA NICKELL, OKLAHOMA CITY

DEAR LINDA: My sincere sympathy to you, Billie and your family. The point you make is an excellent one, and well worth sharing with parents of all military personnel.

Actually, I checked with the U.S. Passport Agency in Washington and was told there are 13 passport offices nationwide capable of issuing a passport for "life and death" emergencies on weekends and holidays. A duty officer is available to make that judgment during non-working hours in Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Stamford, Conn., and Washington, D.C.

Thank you for wanting to spare others the anxiety you experienced.

DEAR ABBY: I've never written to you, but a recent letter in your column has motivated me to share my experience with tattoos. Some parents were concerned that their bright, responsible daughter had "betrayed" her decent parents' beliefs and values by getting a tattoo.

I, too, was a popular, bright high school student. I was class valedictorian, president of the National Honor Society and a National Merit Scholar. I had my choice of colleges and scholarships, and initially chose a small, church-affiliated college. I later transferred to a large state university where I graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

After leaving graduate school, I worked as a volunteer teacher for Vista (the domestic branch of the Peace Corps), then I became a federal law enforcement agent and have been in that career for the last 16 years. I am married and have three wonderful children and am active in my church.

And guess what? When I was 24, I got a tattoo! A rather small one in a relatively private place. I think tattoos are fascinating and would have another one were I not concerned about contracting hepatitis or some other disease from a dirty needle.

I have had that tattoo for 15 years and do not regret it or suffer any embarrassment because of it. I got it for myself, not for public display -- although those who see it may get a clue to the "inner me" not normally revealed to the casual acquaintance. Thanks for being an open forum, Abby. -- TERRY FREEDY IN GEORGIA

To get Abby's booklet "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a long, business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054. (Postage is included.)

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