I write this only a few hours from the dawn of Memorial Day, the day in which the nation is explicit in giving thanks to those who sacrificed and served in times of war, and principally to those who lost life and limb in this service to the country. I am the son, grandson and son-in-law of men who served in two different wars (World War I and II), the nephew of one who served in Vietnam, and the cousin of two who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. One of my cousins lost his life fighting and the other shows signs of PTSD.
The war in Vietnam gained height during my high school years and peaked in my early college years. There were many horrors evident to anyone paying attention. There was still a military draft in those days, and even though I was eligible to be drafted, I never was, and I never served in a branch of the military. Still, I’ve seen enough of the ugliness of war to never wish it upon anyone. There’s nothing romantic about it. People who experience war are never quite the same. Often families are never quite the same.
Memorial Day parades are nice, but much of what is seen in VA hospitals isn’t. Sometimes, the words “Thank you” just don’t seem sufficient.
We’re in a war now with an unseen enemy. Significantly more people in this country have been killed by COVID-19 in the last few months than in two decades of fighting in Vietnam.* Many more have died since the publishing of the referenced article, and the numbers will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. Many of the stories are heart-wrenching as family members cannot even be with their loved ones as they are admitted, treated in hospitals and recover…or don’t. I just heard of one a few minutes ago impacting people that I know and love.
We are all potential casualties of this war and among the most vulnerable are physicians, nurses and other essential hospital workers, EMTs and paramedics, police and fire personnel. Odd working hours and extra-long shifts, insufficient rest, the constant risk of exposure, and concerns about their own health and the health of their spouses and children are just samplings of things they face each and every day. A couple of days ago, I read the story of a physician who cries in her car at the end of every shift before she goes home.
None of them will ever be quite the same after this. And some are dying as a direct result of their proximity to the war’s hot zones and their attempts to serve those suffering.
I have a nephew who is an EMT. His wife is a RN who normally works as a school nurse but is also working hours in a local hospital. They have a child. The wife of a good friend is an essential hospital worker and has experienced multiple exposures to COVID-19. They have two children.
I really don’t know how to say “thanks” to them, but I am thankful for them, all of them. This Memorial Day is for them and so many like them who, along with those who sacrificed in past wars, sacrifice today in order to secure a safer world for all of us. They are worthy of our honor and our earnest prayers.
*David Welna, Coronavirus Has Now Killed More Americans Than the Vietnam War, NPR Online, April 8, 2020.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2020. All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.
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