Pandemic Journal: Memorial Day 2020

Memorial half mast

This year, in addition to honoring our brave soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice, the US flag will be flown at half-mast as a national expression of grief. The brutal trail of Covid as it rips through our country and the world.

5,288 deaths in my state, alone, 98,004 in the US as I write this – probably rolling across the threshold of 100,000, ironically, on Memorial Day.

Why didn’t I round 98,004 to 98,000?

Because every single one of those people matter.

Those 1, 2, 3 and 4 people above 98,000 may seem like a rounding error, but they aren’t. They have names, families and they suffered, just like those 98,000 other souls.

They may not have been old – not that being older should make anyone expendable.

The best of their life may not have been lived. We are all deprived and diminished by the loss of their potential – as are they.

But they all, every single one of them, have something in common.

They were all infected unintentionally and probably unknowingly by someone else. No one, not one person, signed up for this. Most of them had no idea they were putting their life on the line as they went about their business. This isn’t the military – no one enlisted fully aware of what the consequences might be.

It pains me greatly to see wearing a mask in public politicized. Wearing a mask is literally the very least we can do. Taking care of each other by doing such a small thing. Like it or not, we really are all in this together. What goes around, comes around.

Let me explain the very basic foundation of decision making that I’ve utilized for most of my life.

What’s the Worst That Will Happen?

If you wear a mask and you don’t need to:

  • You may never know that you didn’t need it
  • You might be a little uncomfortable or inconvenienced
  • You might be made fun of by someone not wearing a mask

Bottom line – you’re slightly inconvenienced if you wear a mask but you might save someone’s life, including your own.

If you DON’T wear a mask and needed to, the worse is:

  • You take the unnecessary chance of getting infected yourself. No, a mask won’t protect you entirely, but it helps.
  • You may, unknowingly, infect others who may suffer and die. They then infect others too, keeping the cycle of infection and death in motion and the numbers rising.
  • You’ll probably never know that you are responsible for infecting others and possibly killing people because you may never develop symptoms yourself, so you think everything is just fine. If you do develop symptoms, it’s too late to undo the exposures of the days before you manifested symptoms.

Bottom line – you may become infected yourself and/or infect others. You’re not just risking yourself, but everyone you come in contact with. They may suffer and die, or live terribly impaired, and be financially devastated in the process.

And…this outcome is avoidable.

The preventative step of wearing a mask in public, especially in public enclosed spaces, is so simple and entirely painless.

Who’s Vulnerable?

Everyone.

My immediate family, consisting of 7 people, 5 adults and 2 children, is healthy.

But…of those 7…

  • One is over 65.
  • One young person has a partial lung.
  • One child has partial kidneys.
  • One has an ongoing undiagnosed health issue.
  • One has a high risk housemate who is over 60 and had a heart issue last year.

If your family member exposes you, and you expose me, I will expose my loved ones, intentionally or not. If my family member dies because I inadvertently exposed them, I would never forgive myself.

If they die, that gaping wound would never heal.

Right now, 98,004 families feel that exact same way.

And some unknown person infected every one of them, accidentally.

Honoring the Dead

Memorial Day is supposed to be about honoring our military dead who gave their life defending our country.

Memorial poppy

Memorial Day was called Decoration Day when I was a kid. It’s a federal holiday for honoring and mourning military personnel who died while on active duty.

Volunteers often place flags on graves of all veterans.

A single red poppy has come to represent the fallen, symbolizing each life lost.

The US has suffered a total of 666,441 combat casualties during wars and conflicts from 1775-2019, with an additional 673,929 dying of other causes.

Wars are expensive in terms of lives lost and soldiers torn from their futures and families.

War Years Deaths
Civil War (both sides) 1861-1865 755,000 estimated
WWII 1941-1945 405,399
WWI 1917-1918 116,516
Vietnam 1961-1975 58,209
Korea 1950-1953 36,574
Revolutionary War 1775-1783 25,000 estimated
War of 1812 1812-1815 15,000 estimated
Mexican-American 1846-1848 13,283
Iraq 2003-2011 4,576
Philippine-American 1899-1902 4,196
Spanish-American 1898 2,246
Afghanistan 2001-present 2,216

There is no glory in death and warfare. There is, however, immense gratitude and respect.

Thank you seems like so few and such small words for their sacrifice – but it’s all I have.

Thank you one and all.

Memorial Arlington

On Memorial Day, flags decorate the graves of our brave soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

My friend, Bob McLaren, who died in March will be buried there soon. I have decorated his grave in my heart and made masks in his honor.

Family Traditions

Memorial cemetery cleanup

In my family, Decoration Day was expanded to visiting and caring for all graves in the family. A combination of love for those gone, sorrow at the loss of their companionship and celebration of their life and the upcoming summer together – at least for those of us remaining on the green side of the sod.

Grass was manicured from the edges of the stones, stories were told and retold, and fresh-cut flowers lovingly placed.

In some locations, families spread quilts and have picnics in the cemeteries near their loved ones.

Memorial cemetery picnic

Military Family Members Honored

Ironically, few of my family members killed in the service of their country have stones.

James Claxton died in the War of 1812 and was buried in a now-lost hastily-dug grave just outside the stockade of Fort Decatur, Alabama.

My family members who died in the Civil War are buried anonymously; their battlefield resting places lost to time.

The body of my 1st cousin, Robert Vernon Estes, who died horrifically as a POW in Korea still hasn’t been returned, and likely never will.

Samuel Bolton Plank Cem

Samuel Bolton, my grandmother’s brother, gave his life during WWI. He was brought home and does have a stone. I hope someone is tending his grave today.

Frank Sadowski

And then, there’s Frank Sadowski, my mother’s almost-husband who was killed on Okinawa just days before the end of WWII.

All, lives cut short.

The Covid War

Depending on how you look at this, Covid deaths are approaching the total of all WWI combat deaths, or the combination of Vietnam, Korea and either the War of 1812 or the Revolutionary War.

Since February 28th – just under 3 months – 86 days.

That’s 1116 people on average that have died every single day – that we know of – not counting all the people who died but were never tested or diagnosed.

Look at this another way. The average commercial airliner holds between 150-200 passengers.

Using 150 as the average number, that’s 653 airliners that have crashed in 86 days, with everyone on board perishing. That’s 7.6 crashes per day, or one crash every 3 hours and 15 minutes – in the US alone.

Memorial week planes

Here are today’s planes that crashed and burned with 150 people each on board.

Just today.

Memorial month planes

Here are the planes from just this week.

Now, multiply that picture by 12.29 weeks since February 28th. If you printed that out on your printer it would be about 10 pages of solid airplanes.

And we know there are more coming, tomorrow, and the next day. We just don’t know how many more, or for how long.

So, are you willing to get on a plane and fly? That would take a lot of bravery, right?

But it takes no bravery at all to wear a mask. How about we do that instead, especially since masks can help prevent those Covid-planes from crashing!

Would preventing one plane crash be worth it?

Two?

Half of the crashes?

How many lives saved would be worth wearing a simple mask?

Memorial poppy field

If we need an extra 100,000 poppies this Memorial Day to honor the lives of each of the Covid victims since February, God forbid, if we don’t wear masks, stay home when we can and take precautions, how many will we need next Memorial Day?

If our ancestors can march off to war and lay their lives down for the rest of us, we can wear masks. People taking care of people.

And if we don’t, whose graves will you be decorating next Memorial Day?

14 thoughts on “Pandemic Journal: Memorial Day 2020

  1. “I have decorated his grave in my heart” A beautiful sentiment.

    And thank you for counting every last person. It matters.

  2. Roberta, you are an amazing writer. I would like to share this on my Facebook page. There are many who need to see it. May I have your permission?

  3. Very well-writen.

    My grandfather is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Through DNA research we recently found out that he changed his name at a young age, joined the Navy, and never saw his family again. We have no idea why.

    My mother thought she was a Maxwell, but she was really a Barnes.

  4. Thank you for voicing the words in my heart.

    Recent numbers here have risen swiftly due to positive tests, hospital admissions and deaths in our state Veteran’s Home. I have actually seen numerous people posting on facebook that these are elderly men who already lived a long life. . . I am speechless. What kind of society have we become?

  5. Roberta,
    As always you are a excellent writer and incidentally you forgot about Desert Shield/Storm on your list of wars. I am a Veteran of that war. Though there were not a lot of deaths as war goes but there were enough that they should be remembered as well. Just wanted you to know that I am not mad just wanted to let you know that there were casualties of that war and to please remember them to as well especially for their contributions ensuring our freedoms.
    Great article by the way.

    Respectfully,

    Retired MR1 (SW)
    Cindy Carrasco

    • Thank you. I did not find those numbers individually so I will check shortly. I think they were in the totals, not broken out. Thank you for your service.

  6. I was inconvenienced by being in the Army in 1965. That was much more inconvenient than wearing a mask and staying home. In 1965 I would have been glad to stay at home with every type of entertainment available nowadays.

  7. Very moving Roberta. My brother, Jerry Draney, and his wife Maxine both tested positive for COVID19 this week. They live in assisted living in Fairfax, Virginia. He is currently in the hospital with a staph infection and will be moved to a nursing home in a few days. We can lull ourselves into believing this pandemic is not so bad because I don’t know anyone who has it. Then it hits your family or friends and it is real. I pray for the homeless who die and no one notices or those who die alone. Wearing a mask is such a simple thing to do. Everyone of those almost 100,000 who will die mattered to someone. May God have mercy on us

  8. Yesterday, I went to a small grocery during rain, so few people were there. For a change, all but one couple were wearing some sort of face cover. Everyone stared at that one couple, so maybe they understood why we were staring, but I am not sure. I rarely go to the grocery, because usually most people there are not wearing masks unless required by the store. I am not sure if those not wearing masks are making a political statement, or they are ignorant. It is odd that since restrictions are being lifted, more people are wearing masks or bandanas. Hopefully, people are becoming more educated of the virus risks, finally.

    I was sad that I could not go decorate family graves, but I would have had to drive for an hour in iffy weather. It was a sad Memorial Day in all respects. I, too, worry about next year’s Memorial Day, and how many more flowers will be needed for graves.

    Thank you for writing about this.

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