The first and foremost purpose of Memorial Day has been to remember the men and women who have been killed in wartime, making the ultimate sacrifice to safeguard our country.
The holiday was begun in the aftermath of the Civil War, still the bloodiest conflict in the history of the United States, which claimed at least 620,000 lives.
It was a day set aside in the spring to decorate the graves of the war dead, and it was first called Decoration Day. Over many years, the name has changed to Memorial Day, a day for remembering, and most families still take a few moments to recall the loved ones who have died, whether in war or peace.
In peacetime, the original meaning of the day can be obscured as most people celebrate it as the beginning of summer with trips to the beach and backyard barbecues. In times of war, a more somber tone affects most people.
Over the past two decades, we lost thousands of soldiers in the Mideast wars. Even during the last two years, more than 100 Americans were killed there. The stories of death in America’s longest wars became so commonplace, many people became numb to the numbers. But the toll has mounted year after year, even unto today.
Now, another war is being fought, though not in distant jungles or deserts. Today, health care workers are doing battle in emergency rooms and intensive care units with the deadly coronavirus.
President Trump has said that all Americans are warriors in this struggle against the coronavirus pandemic, but the people doing the real fighting are the nurses, doctors, EMTs and all the others who place themselves in extreme danger just by going in to do their jobs. The rest of us are just civilians trying to stay out of the line of fire.
The number of health care workers who have been killed by the disease is not yet available, with estimates ranging from dozens into the hundreds. But stories of individual nurses and doctors lost are a regular staple of news shows.
It remains a national disgrace that these brave men and women were sent into this battle without adequate supplies of protective equipment. Many were reduced to wearing masks made by volunteers or even scarves tied across their faces. Even now, one poll showed the supply problem is continuing.
Locally, workers at Frederick Health Hospital told News-Post reporter Heather Mongilio that working during a pandemic was challenging, taxing both physical and mental health. One nurse said it was “scary and sad.”
Most experts expect to see a surge of post-traumatic stress disorder among nurses and doctors who have worked unimaginable hours and days during the worst of the outbreak. They will need our support for a long time after the pandemic fades.
At times like this, it is also good to remember that all who sacrifice for our country do not take up arms. After the 9/11 terror attack, Americans recognized the first responders who died when they rushed into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. Today we acknowledge the sacrifices of those taking care of victims of the pandemic.
Even as we cheer for these other heroes, however, we must remember the men and women of the armed forces who have been killed in America’s wars. They will always remain paramount in the observance of Memorial Day.
Take a few minutes today to think about the hundreds of thousands of men and women who gave their lives in defense of our country.