When I read Tom Brokaw’s best-seller "The Greatest Generation" some 20 years ago, I was moved to tears at the sacrifices my parents’ generation made when confronted with an existential threat to our country — World War II. Everybody, in some way, had skin in the game — our family included.
My father’s L.S.T. (Landing Ship Tank) was sunk in the Pacific. He was 21. My Uncle Richard won the Silver Star at the Battle of the Bulge. And Uncle Warren was on a battleship at the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Back home, my farmer grandparents planted and harvested their crops with only my mother and my Aunt Jenny to help them, because the “boys” were off to war.
Our family story was repeated millions of times throughout America, because “it,” WWII, was about “we” not “me.”
When I read "The Greatest Generation," I wondered if we (America) had what it takes to replicate what my parents’ generation did in the face of such a challenge.
COVID-19 has provided us with the answer. By the time all of us can be vaccinated (many will refuse), there will probably be more people killed by COVID-19 than by the Axis forces in WWII.
And how have we responded? Well, the response, to be kind, has been a mixed one. Our medical responders, police, firefighters, retail clerks of all kinds, and all people who bravely go to work everyday deserve a chapter in Mr. Brokaw’s book.
But what about the rest of us? We have been asked by scientists, physicians and state government officials to wear masks, to maintain social distancing, to wash our hands, not to gather in large groups and not to travel over holidays. Our collective response to what are actually little more than inconveniences tells a sad story.
Millions of Americans refuse to wear a mask or social distance, many as a political statement, others because they claim it is their right to refuse, even though that “right” just might deprive someone else of a more basic right, the right to life.
To me, those who refuse to comply with such simple requests are accomplices in the deaths of thousands of people they don’t even know, including our doctors and nurses — indeed, all front-liners.
One defense given by people refusing to follow directives from scientists and government officials is COVID fatigue. Really? WWII lasted over four years for Americans. At this point in time COVID has required that we follow some simple protective steps for 10 months.
As my Dad swam under oil burning on the surface of the water, and was treading water in the Pacific while waiting to be rescued, I wonder if he experienced any fatigue. Or, was Uncle Richard fatigued as he crouched in his foxhole praying for clear skies so our planes could provide air cover over the Battle of the Bulge?
I write this on Dec. 26, one day after Christmas. It was not a normal Christmas for us. Only three of us sat down for Christmas dinner together, but thanks to Zoom we celebrated with our family virtually.
Our scientists asked Americans not to travel over Christmas, but millions defied those requests. Watch for the upcoming spike in COVID cases following Christmas travel.
“Snowflake” is a term applied to those of us who follow the scientists’ recommendations. I like to think that those “snowflakes” are patriots who care about the whole of America. For far too many, America has become about “me” rather than “we.”
I do know one thing regarding COVID. When this awful pandemic is over, there will be a multitude of books written about COVID-19. One or more of those books will evaluate the effect/impact of those millions who refused to comply with those simple safety protocols proposed by the medical community.
None of those books will have the title "The Greatest Generation."
Gary L. Allen is a retired community college speech instructor and forensics coach. In 1971, he founded and coached the Southeastern Illinois College forensics team. He also served on SIC's Board of Trustees for 12 years.