This year, Memorial Day will be different.
Most of the traditional memorial events held this weekend in honor of fallen veterans have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Typical weekend gatherings of friends and family, if they happen at all, are likely to be smaller and more subdued.
There will probably be crowds at the lakes and parks this weekend, but they are going to be smaller and more cautious.
Typically Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer for Americans, and the last Monday in May, Memorial Day, is set aside to remember those veterans who gave their all for our nation.
Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service of our country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle, according to the website, Almanac.com.
The purpose of Memorial Day is to memorialize the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Traditionally, on Memorial Day people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries.
A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. local time.
Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season.
According to History.com, the Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries.
By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to those countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.
Some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemoration was organized by a group of freed slaves in Charleston, S.C., less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.
However, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day.
After World War I, the day expanded to honor those who had died in all American wars.
This year, the Memorial Day services may not happen, but hopefully everyone will take a moment out of their Monday afternoon to stop and remember not only the fallen war heroes, but those health care workers and other essential employees who have died during this pandemic.
Business Insider reported on May 3 that more than 9,200 U.S. health care workers have contracted the coronavirus, according to an April report from the Center for Disease Control.
The vast majority of health care workers reported that their symptoms were mild, but several hundred had cases serious enough to warrant a hospital stay, and at least 27 U.S. health care workers have died from the disease.
In May, the National Nurses United union reported that at least 48 nurses have died from the coronavirus.
In some states, medical staff account for as many as 20 percent of known coronavirus cases, according to the website, EMS World.
Health care workers include not only doctors and nurses, but scores of technicians, nurse’s aides and medical assistants, maintenance, janitors, food workers. They tend to patients in hospitals, treating them, serving them food and cleaning their rooms. Others at risk work in nursing homes or are employed as home health aides.
One frontline worker who died of COVID-19 was EMT Scott Geiger, 47, who worked for Atlantic Health System in Mountainside and Warren, N.J. He died on April 13. His story was shared by EMS Word and Kaiser Health News.
As a youth, Geiger wasn’t enthusiastic about school, but at age 16 he brought home a tome the size of two phone books, his brother, Ben Geiger, remembered. It was a manual for emergency medical technicians, and Scott devoured it. He was certified as an EMT at 17.
Although Geiger never married or had kids, he did not seem to miss those things. “He was so focused on being an EMT and helping people in their most vulnerable and desperate moments,” Ben said. “That’s really what made him feel good.”
Scott loved playing pool each week with friends. He was a loyal New York Jets football fan, content to joke about their follies and watch them lose. He was quiet. And he seemed to have nine lives, his brother said, surviving hospitalizations for epilepsy as a kid and blood cancer around age 40.
When the coronavirus began to ravage northern New Jersey, Geiger faced his EMT work with resolve.
He downplayed his symptoms when he first fell ill in late March, but wound up spending 17 days on a ventilator before he died.
The family has had to mourn separately, with the brothers’ father, who lived with Scott, in quarantine, and their mother confined to her room in a nursing home that has COVID-19 cases.
President Donald Trump has compared the fight against the novel coronavirus as a war. And this is a war being fought not only by health care workers, by meat packing plant employees, by stockroom and sales personnel at Walmart and Kroger and Dollar Tree.
Power and water company employees, truck drivers, postal workers, fast food servers and even journalists – everyone who goes out and works to make our everyday lives happen.
But we have to remember health care workers are the tip of the spear in this battle, and they are at highest risk.
Kaiser Health reported in April the number of health care workers who have tested positive for the coronavirus is probably far higher than the reported tally of 9,200, and U.S. officials say they have no comprehensive way to count those who lose their lives trying to save others.
So this Monday, when you stop to remember our military heroes past, take a moment to say a prayer for our fallen health care heroes as well.
The Bible says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
How much more so, to lay down one’s life for strangers?