Do you remember John J. Williams? Probably not. He was a Union soldier killed a full month after Lee’s surrender, in a meaningless battle at Palmito Ranch.
Henry Gunther? He was the last American soldier killed one minute before the armistice was signed at 11:00 AM in World War One.
Private First Class Charles Havlat? He was the last soldier to perish fighting Germany in World War Two. He died liberating his parents homeland in Czechoslovakia, just minutes after a truce had been negotiated. He was the eldest of six children, born to parents who had immigrated in the 1900’s.
Charles McMahon and Darwin Judge? After the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam in 1973, they were two of only a few dozen Marines stationed at the Air Force base. One day before the fall of Saigon, after being deployed just 11 days earlier, they were killed in a rocket attack.
In each war, there is always a last person to die before it ends. Sometimes after a truce has been called. The conflict is over, but the troops on the ground don’t know that fact, so the fighting needlessly continues, destroying lives that should have been saved.
The war against COVID is still taking lives. So close to the end. So close to stopping it’s spread and rampaging death toll, too many are still dying.
We now know how to deny it air and destroy its continued destruction: Wear a mask. Socially distance. Antibody infusions within days of getting the infection. Vaccines.
We have proven tools that can prevent infection and it’s spread. Or at the very least, prevent us from dying. Yet sadly enough, too many are not taking advantage of any of these options. As restrictions are relaxed, too many are acting as though the pandemic is over. It is not! In order to survive, COVID-19 is constantly changing and adapting to our responses. New variants are able to infect at higher rates and then cause worse symptoms, even in younger age groups. These mutations are already here. In this country, in this state, in this town. But not in large numbers. Yet. We are in a race.
Can we stop this devastating bug we know we can deal with, before it morphs into one we cannot? If these more virulent strains are allowed to spread before we achieve herd immunity, the knowledge we fought so hard to gain, will mean nothing.
As the year has progressed my natural instincts to shake a patient’s hand has faded. Facial coverings and social distancing have muted our human interactions. And with it, I fear a part of our humanity. This has to end.
We are in a race to see who will win. An unrelenting virus, intent on devouring anything in its path by mutating after learning our frailties, or us? It’s a race we cannot afford to lose.
This is not the time to let down our guard. This is not the time to claim a victory dance. We shuttered businesses and schools when there were a few thousand cases a day, now there are over 60,000. In the next two weeks the CDC expects to see the highest number of global COVID cases since the beginning of the pandemic. All due to new variants causing a fourth surge. The U.S. hasn’t even begun to see this wave yet. A tsunami is coming. Now is the time to prepare, not when it starts to crest.
It’s been a horrifying, exhausting, draining, overwhelming year. Over 550,000 souls will not be here to share our success. It would be heartbreaking to know the person enshrined as the last one lost in a war we can all now survive.