My dad and Uncle Jimmy were ordinary heroes. Both were musicians, classical and jazz. Dad played the saxophone, clarinet, and bassoon; Jimmy played the trumpet and violin. Both were part of the Greatest Generation, among the millions of Americans who put their lives on hold to serve in World War II.
In 1943, when he was 18, Dad joined the army and went to Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where he trained to be a medic. At the time, he was playing in a band and starting to date my mom. Just before sailing to Okinawa, he was hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer and returned home to New York. His buddies fought in the Pacific, where many were killed in action. His friend, Victor, was shot in the head; somehow, he found the strength to lift his pistol and killed the man who shot him. Victor eventually made it home with a bullet lodged above his eye. Dad never forgot his own good fortune or his friends' sacrifices, and he always reminded me that his life, and mine too, were gifts to use wisely.
In 1944, Uncle Jimmy left his wife and baby daughter to sail to England for the Allied Invasion. Even more than my dad's, his war experience constituted a series of near misses. On the morning of D-Day, he developed diarrhea and was left behind as his friends crossed the English Channel. During the Battle of the Bulge, a bullet pierced his rucksack. One evening, unable to bear another frigid night in a foxhole, he decided to sleep in a barn, which was considered an easy target. He survived the night, but none of the men in the foxhole did. After the war, he returned to Long Island to raise his family.
My father and uncle were part of a generation willing to sacrifice their lives for freedom. Their memories are blessings.
I thought about them on Friday night when the Chiefs told me about all the interns and residents who had volunteered to join the Fauci Service. Though caring for COVID patients no longer poses the same physical threat it used to, working in the ICU does demand sacrifice, including grueling hours, emotional turmoil, huge clinical challenges, and the willingness to put patients' needs above your own.
For nearly a year, you have battled this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. You too are heroes and your contributions have been profound. Like my father and uncle, you probably won't win medals and I suspect most of you don’t think of yourselves as heroes at all. But you're heroes to me because you rose to the call. Just as one generation did its part to save democracy, your generation is doing its part to save lives. One day, your daughters and sons, and your nieces and nephews, will look up to you and strive to emulate you, just as I still do whenever I think about my dad and Uncle Jimmy.
Have a good Sunday and Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone,