Lynn Schmidt commentary: Col. Ed Shames was an example for all Americans to follow
Summary: Considering the extraordinary bravery and self-sacrifice of service members like Col. Edward Shames, is the self-sacrifice of wearing a mask really too much to ask?
What does it mean to serve your country? Army Col. Edward Shames, the last remaining member of World War II ’s “ Band of Brother s,” certainly answered that question. He died last week at age 99.
According to his obituary, Shames was born in Norfolk, Virginia , on June 13, 1922. He answered the call to duty in August 1942, becoming a member of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, which historian Stephen E. Ambrose made famous in his 1992 nonfiction book “Band of Brothers.”
He made his first combat jump into Normandy on D-Da y and fought with Easy Company in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne. Because of his battlefield leadership, he received a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant on June 13, 1944. After the 101st entered Germany, Shames was the division’s first member to enter Dachau concentration camp , days after its liberation. A bottle of cognac he took as war booty from Adolf Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest later was opened to toast his oldest son’s bar mitzvah.
This week also marked the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s subsequent declaration of war against Japan. Roosevelt, addressing a joint session of Congress, declared Dec. 7, 1941, as “a date which will live in infamy.” Germany and the other Axis powers promptly declared war on the United States. That declaration served as the call answered by hundreds of thousands more Americans like Shames to serve their country.
These anniversaries and Shames’ story got me thinking about the Greatest Generation, the term coined by journalist Tom Brokaw in his 1998 book with that title. “The Greatest Generation” refers to those who came of age during the Great Depression and served our country during World War II. Brokaw wrote that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was “the right thing to do.”
Recently, commentator Lara Logan went on Fox News and compared Dr. Anthony Fauci to the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Mengele was nicknamed “the angel of death” for the lethal experiments he conducted on Jews. This is just one example of many from those on the fringe right comparing vaccine and mask mandates to the Holocaust. I wonder how Shames, as a witness to the atrocities of Dachau, would have responded to the comparisons made by Logan and others.
The coronavirus has now killed more Americans than the combat deaths from every war or conflict combined in our history. There have been more than 790,000 deaths due to the virus, compared with 666,441 combat deaths. The Civil War is noted as having the highest death toll of any war in American history. Two-thirds of the deaths in the Civil War were not sustained from combat but rather from viruses, parasites or bacteria.
Despite the devastating numbers of Americans lost, too many are still complaining about getting a vaccine or wearing a mask during many indoor activities. With the omicron variant spreading throughout the region, the country and the world, we are faced with the reality that the life we are living with the coronavirus will not be going away soon.
Americans have always been asked to serve their country during times of crisis. Military service is one way to serve your country, but it is not the only way. When we act in ways that benefit our fellow citizens, we are serving our country. The answer on how we can serve one another is as simple as putting a cloth over our noses and mouths. Despite the attempt by Gov. Mike Parson’s administration to keep it from the public, Missouri’s own health department found that mask mandates save lives.
Considering the extraordinary bravery and self-sacrifice of service members like Col. Edward Shames, is the self-sacrifice of wearing a mask really too much to ask?
Lynn Schmidt is a columnist and Editorial Board member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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