In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice. -- Victor Frankl, Mans Search for Meaning
They did their part.
Thats the slogan on a World War II United States government propaganda poster, issued by the Office of War Information in 1943. They were the Sullivan brothers, five siblings who hailed from Waterloo, Iowa. In January 1942, George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert, the sons of Thomas and Aleta Sullivan, all signed up to serve in the United States Navy, a little more than a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
They did so with one stipulation: that all be allowed to serve together on the same ship. Though the Navy had a policy to not allow such family groups to serve thus, it was often not enforced and so the five men were assigned to duty on the U.S.S. Juneau, a light cruiser. On Nov. 13, 1942, during the battle of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific, the Juneau was struck by two enemy torpedoes, exploding, and then sinking the ship.
Six-hundred and eighty seven men died. Ten survived. The Sullivan brothers all perished.
They did their part.
I have an original of that poster in my home and it hangs in my living room, a reminder to me that there have been times in our nations history when the greatest of sacrifices was asked of American citizens, like the Sullivan brothers. That there once was a time when millions of Americans laid aside their own wants and needs, gave up the normalcy of everyday life, to serve a greater good and a common good, beyond individual desires. That there was a time when our nation was led by a President, who in both in word and deed, actually inspired Americans, and called forth the absolute best in people, and a shared commitment to do ones part, and not just as soldiers, but also as civilians on the home front. Working in wartime factories. Participating in wartime drives to collect scrap metal or grow a victory garden or buy a war bond. All of this energetic and patriotic energy was designed with one purpose in mind.
To win the war and to do your part; your part in that effort, whatever that might be.
Mistakes were made. Many folks were treated much less than equally, minorities and women in particular. War profiteers stole from Uncle Sam. A black market in rationed goods flourished. Yet it could be argued that in modern times, America then was more united, more communally committed and more willing to sacrifice for the common good, than ever before.
Ever since then too. Until now.
Id argue that in this generation, at this moment in history, more so than at any other time since 1941, America is being asked to sacrifice and in big ways. To give up so others might live. To go without so others might survive. To set aside what I want, for a shared ethic of what we, together, united, must do, in these strange and amazing days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I dont think making such a historic comparison is hyperbolic. We may not be at war in the traditional sense, but we are at war against an enemy, an invisible enemy, that has the potential to continue to sicken and kill millions of people around the globe, and millions of people right here in the United States. And so, to be blunt: we collectively need to continue to do our parts, in this effort, and meet our responsibilities to each other, as citizens and neighbors.
We are just two short months into what most epidemiologists and scientists agree will be a multi-year effort to discover and manufacture and distribute an effective vaccine. Our work is just starting. Some elected officials might try to wish this truth away or deny it away or act as if we can just throw a switch and all will be well again and very soon too.
Me? Im not listening to them anymore, nor do I take them seriously. They are clueless at best, reckless at worst.
Instead, in 2020, we may have to look within ourselves for inspiration and strength, to keep calm and to carry on and to do whatever is necessary to win this battle. We will have to reach deep and remember that America has this collective will within our spiritual and civic DNA.
They did their part. Now we must do the same. May God bless us all in this mighty effort.
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have a word or idea youd like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to email@example.com or in care of The Press (Dover-Sherborn@wickedlocal.com).
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