By Vernon A. Williams
War is hell. I never served, but I was ready to go – with a draft lottery number lower than the I.Q. of a five-time draft dodger. I actually looked forward to joining the Air Force. But to my surprise, the 20-year Vietnam War ended the same spring that I graduated Indiana University in Bloomington, so folks were coming out of the military – not going in.
But my brother wrote letters from Nam. In one, he told me that his best friend was with him in a fox hole when enemy fire rang out and right in the middle of a sentence, he saw his friend’s brain shot out.
I know the aftermath of war is brutal just looking at young soldiers who return with an arm or leg missing; with minds of which they could never regain control, with the frustration of social alienation, joblessness, homelessness and second-class citizenship.
Then there was Bubba who grew up across the street from me on Madison Street in Gary – one of my role models. Cool as the other side of the pillow, Bubba loaned me his Miles Davis album, my reluctant introduction to jazz and convinced me that Johnny Carson was funnier than Moe, Larry and Curly put together. Like the Temptations’ David Ruffin, Bubba wore tinted glasses. Suddenly, being four-eyed was a lot hipper. He talked to me like a man and I found myself trying to raise my game. Then my friend Bubba – a brother filled with potential – went to Vietnam, never to return. Yeah, war is hell.
The perfunctory “thank you for your service” is woefully inadequate homage for such heroism.
Soldiers and veterans are far from the only under-appreciated champions of American society.
When it comes to dangerous service, there are the unspeakable risks taken day in and day out by the nation’s first responders. Hearts in Indianapolis are still broken in the aftermath of a 24-year-old IMPD officer and mother shot dead answering a domestic call.
In truth, when most people hear gun shots or smell smoke or see people in violent commotion, they scatter in the opposite direction like roaches when the lights come on. Not these rare, brave people. They run in the direction of danger, not away. That’s all that needs to be said to make my point.
Cops, firemen, EMTs are world-class heroes. Period.
And the national ingratitude for classroom instructors in public schools is a travesty. The fact is, teachers spend more hours on the job (in and out of school), and more of their ridiculously low income on job-related needs than almost any other professionals. How many Americans know (or care) that this is National Teacher Appreciation Week?
And still they rise, even in the face of being forced to indulge disrespectful students, parents, administrators, legislators, media and the general public. They excel in thankless work that few others have the passion or aptitude to perform. These intellectual centurions, carving promising futures out of disrespect, ignorance and abstinence are genuine heroes!
There is another group of servants that has never been more worthy of the title of hero than they are today. They are the diligent medical work force on the front lines of the battle with the lethal coronavirus. Doctors, nurses, surgeons, and other medical workers earn an unending, standing ovation. Many have become infected with the virus and many have died trying to save lives of others.
But there has been no requiem for the disturbingly high number of human beings who comprise the often-invisible army of nonmedical workers in hospitals who have lost co-workers to the ravages of COVID-19. Fatalities include three employees responsible for issuing masks to staff at a Queens hospital in the nation’s hotspot, New York.
These unsung victims include security guards watching over emergency rooms, chefs preparing meals for patients and staff, those processing incoming patients, custodial staff tasked with taking cleanliness to a new level, sanitation workers whose role is essential, medical transport vehicle drivers, receptionists, administrative employees and housekeepers.
Not only are these the least recognized healthcare employment sacrifices in this horrific chapter of history, but they are also the least paid. In New York public hospitals, 79 percent of the workers who assist doctors and nurses are Black and Hispanic, in contrast with that demographic making up only 44 percent of the medical staff.
From California to Maine, in Midwestern cities like Chicago, Gary and Indianapolis, these significant but virtually unnoticed pieces of this pandemic puzzle will likely continue to go unheralded with the uplift of a horn-honking caravan, parade of siren-blasting emergency vehicles, parking lots of cheering citizens waving supportive signs and blaring horns.
They will just continue to do their job – far out of the limelight – fulfilling the role assigned to them in the effort to help eradicate a monster. Our society at least owes them the acknowledgement of their sacrifice and recognition of their critical contribution.
So if you happen to know a nonmedical worker at a hospital, nursing home, clinic or a health facility, take time to thank them for their service. It’s the least we can do.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference mak- ers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.