The Four Chaplains: May We Never Forget Their Courage

I don’t remember when I first heard this story, but something incredibly brave happened on 3 February 1943. During World War II the SS Dorchester, a civilian ship pressed into service to transport American troops to Greenland, was torpedoed by a German submarine. As the ship began to sink it became clear that there were not enough life jackets for all the troops on board.

Among those on board were four chaplains: Rev. George Fox (1900-1943), Rabbi Alexander Goode (1911-1943), Rev. Clark Poling (1910-1943), and Fr. John Washington (1908-1943).

When they recognized that there were not enough life jackets they gave up their own and stayed on the sinking ship. Those who were saved because of their life jackets remember seeing these four chaplains linking arms and praying as the bow of the ship sank.

I spent twenty two years as a hospice chaplain and the title “chaplain” means a great deal to me. When I see a chaplain acting with courage I feel pride and when I see a chaplain acting cowardly I feel anger. When I think of these men I feel great love and admiration.

They did us proud and we need to know that.

COVID and the 1918 Flu: Lest we forget

Several years ago I discovered Findagrave. It came out of my interest in genealogy. Volunteers like myself tramp through cemeteries and set up memorials from the headstones to honor those who have gone before us. Sometimes we know them, oftentimes we don’t. But we don’t want their memories to disappear.

Today I came across a few headstones for the Chiappe and Carniglia families at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery here in San Diego. I’m not entirely certain how, but these two families are related to each other. What caught my were four memorials:

They ranged in age from 5 to 57 and all four died in the span of 10 days. Given their age and the proximity of their dates of death I think we can safely assume they all died in the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

Over a century later we find ourselves in the face of another pandemic. But we also find ourselves surrounded by people who believe it’s all a hoax and we don’t need to socially distance or wear a mask.

Don’t listen to them. Instead listen to the voices of those who died within 10 days of each other in 1918.

It’s Been 19 Years and We Still Need to Remember

Nineteen years ago today most of us woke to horrible news: nearly 3,000 people woke up on the last day of their lives. We watched New York (NY), Arlington (VA) and Shanksville (PA) with horror as terrorists hijacked planes and crashed them into the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville.

I remember telling a friend that at the end of my life I’ll tell someone about this about who wasn’t even born in 2001. In the days following 9/11 I spend time listening to hospice patients who needed to tell me about their experience hearing about Pearl Harbor.

But they told me about how Pearl Harbor brought people together, how young men (and many women) lined up to volunteer to defend our nation. They told me that World War II was hell but at the end of the war they were proud to have contributed to victory over fascism and allowed Europe and Japan to embrace democracy.

In the following decades the United States helped rebuild Japan and Europe.

But in the nineteen years since 9/11 we’ve gone in a different direction. Many Americans turned anger against Muslims in the false belief that they hate us and were somehow complicit. They weren’t. Currently there are 3,000,000 Muslims in the United States and they overwhelmingly love the US as much as we do.

Unfortunately the current US President, Donald Trump, loves nothing more than blaming his troubles on “others.” We are a nation who deserves better than this. We are a nation who needs to continue to mourn our losses and at the same time looks forward to healing, peace, and reconciliation.

Next year we will commemorate 20 years since 9/11. Let us work toward being a nation worthy of their sacrifice.

COVID Fatigue

Earlier this year we learned about COVID-19, a virus that likely originated in Wuhan, China.

Despite President Trump’s claim that the virus’ fault lies with China we are faced with a worldwide virus that we all need to deal with.

In the middle of March much of our nation “closed down.” We decided that some businesses needed to remain open and were deemed essential, among them grocery stores. Almost all of us listened to the voices of intelligence and reason.

Many people began working from home and they are the fortunate ones. Many more got laid off and needed to apply for unemployment insurance. Finally others, classified as “essential” kept working.

Everyone sacrificed but we hoped (at the time) that if we all pulled together we could “flatten the curve,” ie, prevent an increase of cases and get through the first wave by early summer.

Wave? In 1918 we suffered an enormous Influenza Pandemic (unfortunately misnamed Spanish Flu). The first wave started in March of 1918 with the first reported case in Kansas. It was thought to be a slightly more contagious version of the seasonal flu and by August there was reason to believe it was over.

But in November of 1918 troops began returning home from Europe after World War I and many carried the virus. By the time it was done it had infected 500 million people and killed between 20 million and 50 million.

When we started to learn about COVID-19 scientists from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases advised that the virus decides when the country will open back up.

I guess President Trump didn’t get the memo. On March 24th he suggested that we return to normal on Easter.

Fortunately we didn’t, but by the end of April many states (primarily in the South) began to reopen against the advice of nearly anyone smart enough to be part of the discussion. Georgia was the first, reopening on April 30th. Other states followed.

And the curve, which was flattening in early May, took off again. As I write this the United States has reported over 4 million cases.

For those of us who have followed directions about wearing masks and keeping 6 feet of distance, it’s been frustrating beyond words. I had hoped by this time I wouldn’t have to wear a mask but with this resurgence it appears we’ll have to keep doing this until scientists develop a vaccine.

Now we’re talking about Covid Quarantine Fatigue. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s real. Covid fatigue describes the weariness of having to work from home, wear a mask, and socially distance.

But I will also give another symptom: anger. I’m angry at all those who refuse to follow guidelines and wear masks when shopping or getting coffee.

Some claim that this is a matter of personal freedom (but are willing to avoid a ticket by wearing a seatbelt while in a car). Others claim that they have health conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask. I have asthma and I can tell you that wearing a mask is a burden. After a few minutes I start sweating from my head and back (which I don’t understand). But I wear it anyway. I wear it because I’m willing to sweat to keep the people around me safe. I have no no patience for those who claim an exception.

And I know that I’m going to have to wear a mask for the foreseeable future because those who claim the mantle of personal freedom refuse to acknowledge personal responsibility.

In 1940 ordinary citizens of England suffered nightly bombing raids from Germany in the Battle of Britain. Germany believed that nightly bombing raids on major English cities would break the spirit of England and they would negotiate a peace treaty. It didn’t work. Instead all households were ordered to turn off all their lights at night ensuring that the German bombers couldn’t find their targets.

I write this because it worked. British homes “blacked out” their homes and won the battle. But imagine if ordinary British households believed in individual rights over corporate responsibility. Imagine that some percentage of British citizens claimed that they had the right to keep their lights on and were willing to take the chance of being bombed.

That’s fine but turning on your lights not only endangers you but your neighbors. Your irresponsible decision not only puts you in harm’s way but also those unfortunate enough to live next to you. It doesn’t matter that they’ve sacrificed for the common good because you refuse.

So for all of those who refuse to wear a mask, I hope you’re happy.

We Still Miss Those Who Flew on the Challenger

On this day 34 days ago many of us gathered around a television set to watch a horrific event. That morning the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch and all seven astronauts died. That day we lost:

At the time I was the Director of Religious Education at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, Virginia. It was ordinary morning until my secretary Edye McIntyre (1928-2008) got a call and expressed her grief. When I heard the news my first reaction was: “Oh no, not with the teacher.” It was a hard day.

We humans have always felt the need to explore. What’s over those mountains? What’s across that sea? Can we reach the moon? Can we reach other planets or galaxies? Let’s try.

All attempts put us in danger but we explore nonetheless.

Thirty four years later let us honor these brave Americans whose sacrifice made our exploration better. And let us honor the teacher, and all those teachers who have inspired us.

Auschwitz, 75 Years Later

Today, January 27th, we commemorate the day in 1945 when Soviet troops liberated the most famous of the Nazi’s concentration camps, Auschwitz. From 1940 to 1945, 1,100,000 men, women, and children were murdered. Most were Jews, but the Nazi’s also murdered Roma (Gypsies), political prisoners, and gays. It’s important to remember them too.

Seventy five years out it’s easy to parrot the phrase “Never again” but that’s not enough. This genocide didn’t begin with the opening of Auschwitz, it began much earlier and “never again” commands that we challenge and call out antisemitism before it becomes the norm, before it becomes acceptable.

Germany after World War I was a mess. Not only did they lose the war, but they were forced into poverty by England and France who demanded crushing reparations.

A few years into this an Austrian who fought for Germany as a lance corporal saw an opportunity. His name was Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). He decided that the real source of German suffering wasn’t the Treaty of Versailles but the Jews.

He was a brilliant communicator and was able to convince much of his adopted country that if they could only get rid of the Jews their future would be bright. He was raised Catholic and used a longstanding myth that the Jews killed Jesus Christ to make antisemitism reasonable to Christians. It worked.

Seventy five years ago, when we learned the horrors of the Holocaust, antisemitism became unacceptable in most quarters. But every year since then we’ve seen antisemitism become more and more acceptable. In August of 2017, at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, we heard, to our horror, the phrase: “The Jews Will Not Replace Us.”

This was part of a larger campaign called “Unite the Right.” Our President, when asked about this campaign, claimed that there were “very fine people on both sides.”

He’s wrong. Fine people aren’t white supremacists. Fine people aren’t anti-Semites.

If we want to ensure there will never be another Auschwitz we need to call out antisemitism when it begins, not when it becomes deadly.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 132: Cokie Roberts is Praying For You (and I’m Trying)

Yesterday I posted about the death of Cokie Roberts (1943-2019). As you can imagine people from around the world have posted remembrances and condolences.

President Obama said this: “Michelle and I are sad to hear about the passing of Cokie Roberts. She was a trailblazing figure; a role model to young women at a time when the profession was still dominated by men; a constant over forty years of a shifting media landscape and changing world, informing voters about the issues of our time and mentoring young journalists every step of the way. She will be missed ― and we send our condolences to her family.”

President George W. Bush said this: “We are deeply saddened that Cokie Roberts is no longer with us. She covered us for decades as a talented, tough, and fair reporter. We respected her drive and appreciated her humor. She became a friend. We know Steve, their children, and grandchildren are heartbroken. They have our sincere sympathies.”

Meanwhile, our current President (who must not be named) said this: “I never met her. She never treated me nicely. But I would like to wish her family well. She was a professional, and I respect professionals. I respect you guys a lot, you people a lot. She was a real professional,”

Way to make it about you.

RIP Cokie Roberts

This morning we received bad news: Cokie Roberts died of cancer.

Some who read this will not recognize her name, but those of us who follow the news recognize how much we owe her. She was a journalist who joined National Public Radio in 1978. At the time women often found themselves without a voice, without a path toward reporting the news. NPR deserves credit for hiring Cokie, Susan Stanberg, Nina Totenberg, and Linda Wertheimer. To this day they are known as the “Founding Mothers” of National Public Radio.

Cokie came from a political family. Her father was famously House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (1914-1972). He served his home state of Louisiana in Congress. He recognized his role in campaigning for other Democrats and on October 16, 1972 his plane was lost in Alaska while he was campaigning for Nick Begich.

Cokie’s mother, Lindy Boggs (1916-2013) took her husband’s seat and served until 1991.

Cokie worked as a journalist with NPR and ABC. Her voice resonated in our living rooms for decades and it informed and educated us. Her voice made us recognize that womens’ voices are not alternatives: her voice told us that her voice mattered. Her passion in the last 40 years taught girls and young women that their voices mattered and they had a place in our national discussion.

For women who now find know their voices heard, please know that the thresholds you step over were walls that Cokie broke through.

God Bless you Cokie.

Remembering This Day Eighteen Years Later

September 11, 2001 began ordinarily for us. It was a Tuesday morning and my parents were in town to see the home we purchased five months earlier. It was a good visit and they expected to return to Virginia the next day.

Shortly before 6AM our alarm turned on the radio and we began to get ready for work. But we soon learned that a passenger plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. In the next few hours we learned that another plane crashed into the South Tower, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed into rural Pennsylvania when passengers gave their lives to prevent a crash into the White House.

On that day many of us went to work in a blur of grief, fear, and uncertainty. I spent the morning in a meeting. After the meeting we planned to have lunch to celebrate the birthday of one of my coworkers. It was a hard lunch as we spent the whole time watching the television in the restaurant.

I spent the afternoon and the next few days visiting patients who wanted to talk about Pearl Harbor. They recognized the bewilderment and the fear of knowing that outside forces drove us into a frightening future. In some ways their memories comforted me because they told me how this attack drew our nation together and good eventually triumphed against evil.

This is a day to remember those who stepped up: the passengers of United Flight 93 who gave their lives and saved the White House; the first responders in New York who gave their lives running into the fire; the Pentagon workers who ran into the fire to save their coworkers.

Also those who spent weeks and months at Ground Zero digging through the rubble who were lied to about the risk and suffer to this day.

To those who lost loved ones, that day and since, I say this: One day we will all be in Heaven and all will be well.

Evil isn’t powerless but it will never defeat good.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 130: You Should Read This Book

I just finished Daniel Okrent’s book The Guarded Gate. Here’s what I’ve learned:

This was not an easy book to read, particularly to those of us who follow the news. In 1859 Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species that found that plants and animals change and develop to adapt to a changing world. In the decades that followed, many people asked the question as to whether humans do the same.

It’s a decent question and we’ve found that skin color has changed incrementally over millennia based on our distance from the equator and sunlight. We all began in Africa with dark skin because of the sun: we needed dark skin to block skin cancer. But as a species we migrated to areas where the sun was not as intense, areas that we now know as Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Those migrants needed lighter skin because they needed the Vitamin D that the sun provided. And over thousands of years they developed exactly that. The different skin colors between Africans and Scandinavians had everything to do with the sun and nothing to do with anything else.

But in the decades after Darwin this debate took a horrifying turn: a number of Americans took Darwin’s theory to argue that people from certain countries were “good” and some were “bad” based on skin color and where they were born.

From the late 16th Century much of what we now call America saw a huge influx Western Europeans. In 1776 we declared ourselves independent from Europe (England) and opened our shores to all who wanted to come, not thinking much about skin color (except for the slaves we brought here in chains but that’s grist for another post). This lasted until 1882 when we decided that we didn’t want to include people from China.

Shortly after this descendants of Western European immigrants feared they would lose their wealth and their identity because of current Eastern and Southern European immigrants. With calls of “Keep America for the Americans” they decided that some immigrants were good and should be welcomed and some were bad and should be banned. They claimed science on their side and named their belief “eugenics.”

Daniel’s book documents this belief that Europeans could be divided into three groups: Nordics, Alpines, and Mediterraneans.” With no evidence they claimed a hierarchy: Nordics were good, Alpines were suspicious, and Mediterraneans were inferior. In no small part they recognized that Nordics had fair skin and fair hair while Mediterraneans had olive skin and dark hair.

In 1924 Congress passed (and President Coolidge signed) a law that placed horrific quotas on immigration from different nations of Europe. I encourage you to read the book but basically they wrote this law that set up immigration quotas from each nation. Those from Northern Europe and Scandinavians enjoyed generous quotas (including, by the way, President Trump’s mother who came from Scotland in 1930) while those from Italy, Austria, and the Balkans were essentially shut out.

The horror of this law wasn’t realized until the 1930s when Jews from Europe frantically attempted to flee Nazi Germany and were turned away from our shores because of their misfortune to come after their quota had already been met. Thousands were turned back where they perished in concentration camps. If you don’t think this has real consequences, read about the St. Louis.

Today, day after day, we see that men, women and children come to our borders. They are desperate to flee because of the same fear that Jews faced in the 1930s. They don’t face antisemitism but instead face death threats. Their fathers, brothers, sons, and grandsons face threats from local gangs who demand that these young men join their gang or face death.

They don’t want to join gangs and they began a long and dangerous journey in the hope of a place of safety: the United States. They want what our ancestors wanted. But when they arrive at our border they are seen as “invaders” who want to “take our stuff.”

In 2019 we cannot condemn xenophobia in the 1920s and defend xenophobia today.