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Victims and survivors of WWII and COVID-19 still inspiring others

Earlier this month we marked the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe, or V-E Day, when World War II ended in Europe.

In its most recent update, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported there are about 300,000 American veterans of World War II remaining among us. That includes about 14,500 women of the 350,000 women who served in our Armed Forces during the war.

The total has dropped dramatically since 2015, when around 939,000 were still alive.

In its last projection, the VA estimated that we would be losing about 245 World War II veterans each day in the year’s period between last fall and this coming September.

That VA projection, however, did not take into account the global pandemic which has taken a deadly toll in assisted living facilities and veterans nursing homes. In many areas, about half of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in these senior facilities, many of which were undersupplied and unprepared when the outbreak occurred.

Many of us were justly infuriated by the lack of press coverage and of leadership from officials like New York Gov. Mario Cuomo who is mainly responsible for botching his state’s early response at elderly care nursing facilities. CNN footage last week showing the governor clowning and joking with his brother, CNN journalist Chris Cuomo, about nasal COVID-19 test swabs was pathetic and disgusting.

The clowning Cuomo brothers not only disrespected the senior victims, many of whom were from World War II’s Greatest Generation, but it also insulted family members who were not allowed inside the facilities where their patriarchs and matriarchs died alone.

Thankfully, there were some positive stories filtering out of health care facilities around the nation this Memorial Day. One of our favorite involved William Lapschies, a resident of a veterans’ home in Lebanon, Oregon, who turned 104 on April 1. He has the distinction of surviving not only coronavirus and World War II but also the Spanish Flu, which killed at least 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 Americans, a century ago.

Lapschies was drafted into the Army near the end of World War II and served as a heavy equipment dispatcher in the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska.

With his family including two daughters, eight grandchildren and many more great-grandchildren, Lapschies wasn’t about to let COVID-19 take him out. Eighteen patients at his facility tested positive for coronavirus and three patients have died, but 13 of them have recovered, including Lapschies.

Another Oregonian with tough mettle is Bill Kelly, 95, who lives with his granddaughter, Rose Ayers-Etherington, and her husband, Isaac Etherington, in McMinnville, Oregon. After testing positive for the virus on St. Patrick’s Day, Kelly had to quarantine in his bedroom.

Kelly is no stranger to adversity, having served two years with the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II. Assigned to the 53rd U.S. Naval Construction Battalion, better known as the Seabees, he served with Marine units in the Solomon and Mariana Islands, Iwo Jima, and Guam.

This Memorial Day was a sad one for the family of Carl Godert from Fort Myers, Florida, who became a victim of COVID-19 on May 4 at the age of 97. After joining the Merchant Marine at the age of 18, Godert faced death a number of times during World War II.

Godert remained thankful to the end for his long life, although two dreams went unfulfilled.

The first was his quest to live to be 100. The second was to participate in an Honor Flight, which is an expense-paid trip for military veterans to visit the war memorials in Washington, D.C.

Despite the tragedies we’ve been seeing at senior health care facilities, Godert remained an American patriot to the end. When interviewed last Veterans Day, he said every American should be thankful to the Lord each day to be living in such a great country.

By Jim Zbick | tneditor@tnonline.com