By Gary Beikirch, Jim McCloughan, Ron Shurer, Mike Rose and Don Ballard
It is natural to be scared. Tens of thousands of our fellow Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19, including one of our fellow Medal of Honor recipients Bennie Adkins. His family and all who have lost loved ones to this virus are in the thoughts and prayers of all Americans. Things could continue to look dire in the weeks and months ahead. But thanks to our nation’s heroic medical professionals and first responders, there is reason to be hopeful.
The public health emergency we are living through is not the same as war, but we are see the same personal qualities that lead to victories on the battlefield on display in hospitals across the country as medical workers confront COVID-19. As former combat medics, we know something about emergency medicine. We were each awarded the Medal of Honor for treating and healing our fellow soldiers while under direct enemy fire. And today, we are in awe of the courage demonstrated by our medical workers and first responders in this moment of crisis. It should make all Americans feel proud and reassured.
Fear is a common emotion on the battlefield. Courage is a choice. In Vietnam and Afghanistan, with bullets and mortars flying, we tended to the wounded and got them back to safety every time we heard the call “medic.” That required a certain kind of bravery. What medical workers and first responders are encountering today demands a deep love of others and country to endure, and a profound sense of selflessness.
In emergency rooms and intensive care units, medical professionals are choosing courage on behalf of a worried nation. They are confronting a previously unknown enemy, they are still in the dark about which weapons to fight the virus with, and in some cases, tragically, they work without adequate protection for themselves. They fight through their fear to save the lives of their fellow countrymen and women, no matter the cost. They witness suffering most of us will never understand. They hope they are not exposing their families and loved ones to this deadly virus.
And despite all that, they continue to put self-interest aside to fight COVID-19. Their colleagues are exhausted, their communities shaken, yet they refuse to succumb to despair. Their patients are struggling to survive, yet they keep coming back — time after time — to administer care and help their fellow citizens. Grateful does not even begin to describe how Americans should feel for these women and men, heroic healers who in this moment display the best of who we can be as a country.
We wear the Medal of Honor for those we fought alongside, in recognition of the values members of the military demonstrate in service: courage, sacrifice, patriotism, citizenship, integrity and commitment. While most doctors, nurses and health care workers and other first responders may not wear military uniforms, which of these values are they not living out daily during this crisis? As servicemembers we honored our oath to protect our nation and heal those in battle, no matter the cost to us personally. Our medical professionals are honoring the oath they took to serve their fellow citizens at home, to save lives even in the face of surreal and unprecedented circumstances.
We urge Americans to join us and take a moment to thank those fighting this horrible virus. It is our responsibility to collectively choose compassion and appreciation to support them, because surrender is not an option. We hope all Americans will continue taking the necessary precautions to keep families, loved ones and communities safe. If you can, donate meals or supplies and please find a way to say thank you to a medical professional or first responder you know.
Americans have always risen to overcome stark challenges, and this moment will be no different. Our medical professionals and first responders choose courage, despite the fear, when our country and fellow Americans need it the most. We salute them.
Gary Beikirch is a former U.S. Army soldier who was awarded the Medal of Honor after he moved through enemy fire in Vietnam to tend to wounded soldiers, disregarding his own injuries and refusing treatment as he continued to retrieve wounded soldiers and bring them to the bunker, until he collapsed.
Jim McCloughan is a retired high school teacher and coach who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam. As a private in the U.S. Army, he ran into crossfire to extract wounded soldiers multiple times, disregarding his own injuries and saving the lives of at least 10 men.
Don Ballard is a retired colonel in the Kansas National Guard and former U.S. Marine. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for service in the Vietnam War, when, while working to remove wounded Marines from battle, he threw himself on a grenade to prevent others from getting hurt. When the grenade failed to detonate, Ballard returned to tend to the wounded.
Ron Shurer was a special agent with the Secret Service who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in Afghanistan. Under fire, Shurer extracted wounded soldiers caught on the side of a mountain, at one point using his own body to shield a wounded soldier he was carrying to safety. After contributing to this column, Shurer died earlier this month at age 41 of lung cancer.
Mike Rose is a retired U.S. Army officer who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam. Under fire deep in enemy territory, Rose ran to wounded soldiers, exposing himself to enemy fire and ignoring his own injuries to tend to others and move them to safety.