Ed was only 16 years old, but when Pearl Harbor was attacked, he rushed to his local Navy recruiting office to enlist, only to be told he was too young to serve in the military. 

Unfazed, on the way home he purchased some ink remover and forged the birth date on his baptismal certificate in order to meet the 17-year-old age requirement. And off he went to fight for his country. 

Stories like his aren’t uncommon. Each year it’s my privilege as part of the Journey of Heroes program to travel to Washington, D.C., with a group of veterans to see the memorials created in their honor. Many tell of similar guilt-free deceptions. They simply did whatever it took for the opportunity to serve. 

In a global war against COVID-19, I can’t help but compare those World War II-era heroes to our long-term care staff. If they had to lie or forge a document or two in order to fight for their residents against this insidious enemy, I think most of them would do it. It’s more than just a job, as the platitude goes. Theirs is a sacred duty, like they’re driven by an invisible moral force. 

I visited a nursing home last week. I didn’t go inside, but the administrator waved at me from the entrance, like a ghost from another world.

It was near shift change, and the sudden brigade of mask-wearing, scrubs-clad healthcare workers entering the building was moving to see. It was like reinforcements arriving at the front lines. 

Another nursing facility sent me some photos of life behind the doors. A nurse in full droplet- precaution gear, about to enter a resident room. A panoramic shot of an interdisciplinary care team filling a dining room in order to stay six feet apart from each other. A group of direct care staff striking an epic pose.

Even mask-covered faces couldn’t hide their heroic, almost irrational desire to serve. Just like Ed.