Ray Gaiduk, my 91-year-old father-in-law, grew up during the Great Depression in Cleveland and served in the U.S. Navy before becoming a firefighter. He retired as deputy chief of the East Cleveland Fire Department.
He is well aware of the life-threatening hazards associated with fighting fires. The name of his late wife’s brother and dear friend, Frank Bonacci, who lived in Bainbridge, is engraved on the Cleveland Fire Fighters Memorial. Ray sustained serious injuries and narrowly escaped his own death when he fell through a roof while battling a blaze. The smoke that often invaded his lungs contributed to the COPD that now keeps him on oxygen 24 hours a day.
Until these last couple months, though, Ray found rays of sunshine when he ventured out to local stores each morning and attended Mass on Sundays. Not only was he able to pick up a newspaper, fresh fruit and vegetables, along with other necessities, but he greatly valued friendly greetings from familiar clerks and cashiers.
But now Ray spends his days all alone in the confines of his modest bungalow. At his age and with his COPD, he is one of our most vulnerable citizens to the deadly ravages of the coronavirus. With the gradual lifting of stay-at-home advisories by our governor, he has been hoping for a return to some semblance of normalcy.
Donald Trump, who, on March 18, declared himself “a wartime president,” is urging the country to get back to business. Many of his loyalists have been protesting against the medical experts and responsible leaders who caution about a resurgence of the outbreak.
Our country has had actual wartime presidents, and its citizens have made great sacrifices in times of actual wars.
Harry S. Truman, a Field Artillery captain in France during World War I, was president at the end of World War II and through most of the Korean War. He famously kept a sign on his desk that read, “The Buck Stops Here.” Can anyone imagine the buck stopping in today’s White House?
All four presidents of the Vietnam era, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, served with distinction in World War II.
The current “wartime president,” a bone-spurred draft evader, had his twisted version of combat, saying, “We have our own Vietnam. It’s called the dating game.”
The American people have made great sacrifices during our country’s actual wars, including extreme World War II rationing and tax increases for the Civil War, Korea, Vietnam and even the first Gulf War in 1990.
But today, while doctors, nurses and first responders put their lives on the line, while providers of essential services are there for us, while volunteers reach out to those in dire need, there are some who know nothing about sacrifice. They carry guns, swastika posters and Confederate flags in protest and threaten police, journalists and lawmakers.
We all want to get the economy back on track. We all want our fellow citizens to get back on the job. When the time is right and the precautions are sufficient, we want to get back to our religious services, restaurants, taverns and theaters. We want the kids back in school and on the playgrounds.
Unfortunately, though, it is too much to ask of some people to spare their fellow Americans from potential exposure simply by wearing face coverings in crowded places and maintaining social distance until we get this health crisis under control.
So, while they refuse to make that small sacrifice, people like Ray Gaiduk, who has sacrificed so much during his life, will spend their days all alone, because they have nowhere safe to go.
Mr. Lange is the retired editor of the Times.