Names and Numbers
April 28, 2020
With tragic and swift inevitability, we have reached that number. This week, after less than 3 months, the United States will have lost more than 58,000 to the pandemic called COVID-19. That is the same number of American lives lost during the entire Vietnam War.
This sad milestone will be observed in the media as part of the daily tally we have grown accustomed to in the coverage of the virus. And like the body count that was shown each night on the evening news during the Vietnam War, it is easy to become numb to the statistics.
But something is happening in today’s reporting that cuts through these grim figures. We are seeing, in real time, our own COVID-19 memorial being created each day. As Rob Feder reported this week, the Chicago Tribune has quadrupled the number of reporters and editors focused on obituaries. “I am writing a life story to ensure history properly remembers someone’s loved one,” reporter Christy Gutowski told Feder.
The stories are vivid remembrances with photos and loving tributes. The Sun-Times also is offering personal portraits, like the moving story by Mark Brown about the Tapiru family from Rogers Park, where the father is recovering from the virus as he grapples with the loss of his wife and son to the disease.
The names of each life lost are also how we mark the deadly toll from Vietnam. The black granite memorial in Washington, D.C., is sacred ground, where families still come to find a brother or a father carved in the massive wall.
I also remember how those names had a different meaning. Growing up in a small college town, the protests against the war were front and center. One afternoon on the way home from school, I joined a vigil where each name of a soldier lost was read out loud to remind everyone of the cost of war. My 15 minutes at the microphone is still etched in my memory.
The history of this crisis is, of course, still being written. We do not know, and probably never will know, the final body count. But we should never lose sight that these numbers represent people. The obituaries are suddenly the most important part of the daily news. Someday we should all take our 15 minutes at the microphone to remember each one.
April 28, 2020