By Rev. Douglas J. Fisher / and Rev. Christopher Carlisle
Posted Apr 24, 2020 at 3:45 AM
The unfolding tragedy at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where at least 52 veterans have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, is an equally tragic reminder of our failed responsibility as a nation to remember and care for the veterans who have so faithfully served us. What is occurring at the Soldiers’ Home is not simply an anomalous casualty of an unprecedented pandemic, but a symptom of a deeper chronic condition which has persisted for decades. Rather than simply pointing the finger at the state, or speculating about what those in charge at the home could have done better, we are being called to look in the mirror and take responsibility ourselves.
We have neglected the needs of our American veterans who have given so much of their lives for us. Laying down one’s life for another is at the heart of the Christian tradition precisely because laying down one’s life for another is at the very heart of Christ. Perhaps this is why at Jesus’s crucifixion it was a soldier who was the first to recognize the divinity of Christ: “Truly this man was the son of God.”
The sacrifices made by American veterans on our behalf should inspire both a reverence for the gift they have given and an impassioned desire to honor and return this gift. The tragedy at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home will remain no more than a tragedy if it does not inspire a dramatic new commitment to our veterans. Such a commitment should extend beyond meeting their myriad unmet needs — from underfunded veterans benefits and programs that address their wounds of war to the unconscionable poverty so many suffer when they come home. It must also include proactively embracing our brothers and sisters when they return to the communities they went to war to protect.
“Building Bridges,” an initiative of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, has honored more than 3,000 veterans and their families over its five-year life. It is but one expression of what we can do as people of gratitude for our Massachusetts veterans. By convening veteran communities around weekly and monthly lunches in nine locations in the western part of the state, we have witnessed firsthand both the sacrifices our veterans have made and the isolation they too often suffer. It is time to recognize that we are the beneficiaries of their sacrifice.
Most immediately our hearts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the veterans who have tragically died at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. And may they also go out to the nursing assistants, housekeepers, food service workers, chaplains, and countless others who have worked tirelessly and selflessly in harm’s way. The only way this tragedy will find redemption is for us to intentionally and passionately remember and care for our brothers and sisters who have risked everything for us all.
The Right Rev. Douglas J. Fisher is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. He also served as chaplain at West Point from 1996-2000.
The Rev. Christopher Carlisle is executive director of Building Bridges, an initiative for veterans. Carlisle, an Episcopal priest, was commissioned by Bishop Fisher to found an initiative for veterans in 2012.