An electronic billboard in Tuba City, Arizona, reminds residents to shelter in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus on the Navajo Nation. Photo: Navajo Nation Office of President and Vice President

Tim Giago: World War II and coronavirus pandemic have similarities

Notes from Indian Country
World War II and coronavirus pandemic have similarities

Those of us who lived through World War II vividly recall signs hanging in the Post Office, on office walls throughout the city, in the halls of the schools and restaurants. The signs read, “Support the war effort.”

I am reminded of this because of the coronavirus pandemic now raging across the world. The motto of today is, “We will get through this together.” And it is the similarity in the two sayings that is striking. By supporting the war effort every American pulled together. By standing together in the fight against a pandemic we are reminded that people are dying now just as they did during the war and in order to win this battle everyone must stick together.

There isn’t much we can do to fight the virus except follow the guidelines that will keep us safe. But in order to be successful we have to do this together. And in a similar way that is how it was during World War II. There has never been a time when Americans came together no matter race or religion.

Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

During the war one couldn’t buy gasoline without a ration card or go to the grocery store without a ration card. Synthetic tires came into vogue because all of the rubber had to go to the war effort. There were long lines at the recruitment offices all over the country. Americans of every color and religion enlisted in order to support the war effort. Per capita, more Native Americans enlisted to serve than any other race.

On the island of Iwo Jima in February of 1945 a Navy ship on patrol was hit by a bomb from a Japanese plane. It sank and a young Lakota man from Rapid City named Joe Tapio, would swim through the burning waters to save the life of his commanding officer and earn the Navy Cross. On shore that day his brother Louis was commanding a tank that was engaged in heavy combat and a U. S. Marine named Clement Crazy Thunder from Pine Ridge would die on the island that day. Near the end of that battle a Pima Indian Marine named Ira Hayes would help raise the American flag on Mount Suribachi.

My point is that every American pulled together to help defeat a common enemy. There were all kinds of drives for scrap metal and other items to support the war effort. In the summertime when I was home in Rapid City from the boarding school my cousin Sonny and I would take his wagon and go through the alleys looking for scrap metal and any other item we could find to support the war effort. Great battles were staged along the banks of Rapid Creek with Lakota boys and white boys joining forces to fight a common enemy. Our commander was named Edgar Lone Hill. Edgar carved a machine gun out of wood, painted it black and mounted it on a pedestal. Many an enemy soldier fell to the withering fire from that machine gun. Edgar supplied the sound effects.

In the 1940s we all knew that if we “supported the war effort” we would come out as the winners. And today, “We will get through this together.”

The analogy between WWII and the coronavirus pandemic are similar simply because human lives are at stake here. It was called a world war because the entire world was involved in it just as this pandemic is attacking the entire world.

We came up with war games to carry us through the terrible days of a war and I am sure the children of today will come up with games to carry them through this pandemic. Just as our lives changed forever in 1945 so too will the lives of today’s children.

Contact Tim Giago at Giago was inducted into the Native American Journalists Hall of Fame in 2017.

Note: Content copyright © Tim Giago

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