Don Woodard: Pestilence roils the seas but ship of state sails on

Don Woodard

President Trump calls the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) the unseen enemy in the night. This description echoes Psalm 91. Could King David the Psalmist have been writing about a virus that was abroad in the land 3500 years ago?

I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and

my fortress: My God; in him will I trust

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for he will deliver me from the snare of the

fowler and from the noisome pestilence .

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night;

nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the

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pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the

destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand

shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy

right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.

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One hundred years ago in 1917, a novel virus called the Spanish flu ravished World War I troops based at Camp Bowie in Fort Worth who were training to go to France, where American troops led by General John J. Pershing had marched through Paris on July 4, 1917. At the grave of American Revolution War hero Marquis de Lafayette, Pershing’s aide, Colonel Charles Stanton, uttered the famous immortal thank you: “Lafayette! We are here!”

At Barron Field near Everman, my friend Bill Leary, in his book Flyers of Barron Field wrote, “all the beds were greatly needed for Spanish flu patients that were coming in. Nurses checked the temperature and pulse of a new arrival to be sure he wasn’t bringing in from overseas any more of the Spanish flu infection. One third of the personnel at Barron Field caught the flu in the winter of 1918-19, and three of the men died from the sickness. Some 50 million people worldwide died from the flu during the period.

Besides the 1918-19 pandemic, there have been three other viral pandemics: 1957 and 1968 each cost one million deaths. Estimates of the death toll from a 2009 outbreak range from 150,000 to more than half a million. Those panics raised the question: could a high severity pandemic on the scale of 1918 occur in the modern era? 2020’s coronavirus outbreak answered in the affirmative with a big bang.

Now at long last the curve of this new virus may be flattening. Is the apex nearing? Who can say? The doctors, scientists and health experts say, don’t stop too soon. Let not the jingle of the cash register deter us from Mission Accomplished! Or, as Satchel Paige might philosophize, Don’t look back! Something might be gaining on you

Should we ease up our watching now, with the first pink rays of curve-flattening dawning in the east, only to regenerate the invisible coronavirus and let the hope of victory slip through our fingers? Surrender to the virus? Start all over, leaving all our sacrifice to date to count for nothing? Health-givers on the front lines forgive us!

In England’s darkest hour in World War II, Winston Churchill said: “We will fight on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields, in the streets, in the hills. We will never surrender.”

Let that be our stand on the virus. Let us fight it in New York. In Washington State and California. In Louisiana. In South Dakota. In beautiful Texas and in every other state in the union. Let us never stop until we have killed the killer. The whole world is looking to America for leadership. Let us sail on with America’s great poet Henry W. Longfellow. Could his historic poignant verse be more apropos?

 Sail on O Ship of State

Sail on O Union strong and great!

Humanity with all its fears,

With all its hopes for future years

Is hanging breathless on thy fate.

Don Woodard is a Fort Worth businessman and author of Black Diamonds! Black Gold! The Saga of Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.