OPINION: Four vulnerable military veterans died on our watch. We let them down

They stormed the beaches at Normandy and raised the flag at Iwo Jima. They saw friends die on Pork Chop Hill and Chosin Reservior in Korea and, later, in places with more exotic names like La Drang and Khe Sanh. Many faced horrors and deprivations the likes of which most of us will never experience, all in defense of the great democratic experiment that is America.

They came home, raised families and lived their lives in the nation they loved and defended.

And when they could no longer care for themselves, many found their way to places like the Veterans Community Living Center at the Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center.

Now four of the veterans’ home residents are dead — victims of an unseen enemy that has run amok in our streets and homes, in our shops, in our churches and, yes, in our hospital. As of Wednesday, 22 residents and 22 staff members had tested positive for COVID-19.

Those four heroes died during a Thanksgiving weekend when an estimated 9.4 million people boarded airplanes and many millions more drove to spend the holiday with friends and family — against strong public health warnings.

They died during a weekend in which epidemiologists estimate that one in 41 Coloradans is currently contagious with COVID-19.

They died during a weekend in which only 66% of Colorado citizens exercised “transmission control” via social distancing, mask wearing and self-isolation.

They died on a weekend when Huerfano County moved to yellow and Las Animas County to orange on the state’s COVID-19 dial — a weekend in which Colorado Gov. Jared Polis himself announced he had tested positive for the virus.

In short, our heroes died on our watch.

We let them down.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and family of our four fallen heroes, and to the staff members at SPRHC who worked so diligently for so long to stop this pandemic at their front door.

We have now leapt past the point in which civil disobedience in the face of a public-health crisis is a matter of individual liberty or a political statement. It is now — as it has been since the start of the pandemic — a matter of civic responsibility.

We owe nothing less to our vulnerable heroes.

As we have depended on them in the past, we must now take to the frontlines. The public-health crisis is our war, is everyone’s war, and until a vaccine is readily available, the weapon of choice is disinfectant and the uniform of the day is a simple rectangle of cloth.

As a frustrated Gov. Polis said during a July press conference, “If I haven’t been clear, I’m telling you again… Wear a damn mask.”