What you Can Do for Your Country during Covid-19

“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

This 1961 quote by John F. Kennedy has been circling my mind in recent days. It’s become my mantra as I sit home during the Illinois lockdown for Covid-19. What am I doing for my country, today?

I’m staying home.

The quote is a way of reminding myself that I’m doing exactly what my country has asked me to do. I wish I could be more helpful, but I’m not a medical professional. The best thing I can do is stay healthy and stay out of their way.

I call friends and family to make sure they are ok. I make sure my family is calm and is adjusting to our new normal.

That is what I can do for my country right now.

Trump thinks very little of what Americans can do in a crisis. He predicts: “You’re going to have suicides by the thousands” if the lockdown continues.

We have overcome worse – we’ve been asked to do more.

Today, on the sixth day of the Illinois lockdown, I went in search of what our parents and grandparents have been asked to do during national crises.

These sacrifices put our stay-at-home orders into perspective.

We’ve Done this Before: Spanish Flu

Covid-19 isn’t the first pandemic we’ve dealt with. A century ago, Americans and people across the world were told to stay at home during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918-1919.

We’ve done this before. We can do it again.

In St. Louis for instance, schools were closed in October 1918 and a variety of social distancing measures enacted. The ban on public gatherings was lifted in December.

Two months of social isolation limited the death toll in St. Louis significantly.

See my post “When History Repeats: Covid-19 and the Flu of 1918” on the Spanish flu.

People during the Spanish Flu isolated for weeks without the benefits of the internet. Only 35% of the U.S. households had a phone. TV hadn’t been invented and the radio wasn’t yet available for public use. The first radio news program in the U.S. wouldn’t be broadcast until 1920.

Self-isolation was a much lonelier and scary time a century ago.

In this November 1918 photo made available by the Library of Congress a girl stands next to her sister lying in bed.

The Blitz

In England they still talk of the “spirit of the blitz”. A time during WWII where the British people banded together to keep their country going while being bombed nightly by Hitler’s air force.

For eleven weeks, beginning September 1940 and continuing into May 1941, Londoners slept en masse in underground stations (subways). They huddled together like the homeless. Sleeping underground during the bombings.

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Londoners crowd into an underground subway tunnel to sleep during the bombing raids of 1940-1941.

Britain instituted severe curfews and blackouts so the planes couldn’t see city lights. Every door and window was covered and all lights extinguished. Blackout regulations were in place for over five years.

Parents sent their children into the relative safety of the countryside to live with strangers. 1.5 million children were evacuated in 1939. Many only returned home at the end of the war in 1945. Think of how scared and lonely the children were. Think of how worried the parents must have been.

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British children are evacuated from the cities during World War II.

These examples show personal and coordinated efforts to survive during an intense national crisis.


Brits began rationing food and other goods when the Germans cut off their supply lines in early 1940. Purchases of foods like sugar, meat, bacon, cheese, butter, milk, tea, jam, cereal, eggs, and canned foods were limited. Goods like soap and clothing were also rationed.

See if you could live on wartime rationing.

WWII rationing wasn’t as severe in America, but goods like gasoline, meat, sugar, milk, and coffee were rationed.

In 1942, your family would be limited to 1 pound of coffee every five weeks.

Rationing remained in effect in Britain until July 1954. Fourteen years.

In times of crisis, our country has asked us to give up some of the foods and luxury items we love.

“We Can Do It!”

In 1941, to fill industrial jobs left by soldiers leaving for war, six million women entered the workforce.  War-related factory production ramped up but there were fewer men to fill the jobs.

A call went out to the women of America.

Women were called to do construction, drive trucks, work on farms. They worked in factories to build planes, guns, and ships.

350,000 women joined the military in non-combat positions.

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J. Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It!” poster from 1943

During a national crisis, it’s all-hands-on-deck. The country called for women to fill the void left by soldiers who were fighting in Europe and Asia. Women left their families to do the hard work left behind.

Vietnam War Draft

Family legend has it that my Uncle Tom left for Vietnam the day I was born.

In the 1960s and 70s, the country called for soldiers, men between the ages of 19 and 26, to serve in the war.

This wasn’t a call for volunteers, it was a draft. 2.2 million American men were drafted for the Vietnam conflict.

Men were chosen based on their birthdates. Find out if you would have been called for the draft. On the chart below, find your birthday. The months are across the top, the days are along the left side. If your number is lower than 195 then you likely would be headed for Vietnam in 1969.

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This draft, and any draft, forced citizens to war as soldiers. The country in a crisis asked each soldier to kill and possibly be killed far from home.

Final Thoughts

Every national crisis is different. What you can do for your country varies. In the past, people have been called to fight for their country. They’ve been asked to do physical labor and sacrifice food and other luxuries.

With so many national crises in the past, the ask by the government was for us to do something. Doing nothing – staying at home – seems like asking for nothing.

For the Covid-19 crisis, stay-at-home is what is necessary to keep our families and communities safe.

Covid-19, Coronavirus, America, Politics, Virus, Lockdown, Stay at Home, Quarantine, Self Isolation,

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3 thoughts on “What you Can Do for Your Country during Covid-19”

  1. We have nigh on miraculous abilities to stay in touch with friends and loved ones today.

    Keeping in touch with people who live alone is really important. My son lives alone and was in lock-down in China for about 7 weeks, the first coule of weeks were like an extended vacation but toward the end he was getting depressed. As a teacher at a training school his school was closed and he had no structure unless he ordered groceries and had to go down to the gate to pick them up. One day he said he was in bed for 23 hours, because he didn’t see any reason to get up. I was awfully glad I called. (I was, and still am, in contact daily…now because he is concerned about us.)



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