Medal of Honor recipient Gary Beikirch, 72, plans to stay home “at least until the beginning of April” amid the new coronavirus outbreak, he said Friday, March 20.
Beikirch said one of Monroe County, New York’s first diagnosed cases of COVID-19, the disease that’s caused by the new coronavirus, was at Greece Arcadia Middle School where he worked as a counselor for 33 years.
“I had just gone over the day before to speak to some students in a class and to see some of the teachers and the very next day they said there was a worker at Arcadia that had tested positive,” Beikirch said.
He said three of his grandchildren also attend the middle school.
As a “safety precaution,” he and his wife of 45 years, Loreen “Lolly” Beikirch, decided to self-quarantine, the Vietnam veteran said.
The Beikirchs have been guests of the Medal of Honor Host City Program in Gainesville and had planned on attending this year’s program until the April dates were called off.
With the exception of going to two doctor’s appointments, the Beikirchs have stayed in their home about three miles away from the middle school since March 11, Beikirch said.
“It’s been kind of like a Groundhog Day experience,” he said.
He said the couple’s age and immune systems were also taken into consideration when deciding to self-quarantine. His wife is 64, he said. They have been advised to stay away from crowds and so far, Beikirch hasn’t had any symptoms.
The couple just made a “bold move” and ordered groceries through Instacart, he said of learning new technology while being stuck at home.
“We’re trying to comply with all the guidelines, especially since New York is probably one of the [worst-hit] states so far. The governor has come out with some real strong mandates,” Beikirch said. “We’re adjusting and trying to find ways to remain positive in this whole thing.”
COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2. It first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. As of press time Friday, there were 16,605 reported cases of COVID-19 nationwide and 216 reported deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine. In New York, there were 7,245 reported cases of COVID-19 and 39 deaths. In Texas, there were 343 reported cases of the new coronavirus as of press time and five deaths, according to the university. There were no reported cases in Cooke County as of press time.
Beikirch said there is light at the end of the tunnel.
He said after serving in Vietnam he came up with life lessons to teach middle schoolers.
Beikirch received his Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest award, in October 1973 for actions he took during the Vietnam War. As a member of the U.S. Army Green Berets who lived in a jungle with a tribe of people called Montagnards, Beikirch said he learned a lot from a 15-year-old tribe member he calls Deo.
Beikirch said he hated snakes and was afraid of tigers. However, living in the jungle was a way of life for the tribe.
Deo told Beikirch he didn’t want to teach him how to survive, but how to live, he recalled.
“That meant a lot to me,” Beikirch said. “He taught me how to live in the jungle. He took something that was frightening to me, that was scary, that was unknown, and he helped me learn how to live there.”
Beikirch said there is a big difference between surviving and living.
“ … The whole tribe that was there, they really were a witness to me of how people working together can create a community, create a group of people who can take something that is scary and turn it into a place that gives them their life … but they do it by working together,” he said.
Beikirch said the new coronavirus has shown examples of how some people choose to live.
“I can survive individually,” he said. “But that’s not living. Living happens when you include others. When you are there for others, when you reach out, when you can make a difference in the life of somebody else. When you’re there to bear their burdens also.”
He said people hoarding foods and fighting over toilet paper are in survival mode.
Acts of kindness, such as a restaurant owner giving away free food and a roll of toilet paper to those who stop by or Chick-fil-A bringing food to hospital workers, are examples of people choosing to live, he said.
“I think that’s what we need to be doing as a nation, as a people, if we’re going to survive this,” Beikich said. “Those are some important lessons we need to learn. We are not about survival. We’re about living and we need to live together.”