by David DiFranco
President Donald Trump, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and my home state’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer are just three of many American leaders who have likened the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic to World War Two. While such a comparison can be both scrutinized and politicized, I would for my part respond this way: If the pandemic is like World War Two, then this past weekend’s uber-successful pilgrimage through Michigan, Indiana and upper Wisconsin is the Doolittle Raid.
For those not familiar with the reference, by April of 1942 a full four months had passed since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The American people were desperate for some positive news in their struggle against the threatening might of the Japanese Empire. The problem at that time, however, was that we had no aircraft with a long enough range to strike the Japanese mainland, and successfully return. The Japanese menace, it seemed, was unreachable. Like many today who might mistakenly acquiesce to a narrative of fear and hunkering down, Americans in 1942 risked a crisis of despair.
Enter James Doolittle. On April 18, 1942 Captain Doolittle with his volunteer force of 80 American airmen flew a daring raid off of aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean on what was intended to be a one-way ticket. Knowing they would not have enough fuel to return home, these brave men successfully operated a direct bombing run on Japan, providing the first step in America’s fight against the imposing threat of Japan’s ambition for world conquest. Running out of fuel after the surprise attack, most of the American aircraft would crash into the sea in the hopes of being picked up by allied submarines. All but three of the airmen survived the raid. In tactical terms, the attack had little effect on Japan’s military might. But psychologically, it changed everything. The mindset and the morale of the American people were awakened. The clouds of despair that had veiled the nation were pierced, and from that point forward, Americans knew it was time to get moving, and to win. As James Doolittle predicted, the mission had “a favorable reaction on the American people”.
Now if you will indulge me but a little, I will extend the already tenuous Covid/WWII analogy and proclaim that on October 9, 2020 another daring mission was embarked upon, that should dispel the gloom for today’s Americans everywhere. Particularly, for those of us whose livelihoods are founded on the creation of life-changing travel experiences, and for anyone who understands and embraces the irreplaceable and sacred role of travel in both personal human development, and the foundations of human culture. For after eight full months without a single motorcoach tour departure for our determined and tenured organization, travel has finally returned. And just as the story played out in the theaters of World War II seven decades ago, here also in 2020, we have had nothing to fear all along, but fear itself.
To explain, it helps to recognize that our company, Corporate Travel, is but one small piece of an enormous travel industry that does not merely transport people from place to place, but that helps provide society with the experiences, memories, and perspectives that are essential to its development. Group travel promotes and builds culture. It is essential for the collective soul of any society. And as the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has proven, life without travel is a dystopian abyss.
Our company produces hundreds of group tours for tens of thousands of travelers each year. Any normal ‘day in the life’ at Corporate Travel Service is a bustling flurry of excitement and activity as multiple concurrent events are produced for bus load upon bus load of eager travelers. We franticly and passionately serve sorties of tourists who depart with complex and delicate itineraries. But all of that changed abruptly with the arrival of Covid-19. Like the Americans reading headlines after the attack on Pearl Harbor, our employees and our clients were left shell-shocked as the world was abruptly locked down. Years of work and preparation were franticly undone, as every single tour from March 10, 2020 forward was forced to cancel. The deluge of terrifying headlines accommodated no visible horizon for when group travel might return, and our industry atrophied under the unrelenting confusion and uncertainty of a frightened, paralyzed world.
That is, until a few days ago, when on a warm sunlit Autumn morning, 30 Catholic pilgrims entrusted our organization and our amazing partner suppliers with their health and safety and departed on a 3-day, 1,100 mile jaunt through Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. These travelers marveled at peak Fall colors enroute to serene National Shrines like the Shrine of St. Joseph at St. Norbert’s College and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Wisconsin. They enjoyed delicious group meals before touring iconic American institutions like Cross in the Woods and the University of Notre Dame. They attended Mass and listened to live presentations from prolific Catholic authors. Under the prayerful direction of our dear friend and Catholic Radio Host Teresa Tomeo, her husband Deacon Dominick Pastore, and our Spiritual Director Fr. Derik Peterman, this intrepid group of people visited historic, natural and religious sites that will, as all travel does, affect them forever. They prayed. They learned. They traveled.
Be assured, every precaution was taken. Sanitation, social distancing, the wearing of masks and the taking of temperatures were a constant feature. As Doolittle was limited to fly only half the round trip in his day, our group was intentionally limited to half a bus, giving each guest extra space on the motor coach. But how beautiful it was to see these Americans choose for themselves between the risks of going out, and the risks of staying in.
So is the pandemic over? No. Neither was World War Two after Doolittle’s raid. Borders to foreign countries have not yet opened. Cruise ships do not yet tread the relaxing waves of the Caribbean Sea. But they will. And soon. Because Americans are resilient. Americans adapt. And they will not forfeit freedom. Not to a foreign empire, nor to a foreign virus. Take heart American travelers. For as proven by the thirty people who decided to safely travel where precaution and governments permit; travel is not dead. The veil of doom and paralysis was broken this week. A ‘favorable reaction on the American people’ was earned. And it portends that this war too, will soon be won.