5 amazing American souls lost to COVID-19

Judy Woodruff:

If you have been watching our program for the past year, you know that, each Friday, we have marked the death of a handful of individuals from COVID-19. It has been a poignant and painful reminder of the grim toll of this pandemic.

Now that the U.S. has reached over 600,000 dead this week, and the daily death toll is down to its lowest rate in months, after this evening, we are going to pause our weekly memorial. We do plan to return to it occasionally on Fridays, because we know this pandemic is far from over.

Let’s take a moment now to remember five remarkable Americans lost to the pandemic.

Melvin Greennagel lived a long, full life of music, service and family. Raised on a farm in Metamora, Illinois, he played tuba in the U.S. Army Band during World War II, and was the last living member of the band that marched under the Arc de Triomphe on Victory in Europe Day, 1945.

After the war, Melvin married and settled in Arlington, Virginia, where he continued to play music for the U.S. Army and raise a family. His granddaughter told us he was a calming presence who embraced the quiet moments, and, in retirement, loved nurturing his grandchildren, basset hounds, and many plants. He died at age 103.

Amber Elisabeth Aguirre Galvan was a faithful daughter, mother, and teacher, who offered the very best of herself to others, her mother said. An athlete who loved to compete, the Sinton, Texas, native was passionate about children’s education. Her mother told us she believed that everyone could learn.

Amber contracted COVID while pregnant, and gave birth to her third son at just 30 weeks. She died a few months later, at age 34. Her son Axel is now doing well.

Tom Shrump was a loving father and husband, his wife told us, the best guy she ever met. The Irwin, Pennsylvania, native managed supply chains, and was a huge fan of the Duke Blue Devils and coach Mike Krzyzewski.

He also loved teaching and volunteering with his high school marching band and drum corps. His wife said Tom always had a smile for people, and would do whatever he could to help. He was 54 years old.

James Herrera was always there for his children, no matter what, his son told us. A multi-sport athlete in high school, he served for seven years in the U.S. Army infantry, including in the Gulf War. He then became a deputy with the Denver Sheriff’s Department, where he worked for 25 years in the jail.

His son said he was respected by co-workers and inmates alike because he always treated people as he wished to be treated. James Herrera lived to be 51.

Mark Suttles was a dedicated teacher, coach, husband and father, his wife told us. The Albany, Georgia, native taught special education in Clayton County and also coached football and track. His wife said he went above and beyond for his students, giving them rides home after practice, and buying clothes for those who needed them.

He believed every kid counted, his wife said. Today, June 18, would have been Mark Suttles’ 47th birthday.

Thank you so much to family members for sharing these stories with us. Our hearts go out to you, as they do to everyone who’s lost a loved one in this pandemic.