Courtesy of the Byrne family
More than 500,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19 since the pandemic hit this country and the world just over a year ago. NPR is remembering some of those who lost their lives by listening to the music they loved and hearing their stories. We’re calling our tribute Songs Of Remembrance.
My father liked a variety of music: big band era, symphonic and Beatles music to name a few. A song that resonated with him was a patriotic song from the first World War, “Over There.” He would get quietly introspective when it played. He was a Korean War-era veteran, and is buried in Calverton National Cemetery in Long Island, N.Y. He died of the COVID-19 virus last March 28 in Carmel Richmond Nursing Home in Staten Island. When this song played in old-time movies on television while my dad and I watched TV together, I noticed he was emotionally uplifted, inspired and touched by the words. This song embodies the notion of America’s national effort of coming to the rescue of the underdog, or fighting for what’s right in the world. I believe that ethic was important and close to my dad’s heart.
As a child I would stand up from sitting on the couch when this song played in a patriotic movie, and I would salute, raising my right hand to my forehead imitating a soldier and march in place, then all around our living room — with my dad watching me and smiling.
All because I knew my dad was emotionally connected with the song. He was a corporal in the army during the Korean War conflict. On the very last day that I was allowed to visit my father in the nursing home last March, I tried to make it the best visit possible, as I knew it was the last time I’d be seeing him for quite some time. Little did I know he would pass away without me being able to visit him there, 17 days later.
I had my iPhone play music during my visits to my dad. I asked him what song he would like to hear, and he suggested, “Over There.” He listened to it quietly. We both did, he in the recliner chair next to his hospital bed and me sitting on the end of his bed. Then he quietly said, “thank you,” when the song finished. And that memory will be with me as long as I have the ability to conjure up all of life’s memories.
This song about liberation and sacrifice, helping with a higher cause and world peace was the very last music my 90-year-old father and I shared on this planet before he died, before he was “liberated” from the nursing home and a life that had become very difficult physically, mentally and emotionally. Music was still able to uplift and inspire him until the very end. And that’s what this song means to me. —Barbara Byrne-Goldie, daughter