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Memorial to COVID-19 victims lights up downtown SLC

Posted at 10:36 PM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 00:36:28-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A memorial lit up downtown Salt Lake City Monday night in honor of Salt Lake City residents who died from COVID-19. The Salt Lake City Council and Mayor Erin Mendenhall declared March 1 COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day.

Families of COVID-19 victims in Salt Lake City said they hope it brings people together as it gives them a way to remember their loved ones.

146 lit lanterns lined the way in Washington Square as the sun went down Monday evening.

The small, square lanterns symbolized 146 people who left behind grieving families and communities.

Take, for example, lifelong Salt Laker Jerry Chidester. The 95-year old World War II veteran passed away in June of 2020.

His son Jody Chidester described how much of Jerry's life was spent in the military, with his late wife of 60-plus years Toni by his side.

"That was his pride -- that was serving the country," Jody said. "That was his biggest thing."

He explained that his father retired out of the Utah Air National Guard as a Chief Master Sergeant, which is the highest enlisted rank in the United States Air Force.

"He flew all over the world," Jody said. "Went through Vietnam, the Korean War, World War II."

During World War II, Jody said that Jerry served in the Navy.

It's stories from that time that Jody compared to his father's experience during the beginning of the pandemic when visitation at the Salt Lake Veterans Affairs (VA) shut down.

"We heard the stories about riding on the back of the aircraft carrier. He'd watch the water turn up, and how lonely it was," Jody said, recounting his dad's memories of serving in World War II. "That was the biggest thing with being up there [at the VA], not being able to see anybody."

Jody explained how family flew in from around the country to celebrate Jerry's 95th birthday last May. But that's when the VA stopped visitation. Instead, Jerry spent his birthday alone.

Daily visits in person came to a halt.

Not long later, Jerry contracted COVID-19.

"I did finally, towards the end, got to go in and be with him -- but I had to wear gloves. I was suited up," Jody said, describing his last visit with his dad. "It's that touching of your family members that you don't get. You just didn't get it. So, when he passed it was pretty hard."

Jerry would die less than one month after turning 95, without the goodbye his son and family wanted to give him. He left behind four children, 24 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.

He's just one of 146 lives full of stories who died in Salt Lake City from COVID-19, with countless people who cared.

Now, they're being honored in rows of glowing lanterns.

Jody hopes those who visit the memorial remember people like his dad and understand the impact of COVID-19.

And he hopes that people open their hearts, to each other.

"It's all it takes," Jody said, "is a little kindness to go around."