May 25, 2016

Memorial Day 2016

The health plan we now know as Kaiser Permanente got its start at the end of World War II, during which industrialist Henry J. Kaiser and founding physician Sidney Garfield, MD, took care of the industrial and nonindustrial health care needs of almost 200,000 workers in seven West Coast shipyards and a steel mill. Almost 400,000 men and women in the U.S. armed services, not to mention the 9,000 serving in the Merchant Marine, perished during this terrible struggle.

On the Home Front, civilians in war industries paid the highest price as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that each year between 1942 and 1945 there were some 2 million disabling or deadly industrial accidents, a total of more than 6 million. More than 75,000 Americans died or became permanently and totally disabled in industry during the war. Additionally, some 378,000 industrial workers suffered a permanent partial disability.

This powerful 1942 photo from Kaiser’s Oregon Shipbuilding Company shows two workers with heads bowed. We don’t know the details of this scene, but we can be certain they were mindful of the wartime casualties that mounted every single day. The observance for military casualties we now call Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” three years after the Civil War to honor those casualties. It became known as Memorial Day after World War II, and was established as a federal holiday in 1971.