Let’s test out a pair of statements that seem reasonable:
• It’s hard to be a credible voice for national unity if you support the presence of Confederate statues in public places.
• It’s hard to promote unity if you use our national anthem as a means of protest.
And yes, there are intelligent arguments to be made about why the statues should stay up or why it’s OK for our favorite football players to spurn the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
I just think we need a break from the divisiveness. It doesn’t gets us anywhere — we’re all just shouting at each other from our preferred corners.
A lot of the statues are already coming down. But sports over the weekend couldn’t have been more divisive because of everyone’s take on the pre-game, patriotic tradition.
Here’s the solution:
Please stand. Please put your hand over your heart — not because it’s a requirement, but because of people like Morris Rusch Marks. We’ve told his story before.
Morris graduated from Lake Park in 1933, originally wanted to be veterinarian and planned to help his family on the farm.
Three semesters in Ames taught him the land wasn't where his heart was. He dreamed of being a pilot, so he returned to Iowa State, studied business and joined the ROTC. In April 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
Pilot training took Morris to the West Coast, Rapid City, South Dakota; and Kearney, Nebraska.
He became part of an established bomber crew during his time in the Black Hills. They even became known as the “Marks Crew.” The men were deployed to Europe on a B-17 called “the San Antonio Rose.”
One of their bombing missions took them over Brunswick, Germany. As they approached their target, flak from German fighters damaged one engine. The Marks Crew was losing altitude. They hoped cloud cover would keep them safe, but blue skies prevailed over Holland. German fighters shot at them again.
The plane caught fire. Morris didn’t come home — surviving members of the crew had to tell the Marks family what happened.
"We got into the clouds at 12,000 feet and started back,” Charles Barnthson wrote. “We flew for about three-quarters-of-an-hour and we were over Holland when we ran out of clouds. Right then we were attacked by 12 or 15 enemy fighter planes, at least. It was so quick that we hardly had a chance to bail out. I was standing between Lt. Marks and Lt. Derenburg, the co-pilot. One of the planes hit our controls and they froze with the plane in a climb. We knew the plane would soon stall out, and the only thing for us to do was to abandon ship. By this time, we only had two good engines anyway.
"Lt. Marks gave the order to bail out and I turned to put on my parachute. I was ready to leave the ship when I looked back. He was getting out of his seat and motioned for me to go ahead. Naturally, I believed him to be coming right behind me. I opened my chute immediately and then maneuvered it so I could see the ship. I waited and watched, but only one man ever came out. He was Sgt. Glover, the right waist gunner.
"Mrs. Marks, I want to tell you straight. I know you heard other stories, but I watched that ship until it hit the ground and only one chute, besides myself, ever came out. There is no doubt in my mind that I was the first man out, and I know that Sgt. Glover and myself were the only ones to get out. What happened to the other fellows, I can't tell you. I know we were riddled by bullets and I believe most of the boys were killed before we realized our fate."
Morris was officially declared killed in action on Oct. 5, 1945. He was 28 years old. Mr. Barnthson spent 14 years in a German prison.
So about the anthem: There are too many injustices to count in this deeply-flawed nation of ours. And maybe a kid who grew up in white, northwest Iowa can’t begin to understand it all.
But I do know we’re not going to find middle ground by alienating one another.
Please stand at attention when the flag is unfurled. Stand to honor people like Morris.