Veterans Day and the battle for equity

13 Nov 2020

Blog, Letter from the CEO

Would a true friend recommend a book that leaves you crying?


A few months ago, Mike McKim, Plant Manager at Safco in Milford and a member of the Corridor board of directors, suggested I check out Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship & Sacrifice, by Adam Makos. Mike had read something I wrote for this newsletter and knew I was interested in military history. What he probably didn’t know is that I’m a softie and would weep through the final chapters.


Devotion tells the story of Ensign Jesse Brown, the son of a Mississippi sharecropper who became one of the Navy’s first black aviators, and his friend and fellow pilot, Lt. Tom Hudner, a wealthy New Englander. Brown and Hudner flew together from the carrier USS Leyte in the early months of the Korean War. When one is shot down, the other risks everything—injury, court martial, death—in a rescue attempt.


It is a perfect book for Veterans Day, inviting us to remember humbly and prayerfully the sacrifices of our nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.


But, in truth, honoring the past costs us nothing. What is hard is changing the future. Brown was so determined to be a fighter pilot that he withstood crushing racism both in and outside the military. He and his wife were once spat on by a group of white men while walking the street. His question afterward: How could those men disrespect the Navy uniform like that?


They should not have, nor should we disrespect the progress achieved by men like Brown and Hudner by ceasing to fight for a more equitable country. A recent report from Citigroup estimated that the US could have generated an extra $16 trillion over the past 20 years had we managed somehow to close the racial wealth gap. $16 trillion. That is the equivalent of an extra nine months of GDP.


Here in Iowa, where Brown actually completed a portion of his flight training, the median household income for whites and Asians is a third greater than for Hispanics and nearly double that of blacks. We do better in the Iowa Lakes Corridor, but a gap exists, nonetheless.


There is an obvious economic advantage to lifting the lowest earners among us, regardless of race. When our neighbors become wealthier, we benefit. Their spending generates jobs, tax revenue and competition. All of that is to the good.


What matters more to me, though, is the memory of Ensign Jesse Brown and Lt. Tom Hudner, whose courage, selflessness and, yes, devotion, moves me to tears.