A search for ‘heroes’ from Marion County appears to be fruitless

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Posted August 21, 2020 | By Bill Thompson, Deputy Editor

In my stars I am above thee, but be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.”

So reads Malvolio in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” after coming across a prank letter intended to spur him to action.

Recently, the Trump administration asked Marion County officials who from the community had been born great, achieved greatness, or had it thrust upon them in helping shape America’s history.

They were stumped.

So who would be the greatest Marion Countian ever? Does anyone from our past measure up as making some notable mark on U.S. history?

The question arose after President Donald Trump’s Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore.

Trump proposed creating the “National Garden of American Heroes,” which he said would be “a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans who ever lived.” He also signed an executive order to launch the project.

On July 31, U.S. Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt asked Marion County for some suggestions.

In a letter, Bernhardt noted “many statues and monuments that preserve the memory of our collective American story have been vandalized, destroyed or removed. President Trump has made clear that this Administration will not stand for anarchy and allow our Nation’s history to be erased. We must preserve the story of America’s heroes.”

To that end, Bernhardt wrote that he was leading a task force to find a site, preferably on federal land and close to a major population center, for the National Garden of American Heroes.

Trump’s executive order included the names of 31 “historically significant” Americans who would make the cut for the garden and would signify the kind of people recognized in it. These would be public figures who “contributed positively to America” and who “made substantive contributions to America’s public life or otherwise had a substantive effect on America’s history.”

The role models Trump envisioned include the Founding Fathers, abolitionists, military heroes including Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, inventors and entrepreneurs, pioneers, first-responders, labor leaders, former presidents or other elected officials, missionaries or religious figures, explorers, judges, intellectuals, authors and artists, teachers, or “opponents of national socialism or international socialism.”

Trump’s not-so-short list in the executive order included: John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George Patton, Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington and Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Said garden, Bernhardt added, would recognize “the greatest Americans to ever live and (would) express our noblest ideals: respect for our ancestors, love of freedom, and striving for a more perfect Union.” The garden relics would “show reverence for our past, dignify our present, and inspire those who come to visit this majestic place in the future.”

Bernhardt then asked the county if it had land for the garden or any statues or monuments that could be donated or lent to it.

In reply, County Commission Chairwoman Kathy Bryant sent a letter thanking the Interior Department for reaching out and added that Marion County applauded the concept.

But, she wrote, the county could not contribute.

“We feel Marion County does not hold the lands necessary, federal or otherwise, to appropriately honor this collection of monuments with the prominence and distinct honor so adequately deserved,” Bryant wrote.

“We are humbled by the offer to highlight our local heroes in the vicinity of those honored by our nation. The achievements accumulated by the list of heroes selected for placement within this location are numerous and worthy of awe. Unfortunately, at this time, we are not in a position to offer a statue or monument to be added to the 31 historical figures listed in the executive order,” she continued.

“We appreciate and thank you for your work in preserving our nation’s history so that social advances and national triumphs are available for future generations to use as resources to continue America’s success story,” Bryant concluded.

In a follow-up email to the county, Jeffrey Small, a senior adviser to Bernhardt, noted, “We suspect there will be hundreds in the National Garden by the time we are done with this project.”

Which is scheduled to debut on July 4, 2026.

He also suggested the county could “highlight some local heroes.”

The county did not respond a second time, an official said.

Bryant’s letter indicated our community did not have a statue ready to be planted in the National Garden of Heroes. But that also reveals that we haven’t produced someone worthy of such a monument.

So how about it? Is there some prominent Marion Countian who our leaders have not considered?

Let us know and we’ll pass them along.

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