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The American Legion Department of Minnesota recognizes that the nation’s divisions have been laid bare during a difficult year for all Americans. We hope to explain why the playing of our national anthem should not be the time nor place for kneeling or other forms of protest.

The playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is intended as an expression of unity. It is a ceremonial moment when we can be one United States of America. After all, despite divisions over race, criminal justice, employment, health care, economics, elections and, of course, contentious partisan rhetoric, we, as Americans, all want the same thing — a more perfect union.

The anthem’s history at sports contests dates back to the seventh-inning stretch of Game 1 of the 1918 World Series in Chicago. The World War I death toll stood near 100,000 and a day before a bomb had exploded in the windy city, killing four and injuring dozens. Then as now, America was in turmoil.

The Chicago Cubs decided to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” during their contest with the Boston Red Sox at Weeghman Park, now Wrigley Field. The song became the national anthem in 1931 and the practice of playing it before sporting events proliferated, especially during World War II.

This tradition — of a moment of oneness and national pride — continued after the war. Like the word “united” in our country’s name, this solemn time allows us to reflect and put away our differences.

It pains us, as veterans, to see this time for honoring the flag become politicized. So many of us have risked our lives, and so many others have died for this country, so that we may secure the blessings of liberty — such as free speech and the resulting back-and-forth dialogue on important issues of the day. We aren’t opposed to improving the lives of America’s people, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender or politics. Veterans served beside fellow Americans of all backgrounds and were willing to die for them.

Wear whichever message you wish to convey. Support whichever cause you believe in. Push for change. That’s America.

But, for brief moments in our lives, let’s recognize that there have been brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, sons and daughters, who have given their lives for this nation. Respecting the flag respects them.

Mark Dvorak is the Minnesota commander for the American Legion. He is a member of New Prague Post 45.