Veterans upset about 'disrespectful,' delapidated flags

Jul. 04, 2014 @ 08:38 AM

When Iraqi combat veteran Geoff Byrd drives to Lenoir from Boone each week, he passes a tattered American flag being flown along U.S. 321, faded, stained and ripped.

With Independence Day looming, he felt he had to speak out.

“It’s a symbol. It’s a brotherhood among military men-we’re brothers and sisters,” he said. “To have it so flagrantly worn and weathered, it’s counter to what it’s supposed to be. Don’t put one up there if you don’t mean it.”

Byrd, 38, who served in Iraq with the Air Force from 2003 to 2005, said when an American flag is flown without proper regard, whoever flies it is “using us, using what we fought for.”

There is a set of federal regulations for treatment of the U.S. flag, the U.S. Code.  U.S. Code Title 4 Chapter 1 says, “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

Byrd's reaction is a common one among veterans, said Larry McMullen, veteran and co-chairman of Foothills Stand Down, an organization that helps homeless veterans get back on their feet.

“People have no real understanding of what the flag means to veterans,” McMullen said. "Veterans try to keep their flags clean and presentable, and when people just fly them to fly them with no concern, I guess they have no feelings for what was given to be able to fly the flag.”

Jim Dorion, 72, a 22-year veteran, has become known as the “flag policeman” – he even has the title on business cards – for his efforts to get tattered flags replaced. He has dedicated time to the task since the 1980s, when he got his first flag replaced at a McDonald’s in Ohio.

Dorion – who served 10 years in the Marines, three in the Army and eight and a half in the Air Force – said he sees dilapidated flags “every time I’m in my automobile and moving.” He said he’d rather not see the flag at all than see it flown and ignored.

“If you’re going to disrespect it, don’t fly it. You’re insulting yourself and me,” he said. “That’s our flag.”

Dorion takes the old flags to a box at Walmart in Lenoir, where they then taken to Evans Funeral Home for cremation, in compliance with the U.S. Code.

Many portions of the U.S. Code are widely ignored, however. For instance, the code says that if a flag is to be displayed 24 hours a day, not just from sunrise to sunset, it should be illuminated at night, and it shouldn't be left out when it rains unless it's made of all-weather material.

Byrd said he doesn't expect total adherence to the code, just respect.

“I don’t expect them to take it down every day the way they’re supposed to,” he said, but flying a flag that is in such poor condition is unacceptable.