GAINESVILLE ‒ More than 350 miles away outside of Atlanta, a United States flag carefully folded into a display case was casually thrown into the trash. Rescued by a patriotic citizen, it was placed in the hands of Michael T. Brown, adjutant of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5255 in Lawrenceville, Ga.
As Brown removed the back from the display case to properly prepare the flag for disposal, a newspaper clipping dated July 2, 1989 fell out. The topic of the article was flag desecration, and a court ruling that upheld flag burning as an expression of speech. It featured remarks from Past Alachua County VFW Post 2811 Commander Adrian K. Stitt.
“To be free, you’ve got to have patriotism, and patriotism is part of who I am as a person,” Stitt was quoted in the article. “I will not speak against our government yet – until they give me something to speak out against.”
Stitt, a veteran of World War II and Korea, served as commander of the Alachua County post 34 years ago. A few years later following his term, he moved to be closer to family near Atlanta.
And there he stayed until he passed. Part of his legacy were the words read by the VFW Post 5255 adjutant.
Motivated by the newspaper article and a sense of duty, adjutant Brown – a veteran of the Vietnam War – delivered the flag to the Gainesville VFW. Instructions with the national emblem and case read that the flag should be displayed proudly with honor.
Alachua County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2811 Quartermaster Avery Owen received the display case earlier this month. A retired master sergeant with the 3rd Bn, 20th Special Forces Group of the Florida Army National Guard, Avery said he felt honored by the adjutant’s request.
“Those of us who’ve served overseas have seen firsthand what countries are like where people have few rights and freedoms,” he said. “It helps make you understand that the U.S. flag truly represents protection of liberties, and deserves to be respected and honored.”
With dozens of combat veterans in its ranks, the Alachua County post is dedicated to honoring the U.S. flag. On Nov. 4, for example, members of the post and its auxiliary spent part of the day decorating the graves of former servicemembers with American flags for Veterans Day.
Also, carefully displayed on the walls of the post’s main meeting hall are scores of U.S. flags in wooden presentation cases. Each is marked with a small brass plaque inscribed with the name of the servicemember it honors.
Avery said he understands that some of the freedoms he’s fought for include the right of fellow citizens to desecrate the flag as a form of protest. He is quick to add, however, that it is also his privilege and that of many others to honor the flag at all times.
“We could argue what is right or what is wrong,” said Avery “But in the end, respecting our country and its founding principles and our fellow citizens is paramount.”
Etiquette taught to those in the military and service organizations is based on the premise that the American flag should be respected as a symbol of freedom. According to the VFW, proper protocol should be followed in the disposal of a flag. This process includes reverently burning the flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and burying the ashes. Alachua County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2811 accepts donations of old and worn flags, and regularly retires them according to these guidelines.
“It’s never right to just throw the United States flag into a dumpster,” said current VFW Post 2811 Commander Chester Lundy. “That’s like throwing away all your rights and privileges as a citizen of this country.”
Lundy, a retired Marine master sergeant and Desert Storm veteran, said that he’s glad the flag arrived under his watch.
“It gave myself and a few others a chance to reflect about how many different opinions there are, and how good it is to be in a country where differences are allowed,” the commander said.
Those interested in VFW Post 2811 and its activities can call 352-376-7660
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Michael P. Mauer is a life member of VFW Post 2811. He served as an Army photojournalist during Operation Desert Storm, and was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf for his actions during the war. This year, Mauer won the Grand Award for top feature article in the VFW National Publications Contest.
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