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What ever happened to ... Those patriotic paint jobs?

The flags on their houses remain, but two men think they're paying a price for loving their country.

By JEANNE MALMGREN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002

The flags on their houses remain, but two men think they're paying a price for loving their country.

What do you do when you're bursting with such pride over your country, when you're so passionate a patriot, that simply flying a flag isn't enough?

You paint the Stars and Stripes on your house, that's what you do. Yep, right on the wall, bigger than life, in brilliant red, white and blue. A permanent patriotic statement. Who cares what the neighbors say?

Last fall, when flag fever was at its peak, Bill Davenport of Brandon and Steve Woodland of St. Petersburg had the same idea: to use their houses as billboards for the war on terrorism.

Davenport, a sergeant in the Army Reserve who served in the Persian Gulf War and in Bosnia, won his paint job in a radio station promotion. He was the lucky first caller, and a week later a professional crew showed up to paint a huge flag and "God Bless America" on one side of his house. He got red shutters and blue trim, too.

Woodland, a staunch military supporter who was born on the Fourth of July, painted his flag with exterior latex he bought at Lowe's. People honked and stopped to shake his hand while he and his family worked. In the landscaping bed below the wall, they planted red, white and blue flowers.

A year later, both men say they're still happy to have an American flag on their houses. Passing cars still honk, with passengers giving thumbs up.

Both Davenport and Woodland have had trouble, though. It seems patriotism has a price, at least when it's emblazoned on the wall of your house.

In May, Davenport was fired from his job in the Tampa water department. He filed a complaint with the Civil Service Commission. Maybe his repeated absences as a reservist had something to do with it, he suggests.

"The sad thing is, I had an employer that does not support (patriotism) as strongly as I do," Davenport says.

Sarah Lang, Tampa's director of administration, says the city goes beyond what state law requires employers to reimburse workers while they are on reserve training or active duty.

"Mr. Davenport has some allegations going back three or four years, dealing with his military absences and that he felt that was causing some discrimination. But there were other reasons he was dismissed, and we don't feel we discriminated against him," Lang says.

Davenport now works as a security screener at Tampa International Airport. He says the flag on his house isn't going anywhere because neither is his love for the United States.

"I believe in my country deeply," he says.

Across Tampa Bay, Woodland has been fighting a protracted battle with vandals. They extinguished cigars on his flag wall. They trampled the red, white and blue flower bed. Three times they drove a vehicle into the yard, right up to the wall, and shattered sodium vapor lights Woodland had installed to illuminate the flag at night.

"I camped out on my roof trying to catch them," he says.

Woodland suspects his flag wall is a topic of contention at neighborhood association meetings but Ronald Hersch, who has been president of the Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association since May, said he hasn't heard it discussed at any meeting he has attended.

"It's not an issue that I'm aware of," Hersch said. Woodland, meanwhile, says he has no plans to paint over his flag.

"As long as I live in this home, it'll be here."

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