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A Times Editorial

In midst of patriotic burst, remember to treat flag well

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 20, 2003

Is it Easter or the Fourth of July? It could be difficult to differentiate if you're gauging the preponderance of red, white and blue over lavender, yellow or pastel pink.

There is a resurgence of patriotism among local residents in the past couple of weeks. Though opinions about the wisdom of going to war with Iraq were divided, most people seem able to support the troops and feel pride in a nation that could, in just a few weeks, liberate another from the decades-long grip of a cruel tyrant.

Two weeks ago, at U.S. 19 and Main Street in New Port Richey, 50 students, accompanying family members and veterans attended a flag-waving rally put on by Project Pasco Loves Our Troops. The same day as many as 20,000 people from all over the Tampa Bay area came together in Clearwater's Coachman Park for a rally that featured Gov. Jeb Bush.

Cars on area streets are starting to sport American flags again or new patriotic bumper stickers. Flags wave in front of homes and businesses, and patriotic clothing is on display near the front of retail stores again.

Here and there, people are tying yellow ribbons around the trees in their yards or their mailboxes, even though there has not been an organized yellow-ribbon campaign. The ribbons are placed in remembrance of the troops, not to be removed until the last soldier comes home.

These are mere symbols, but they help people on the home front feel they are contributing, give them a way to show their pride, and serve as valuable visible reminders of the sacrifices being made by the troops.

But, let's not forget some of this patriotism also is being pushed by profit. As Times staff writer Saundra Amrhein detailed recently, some Pasco businesses are flying American flags after a crackdown by the county on signs, pennants and other attention-getters that are illegal under the county's new sign ordinance.

Apartment complexes have replaced the "move-in special" banners with the stars and stripes. Automobile dealers in particular are bursting with American flags to accompany the zero-down payment deals.

One U.S. 19 dealer attached an American flag to every car in the lot. But, the county is putting the kibosh on one west Pasco dealer's attempt to circumvent the new ordinance by hanging banners resembling the American flag. They remain illegal, and the dealer agreed to remove them by the end of the month, according to the county's code enforcement office.

We don't begrudge businesses' show of patriotism, even if ulterior motives might be at work. But, businesses need to recognize that the U.S. Flag Code states "The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever."

Still, limiting the number of flags would not be prudent. The city of Clearwater tried that unsuccessfully with its own sign ordinance in the late 1980s. A car dealer sued and won after being told his 23 American flags violated the limit of two per business.

"Somebody who wants to put a flag up is saying 'I'm patriotic,' " noted Bruce Blake, who reviewed the Pasco County sign ordinance as a member of Scenic Pasco and the Citizens Ordinance Review Committee. "We ought to be more patriotic. It should not be a trade off between aesthetics and patriotism."

Besides, a row of crisp American flags can catch the attention of passers-by more effectively than helium-filled balloons, streamers and other visual clutter common along Pasco's roadsides.

And, new flags are preferable to aging, tattered versions. If waving the flag is a way to show our pride in America, then we should have enough pride not to display it if it's dirty, faded or torn.

Some of the waving flags are an embarrassment. Some are so thin and weather-worn that they are virtually transparent. The red stripes and blue field are washed out in others, faded away by the sun. And some flags are flapping in shreds.

If you are flying a flag at your home, business or school, check it out and replace it if it has become shabby. Flags can be purchased in local stores or over the Internet, and they aren't particularly expensive.

Businesses that want to use patriotism to improve the bottom line can at least make sure they are using a new replica of Old Glory.

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