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Is pride in Old Glory fading?

Flags fly in abundance on our nation's birthday. The sight of Old Glory stirs varied opinions.

Published July 3, 2006

[Times photo: Lara Cerri]
Former Pinellas Park Mayor Cecil Bradbury and a crew of volunteers decorate Park Boulevard on Thursday.

It may only be a piece of fabric with 13 stripes and 50 stars. But perhaps no other American symbol elicits more emotion than Old Glory.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, there was such a rush to buy the flag, companies couldn't keep up.

Now, five years later, the prevalence of the red, white and blue on the American landscape has lessened. Why? Some folks didn't bother to replace their weathered flags bought after the attacks. Others took theirs down as a sign of protest of the war in Iraq.

Last week's debate in the U.S. Senate on a Constitutional amendment to protect the flag from desecration, which failed by one vote, proved yet again the fervor that continues to surround the flag, a fervor which may have even surprised Betsy Ross.

Ask many people their thoughts about the flag and you're sure to hear something of interest. Here's what we heard:

Chris Ernesto, 42, a statistician

As an organizer of the group St. Pete for Peace, Ernesto helps lead frequent marches in protest of the Iraq war. Last year, the group displayed an American flag with the words "Torturers" on one side and "War Mongers" on the other side at the Fourth of July celebration at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg. It was right after the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison became public.

"I'm personally ashamed of the flag at this juncture in American history," he says. "It stands for oppression. Lack of freedom. Lack of democracy. People speak of freedom but are told we can't write on the flag."

Cecil Bradbury, 64, former Pinellas Park mayor

For the past 15 years, Bradbury has placed flags up and down Park Boulevard to celebrate the nation's birthday on the Fourth. This year, he and some helpers hung about 140 3-foot-by-5-foot flags on poles lining the street.

"I just think people ought to appreciate the flag and what it means for this country," he says. He can hardly talk about the flag without getting choked with emotion. "A lot of people have given a lot for the flag. There have been a lot of people who have given their lives for it."

Dwight Lawton, 75, Korean War veteran

As a member of Veterans for Peace, he is trying to get an audience with teens inside the public high schools to offer a different view of military life than what recruiters tell.

"I do not fly the American flag at my house," says the St. Petersburg resident. "I fly the peace flag. It symbolizes, to me, negotiation. We are short on negotiation in this country. We are too easy to use force. I'm a patriot. I love my country. I just don't agree with our foreign policy."

Manoug Manougian, 71, math professor at the University of South Florida. He was upset with the recent near-approval of the flag amendment.

"To me the American flag is a symbol of what our country stands for," he says. "Democracy, freedom and personal liberties. But it is just a symbol. Some of us feel like wrapping ourselves with the flag. Should we stop people from wearing our flag? By the same token, should we stop people from burning the flag who want to attract attention to policies they disagree with? The day we are no longer able to do this is the day democracy comes to an end."

Allen Poborac, 28, owner of American Transmission in St. Petersburg

A thief recently stole a large American flag from outside of Poborac's business, telling deputies he took it because it was being flown upside down. Poborac said the man lied. Deputies found the flag nailed to the man's walls, where it was being used as a curtain. The alleged thief has been charged with felony grand theft.

"Even though my family is not from America (they moved here from Croatia), this country has been good to us," he says. "Why would we disgrace our country and fly a flag upside down? We wouldn't. We are proud to be Americans."

Ed Noll, 81, World War II veteran

The Spring Hill resident served in the Navy from 1943 to '46 and serves as a Veterans of Foreign Wars commander.

"With us, the flag was everywhere," he says. "It's just the way you were raised. Your parents taught you to respect it. This is your country. That's your symbol. Nobody even thought of desecrating the flag."

Allan Holmes, 56, Vietnam veteran

A VFW chaplain in St. Petersburg, he drives a 2005 Dodge Stratus with an American flag painted on the side. His father was a World War II veteran who participated in the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach.

"This being the VFW, we're pretty protective of our flag," he says. "We always make sure the one we're flying is in perfect condition. If it gets a little faded, we replace it. I live in a mobile home park. There's only two of 180 homes there that have a flag displayed 24 hours a day. They started disappearing this past year. I guess maybe it's apathy."

Sarah Curran, 18, recent Lakewood High School graduate from St. Pete Beach

She will start studying telecommunications this fall at the University of Florida.

"I think patriotism can be better shown in other ways than just flying a flag," she says. "It seems kind of materialistic. You could help your community. You could do the right things to help your country. The flag, I never really think much about it."

Mike Fasano, 48, Republican state senator from New Port Richey

He authored the bill requiring every public school and state university classroom have a flag displayed.

"I think it's important for children to understand the flag and what it stands for," he says. "People have died to protect that flag and it means a lot to many Americans."

Julie Whitney, 55, co-founder of the Bayshore Patriots who have waved flags along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa most every Friday since the Sept. 11 attacks.

She recently received the President's Volunteer Service Award for her 5-year-old effort.

"The flag is a very emotional thing for me," she says. When she and other volunteers wave the flag, "We don't represent in favor of the war or against the war. For us it's being proud to be an American."

[Last modified July 3, 2006, 05:58:46]

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