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Patriotism? Oui! He learned it in France

By CRISTINA SILVA
Published June 13, 2007


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Dewey Leigh, 78, isn't impressed by public fireworks displays costing thousands of dollars or Roman candles, bottle rockets and pinwheels twinkling in the summer sky.

Give him the Stars and Stripes gallantly streaming in the wind from Clearwater to St. Pete Beach, hanging as if at half-mast from the middle of every lighted utility pole.

Until a few months ago, it was a patriotic vision unrealized.

But since Memorial Day, Old Glory has been displayed from street lights in every municipality along the gulf in silent tribute to everything honorable evoked by the red, white and blue.

It is a brazen display of American pride prompted by, of all things, a trip to France.

* * *

The Star-Spangled Boulevard, as Leigh likes to call it, is 20 miles of pride and love for the U.S. of A.

But the idea came to him when he was thousands of miles away from his hometown of Madeira Beach.

Leigh was in Luneville, France, for a family vacation in 1994 when he was overwhelmed by a display of American flags draped from windowsills and street corners. The French were celebrating Liberation Day post-World War II, when the U.S. had stepped in as an ally.

When Leigh returned home, he counted only three American flags in Madeira Beach, one at City Hall, one at the post office and one in front of a large condo. What a letdown, he thought.

In 1998, Madeira Beach announced it was a canceling its annual July Fourth fireworks. Leigh, a former Madeira Beach city commissioner, suggested the city purchase flags and hang them from light poles. It did.

Leigh pitched the flag plan at the Barrier Islands Governmental Council meeting in 2000.

You would think it would be easy to persuade politicians to display the American flag, but only eight of the 10 beach cities that make up the council immediately consented.

Citing budgetary concerns and other issues, St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island held out.

Earlier this year, Leigh proposed the flag plan to the St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island mayors again. After seven years, they both finally jumped on board.

The American Legion Post and the American Legion Auxiliary in Treasure Island pitched in to collect money to purchase the flags. A local welding company donated $10, 000 worth of brackets.

And in May, more than 13 years after Leigh's trip to France, Gulf Boulevard finally became the tribute to American freedom he had envisioned.

The flags will be displayed until July Fourth. On Veterans Day, the flags will be displayed again.

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 12, 2007, 21:16:49]


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