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    Residents show pride in American flag

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 13, 2001


    photo
    [Times photo: Mike Pease]
    Bernie Kloppenburg, 10, helps fill the New Tampa yard of Keith Collins with American flags. The flags were given to passers-by.
    CLEARWATER -- Jeff Garland awoke Wednesday morning in a daze, overwhelmed by the need to do something.

    Unwilling to weather a four-hour wait to give blood, he headed for a flag store. After, he fought back tears as he and others raised the flag at his business, Jeff's Jeep Yard, near Court Street and Missouri Avenue.

    "This is to let everybody else know that we're strong," Garland said, looking at the flag flying at half-staff. "I feel bad because, gosh darn-it, I should have had a flag a long time ago."

    Around Tampa Bay, people descended upon stores to buy flags after they learned of Tuesday's attacks. They wanted them for their cars, homes, mailboxes and businesses.

    On Tuesday, customers crammed into family-owned Head's Flags on Henderson Boulevard in South Tampa. When asked Wednesday how many flags they had sold in the past 24 hours, owner Tony Head quickly replied: "All of them."

    Seminole business owner Sydney Parker bought 8,000 small red, white and blue ribbons and a couple hundred American flags that she gave to customers and fellow merchants Wednesday.

    "I just don't think yellow quite gets it," said Parker, referring to Americans who tied yellow ribbons around trees in support of Americans held hostage in Iran two decades ago.

    At Fox Chapel Middle School in Spring Hill, the principal told his students to go on with their annual spirit week activities as planned. With one change: Instead of dressing up in cowboy boots and western clothing, the kids today will wear red, white and blue.

    They're calling it American Pride Day.

    Veterans at American Legion Post 275 in Dunedin welcomed the patriotism but fear it will be short-lived.

    "They want to jump on the bandwagon right now. We have no problem with that. But two weeks from now, not many flags are going to be out there," said Lew Olsen, of Dunedin, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War era. For now, though, residents are showing their pride in the great American symbol.

    Former Marine Keith Collins was drinking coffee at 3 a.m. unable to sleep, the thought of the tragedy coursing through his mind. Then he got an idea.

    There were 5,000 little flags -- the kind people stick beside gravestones -- in a box in his New Tampa home. Under cover of darkness, he started planting them in his front lawn, slowly building a garden of red, white and blue.

    It was his way of reaching out, he said. As the day rolled in, passers-by stopped to look and share in the feeling. Collins, who didn't plan to empty the box, began giving the flags away.

    "I put them out and it started looking like Arlington National Cemetery. People would say, "Can I take more than one? I've got a classroom full of children.'

    "I told them, "Take what you need. Take what you want."'

    -- Reporters Eric Stirgus, Josh Zimmer, Robert King and Dong-Phuong Nguyen contributed to this report.

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