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Residents upset with tattered flag flown in Illinois to honor late uncle

BELLEVILLE, Ill. -- It looks more like a casualty than a symbol for an entire country.

In front of a home at 729 Union Ave., a faded, tattered, ripped American flag is suspended precariously between a tree branch and a flagpole. A sizable strip along the bottom has torn away and hangs straight down where it flaps in the wind.

Neighbors say the worn out flag is a disturbing, disgraceful desecration of the Stars and Stripes, which is supposed to be respected because it honors thousands of men and women in America who have died in wars or served their country. They want it replaced and have offered to supply a brand new flag.

Amanda Bailey, who lives at the home, said tattered or not the flag is a treasured family heirloom once owned by a favorite uncle, the late Brent Worthall who served in the U.S. Navy. It flies and will fly in his honor, she said.

"I understand where they're coming from," said the 33-year-old Bailey.
"It's a very generous offer. A new flag. But they don't understand the sentimental value behind it. That's why it's up there."

Her mother Margaret Tribout, who lives in the home, agreed.

"It's in honor of my brother," she said. "If we tried to take it down now it might deteriorate."

But for Geri Steele, who lives a few houses away on the other side of the street, the worn banner is troubling. She can see it each time she steps onto her front porch.

"The flag is a symbol of the nation. I don't know what they are trying to say with this flag. Lots of people have lost their lives, or their children, or their limbs or their minds fighting for this flag. This is very insulting," said Steele, whose grandfather, the late Olon Boston, served in the Korean War.

"We have to be careful. This is supposed to represent the people who gave their lives for this country," she said.

Kathy Manno lives across the street from the flag.

"It sickens me," she said, "Just look at it. We've been trying to get them to take it down for over a year."

Manno said she bought a new flag, which she displays on a short flagpole mounted on the side of her house.

"I thought they would get the idea, you know. This is what a flag is supposed to look like. Not like that thing that they have."

In Illinois it is illegal to alter a flag to use it for commercial purposes or to place a likeness or name on it, said Bob Noonan, a Korean War veteran of the First Marine Division and incoming adjutant for American Legion Post 2007 in Swansea.

A revised version of the Illinois law regarding the American flag, which took effect last year, could have led to jail for Abe Lincoln, if he was alive today. Lincoln had thousands of campaign posters consisting of his name and image printed on a representation of the American flag passed out during his successful campaign for president in 1860. These are collector's items today.

"I understand that they have it up there to honor an uncle or relative or was a veteran," said Noonan about the flag on Union Avenue.

"But you would think that he wouldn't want some ripped, torn and faded flag put up in his memory. He would want a proper flag."

Noonan, who said he had been called about the faded flag, said it should be treated respectfully according to tradition that requires that it not touch the ground and if it is worn out it should be disposed of by burning in a proper way.

"They wear gloves when they do this and taps is played," he said of the American Legion ceremony held annually at some legion posts where flags are disposed of in traditional ceremonies.

Bailey, who lives with her mother at the house, said the family has lost three relatives in recent years, and the flag is actually meant to honor them all.

She said that her late uncle's ashes were mixed with his step father's and spread along the Great River Road at some point along the Illinois River.

"It's been up there for two years. We had a man come to the door who said he was from the neighborhood association and asked would we take it down if he gave us another. But we said no. This is our flag."

But if the flag does go, she said, it may be replaced by the "Rainbow Flag" that honors gay persons or "a Rebel flag," the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy. Bailey said either flag would honor other family members.

gpawlaczyk@bnd.com

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