Tavares veteran's flipped flag riles neighbors

Instant disgust erupted as word raced through the community of veterans at Royal Harbor, aTavares retirement development: Someone is flying the American flag upside down.

Displaying Old Glory with the stars at the bottom is a universal symbol of dire distress under conditions of "extreme danger" to life or property.

Although things don't seem too terribly hazardous in the lovely gated community of neat homes on the north end of Little Lake Harris, Jim Marschke, a 78-year-old Navy veteran himself, has a different view.

"I'm in extreme distress. What is going on in this world, you can't ignore. The current administration causes me great concern and distress. My family, the young people — everyone in the United States of America is in distress.

"This is my own personal way of showing that I'm in distress. I mean no disrespect to the flag," said Marschke, who said he served in the Navy for four years and left as a 3rd Class sonar man. "I didn't intend to hurt anybody."

"I love that flag. I love my country."

Marschke said he has tried to talk with his elected officials about conditions in the nation, but he got no response. That's why he's flying the flag upside down.

Unfortunately, no great horde of elected officials pass Marschke's house in the gated community, which requires guests to have a code for entry. So, the only people who see the flag and react to it are folks who live there.

The veterans who live a couple of streets away don't understand how someone who served in their country's military could demean an American flag by using it to express a political opinion. The country's symbol, they said, ought to be above that kind of use.

'Total disrespect' of flag

Pete Theis, a 69-year-old former Navy lieutenant junior grade, called Marschke and asked if he was aware the flag was upside down. Of course he was.

"I asked, 'Why are you disrespecting our flag?' and he started yelling. The conversation deteriorated rapidly from there," said Theis, whose wife is also a Navy veteran. "I'm not sure who hung up first."

Theis and other members of Royal Harbor's veterans association feel a deep emotional connection with the American flag. To them, it carries with it the grandeur of the nation, the essence of freedom, the lives of many killed over the years defending a way of life and a democratic nation.

Mike Hanst, 66, who served in the Navy for 30 years, said the most impressive moment of his career came when he was chosen as the president's representative at the burial of a retired officer at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremony involved full dress and all military honors.

"I was the one that took the flag and handed it to the widow on behalf of the president. It's hard not to cry thinking about it," Hanst said.

"That flag is more than a piece of rag."

Former Army Capt. Ed Branch, 56, said he joined the Miami Police Department and its honor guard after he left the service. After a while, the grief he continually witnessed became too much and he left the honor guard.

"When I found out this guy was flying the flag upside down, I said, 'What is the address?' I went by there and, sure enough, the flag was flapping in the wind. I almost got out of my car …" Branch said, trailing off.

"It's just disrespect, total disregard of the flag of this country."

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