Not a banner day

The Baltimore Sun

It might have had something to do with Memorial Day, but Bernard Muller was feeling especially patriotic.

So when he drove by a post office in Fells Point on Monday and noticed that the Stars and Stripes weren't flying outside the building - as he thought they were supposed to - Muller was surprised.

Maybe, he figured, the flag had been taken down because everyone had the day off.

But when he went back yesterday to the post office on South Wolfe Street and the flag still wasn't up, he was mad.

"It's just appalling," said Muller, a 51-year-old retired Baltimore firefighter who flies a U.S. flag on the antenna of his car. "We're in wartime. This is America. What, they don't like the American flag?"

Yesterday morning, Muller embarked on a one-man mission to restore the flag to the pole that juts out of the building's red-brick facade. The first thing he did was march into the post office and ask Darla Phillips, who works there, why no flag was flying.

"The neighborhood association made them take the flag down," Phillips told a reporter, repeating what she had told Muller earlier. She said the spotlights that shone on the flag at night had "bothered the neighbors."

That happened "about two years ago," Phillips told the reporter.

The response shocked Muller, who wondered why he had not noticed the flag's absence before. Nevertheless, he said, the building was violating federal law by not flying the flag around the clock.

Flag proclamation

That apparently is not the case. Vince Vaise, the chief ranger at Fort McHenry and an expert on such matters, said post offices aren't among the places that, by presidential proclamation, must fly the American flag 24 hours a day.

One of the places covered by the proclamation is Fort McHenry. The others, Vaise said, are the White House; all U.S. Customs ports of entry; the 50 flags encircling the Washington Monument in the nation's capital; and the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va.

Thirteen other such places are designated by Congress, said Vaise, who wondered why the post office in Fells Point doesn't fly the flag during the day and take it down at night.

"That seems like a compromise," he said, noting that until 1948, when the 24-hour proclamation was issued, the flag at Fort McHenry was taken down at night and raised at dawn.

Vaise said the flag controversy "illustrates that the flag is not a dead symbol. It is a living symbol."

Muller, a decorated firefighter, seems to think so. Not flying the flag at a post office, he said, is like "taking the symbol of what every patriot has ever died for and stepping on it like a bug."

Muller, a Canton resident and a former member of the Fire Department's dive team, who was called Bean by his colleagues, almost died in 2004 in a diving accident as he tried to recover bodies from the Patapsco River after the capsizing of a water taxi off Fort McHenry.

He said he and his fellow firefighters made "about a dozen" trips to New York City after the Sept. 11 terrorist atatcks, mostly to serve as honor guards at funerals for fallen comrades. For months afterward, he said, they flew oversized flags from the rear bumpers of their firetrucks.

Whoever sought the flag's removal from the Fells Point post office, he said, should have reconsidered.

'Pull the shade'

"They don't like the light on all night long?" he asked. "That's bull crap. Pull the shade down."

It is not clear which neighborhood association might have requested the flag's removal. Members of the Fells Point Community Association and the Fells Point Residents Association did not respond yesterday to messages seeking comment, nor did a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service. No one came to the doors of rowhouses near the post office on South Wolfe Street.

Muller said later in the day that he had called the mayor's office, the governor's office and the State Department in Washington to complain.

"Nobody really cares about the flag flying in front of any buildings," he said. "Just forget that we even had this conversation."

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