“Shocking.” And “vile.”
Those were just a few of the adjectives used to describe the vandalism of a flag pole and theft of two flags at the Washington County/Johnson City Veterans Memorial.
Brenda Barnette, chairwoman of the memorial’s board, said she received a call around 3 p.m. Sunday, the day before Memorial Day, telling her the American and POW/MIA flags had been stolen from the memorial for a second time.
“It’s a boot in the face of freedom, veterans and our families who sacrifice and serve,” Barnette said.
“It’s heartbreaking really, I mean to think that somebody lives in our community who doesn’t revere our freedom like we do. It’s kind of beyond vandalism, because symbolically they’re taking the freedom that these people sacrificed and exercising it in a very fallacious way.”
Just three months ago, the same thing occurred; the flagpole’s latch was broken open and both flags stolen.
In both cases, a parks and recreation maintenance worker noticed the flags and contacted police.
Although the flagpole’s latch wasn’t as damaged as it was during the Feb. 23 occurrence, the vandal likely used a thin screwdriver or similar tool both times to pry the lock open and access the cable pulley.
Allen Jackson, who also serves on the memorial’s board, said he should be able to fix the flagpole’s latch and replace the $150-plus flags by sunrise before the Memorial Day services.
Regardless, Barnette said the annual Memorial Day program at the Washington County/Johnson City Veterans Memorial would go on as planned at 6 p.m.
“We’ll conduct as we always have whether we get the flagpole working or not,” Barnette said.
Event organizer Gary McAllister said he would carefully contemplate how to address the stolen flags during Monday’s service.
Jackson said he noticed the flags still flying late Saturday afternoon while he working a fundraiser just across the street.
Both Jackson and Barnette suspected the theft occurred sometime during Saturday night or early Sunday morning.
According to Jackson and Barnette, police never cited anyone for the previous flag theft.
Following the Feb. 23 vandalism, Jackson said city officials suggested installing a gate at the memorial’s entrance to close the area from the public at night, but most of the memorial’s board was against that idea.
The first stolen flags were quickly replaced the next day after members of U.S. Rep. Phil Roe’s office, Rolling Thunder Chapter 4, American Legion Post 24 and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 9 offered replacements at no cost.
Dedicated on Nov. 11, 2011, the memorial displays the names of more than 2,000 Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine and Navy veterans.
Board members are currently raising about $170,000 to expand the memorial and include more veterans names. To learn more about donating, call 423-483-1814.
The memorial’s red granite signifies those veterans killed in action, prisoners of war or missing in action. The black granite honors those who returned home after serving.
Anyone with information about the stolen flags is encouraged to call Johnson City police at 423-434-6000.
Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.