LAKE WALES, Fla. (WFLA) — Residents of a Lake Wales gated community claim the nationality of HOA board members got in the way of understanding the importance of a request to fly an American flag in memory of recently deceased veterans.
The Saddlebag Lake Resort board approved a flagpole in the horseshoe club but did not allow an American flag to be raised there. Friends of three veterans, who were members of the club, wanted to memorialize their recent deaths by raising the flag “they fought for.”
“It struck everybody,” resident Jim Fuday said. “Everybody loved Bob. Everybody loved Hank, and it was just a shock.”
In a statement, board members said their decision was based on “several reasons, including but not limited to, already having other” common areas with the American flag flying.
But Vietnam combat veteran and resident Tom Burkhart said, in his opinion, the Canadian heritage of some board members got in the way of fully comprehending the importance of the request.
“It’s a problem of foreign nationals not understanding the significance of the American flag,” Burkhart said. “It’s an issue of the American flag standing for our values. It’s our symbol. People die for it.”
Other residents expressed similar opinions about the board’s decision.
The Canadian flavor of the community is expressed in a three-flag array in a memorial area at the entrance, where the red maple leaf flies on a banner next to the red, white and blue.
The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act does allow restricting flags in public areas of gated communities, but Burkhart said it is time to change that law.
“As a decorated combat veteran, I object to any restriction on flying our stars and stripes with the exception of public safety issues,” Burkhart said. “We don’t have to have permission in the U.S. where you can only fly [a limited number of] flags in a given neighborhood. If you want to fly your flag, you fly your flag.”
The board has not responded to questions about the bias claims, but in its statement the board said it is a “false narrative that the association is in some way insensitive to Veterans and unpatriotic for not approving another American flag to be flown.”
“The association is very proud of all the veterans both current and departed,” the board said in its statement.
Resident Gary Schum said he and many other residents are not giving up on their request.
“Oh no,” Schum said. “There’s a lot of ways to do this. I would rather do it correctly and come to some sort of compromise and I think there is.”
Burkhart said if the issue comes before the board again, he wants the Canadian members to recuse themselves from voting.
There are no indications when or if the board will take up the request again.
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