Date: September 20, 2007
Byline: Rob Rogers
Fairfax lowers flag to honor fallen soldiers
The American flag at Fairfax Town Hall will fly at half-staff every Friday "indefinitely" to honor those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Members of the Fairfax Town Council approved the measure late Wednesday night, insisting the gesture is an act of respect for the nation's fallen soldiers and not a statement about the war or the Bush administration.
"We decided fly the town flag at half-staff not as a political statement, but as recognition of the ultimate sacrifice made by those who have given their lives in these wars, the last full measure of their devotion to the nation," said Councilman David Weinsoff, who proposed the measure.
Weinsoff ignited controversy on June 14 — Flag Day — when he suggested the town lower its American and California flags until either the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ended or a new president replaced George W. Bush.
Members of the American Legion objected to the proposal, noting that the nation's Flag Code allows only the president or the governor of a state to order a flag to fly at half-staff. The Flag Code says flying a flag at half-staff is an honor reserved for the death of a few individuals, such as the president, a Supreme Court justice or member of Congress.
"It's a noble gesture, and we appreciate their thoughts and concerns, but that honor — to place a flag at half-staff — is relegated to the president or governor of a state," said Mike Buss, an assistant director and flag education expert at the American Legion's national headquarters in Indianapolis. "Many governors have issued proclamations lowering the flag to honor those who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan. But for a city or other entity to do so is considered to be a breach of the Flag Code."
Violations of the Flag Code come with no legal penalties.
The Fairfax council agreed on June 25 to ask Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for permission to lower its American flag. In his reply, state Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary Daniel Maguire noted the governor's support for acts that honor U.S. troops without stating his approval of the town's flag proposal.
"As you may know, the governor orders the Capitol flags to be flown at half-staff each time a California service member is killed," Maguire said in his letter to the town. "He also supports any lawful and respectful steps that the city of Fairfax wishes to take to recognize our fallen heroes."
Weinsoff reintroduced his measure Wednesday, saying he was inspired to take action after reading newspaper accounts of soldiers' deaths in Iraq, as well as reports of other municipalities that had lowered their flags to honor the dead.
The council supported the act by a vote of 3-0, with Weinsoff, Councilwoman Mary-Ann Maggiore and Councilman Lew Tremaine voting in favor. Mayor Larry Bragman abstained and Councilwoman Susan Brandborg was absent.
Fairfax will fly its flag at half-staff on Fridays for an "indefinite" period of time, said Town Manager Linda Kelly.
"No one can figure out when this war will actually end," Maggiore said. "The most important question to ask is how do we, as peaceful people who have advocated the impeachment of both the president and vice president in last year's resolution, continue to focus public attention and legislative attention on the fact that we are at war, and that there are young men and women, in Iraq particularly, suffering from it, dying, being maimed. We have to do everything we can to end it. With this gesture, we say that to the world."
San Anselmo veteran Joe Bilitzke sees Fairfax's gesture as well-intentioned but inappropriate.
"After 40 years in the military, I can tell you that no military post or base lowers its flag unless it is so directed by the Department of Defense, and the Department of Defense follows the instructions it receives from the White House," said Bilitzke, who added that hanging black bunting on Town Hall or street corners might be more appropriate.
"I think the intent is well-placed by the city of Fairfax, but this flies in the face of laws that have been written to authorize the flying of the flag."
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