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Source: Rockford Register Star
Date: December 29, 2009
Byline: Jeff Kolkey

Veteran looks out for flags

ROCKFORD — Waging a crusade on behalf of Old Glory, downtown resident Jim Buckingham is demanding property owners fix improperly displayed flags of the United States or face the consequences — typically an attention-grabbing picket.

Buckingham and a neighbor he recruited to his cause stood outside TouchGlobal on Kishwaukee Street in bitterly cold winds this afternoon in protest of a tattered flag that flies above the Evangelical Free Church of America operation.

It’s the second time this year that Buckingham, 48, has conducted a picket for his cause. Buckingham shivered in the 15-degree temperatures, holding a sign that read “NO FLIGHT @ NIGHT WITHOUT A LIGHT.” His friend, Roy Tidwell, held a “Support our Troops” sign.

No, Buckingham isn’t doing this on behalf of any organization. And, no, this isn’t Flag Day. Buckingham is a patriot who can’t stomach a flag displayed in violation of federal code.

To him, an improperly displayed flag — whether it’s “a rag flag” or flown at night without a working display light — is disrespectful to all men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the United States and the freedom he says the flag represents.

He would rather a business owner take a flag down than display it the wrong way.

“I think of all these people that are heroes of all the wars of the past ... dying in vain when I see this,” Buckingham said. “They take it for granted, like it’s no big deal and yet it costs absolutely zero to fix this problem. It’s not a money thing.”

A sign on the door of TouchGlobal states the facility is closed through Jan. 3. No one answered a doorbell, but Jim Snyder, who didn’t give his position, said in an e-mail: “Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention. Our office has been closed for the holidays since Christmas Eve. The only thing I can think of is that the ice storm did a number on the flag. We take pride in flying the American flag at our building, that is why we do so. We will see to it that it is taken down ASAP.”

A malfunctioning light at the Luther Center downtown, where Buckingham had planned to picket, meant a flag had been flown in darkness, a violation of flag protocol. It was taken down this afternoon until the light can be fixed.

Buckingham also plans to picket at JPMorgan Chase’s downtown branch where a flag is on display despite a malfunctioning light.

“We follow the guidelines for flying the flag of the United States of America,” said Christine Holevas, a spokeswoman for Chase, in an e-mail to the Rockford Register Star. “We also believe in free speech.”

Flag Code is voluntary

United States Flag Code sets guidelines for how a flag should be displayed.

But according to a report from the U.S. Congressional Research Service, it “does not prescribe any penalties for noncompliance nor does it include enforcement provisions; rather the Code functions simply as a guide to be voluntarily followed.”

Buckingham has taken it upon himself to enforce the code.

Because Buckingham, who is unemployed, travels mostly by foot, much of his efforts are confined to businesses and governmental entities that display flags in the downtown area.

He searches out improperly displayed flags. When he finds one, he reports it to the property owner or employees of the business or governmental agency. He writes in a notebook the date he observed the violation and notified the establishment. He photographs the violation with his cell phone camera.

Buckingham issues one warning, giving the business a few weeks to correct the situation before recruiting whatever buddies and fellow veterans he can muster to picket.

“It’s not supposed to be like that; you are supposed to treat it with decency,” Buckingham said. “When it’s over 30 days and you’re still thumbing your nose at me, and I told them what would happen if they didn’t fix it, I don’t feel anything for them at all.”

An obligation

He wasn’t always this zealous when it comes to the flag.

Buckingham, who has lived downtown for about six years, said he served in the U.S. Army from 1980 to 1984. But it wasn’t until his son enlisted in the Army last year that he became more sensitive to the issue.

“I feel an obligation to correct the wrong,” Buckingham said. “In the Army, we learned quite well about on-the-spot corrections. If you see it, take care of it.”

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