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Sgt. Shaft: Opinions Heat Up Over Right to Burn Old Glory
Sgt. Shaft: Opinions Heat Up Over Right to Burn Old Glory


About the Author

Sgt. Shaft was hatched in April of 1982 at the home of the veterans' newspaper, Stars & Stripes, in Washington, D.C. This moniker combines the name of its creator, John Fales, Marine MOS in Vietnam and "Scout Sgt.," with the military expression when wronged, "Shafted."

Sgt. Shaft's wry sense of humor, empathy for the underdog, and strong love of country and fellow veterans closely mirror the nature of its creator. The weekly advice column resided in the Stars & Stripes from 1982 to 1985, and laid dormant until its rebirth in the Washington Times in 1991. The column, Fales is proud to say, gives an outlet for the concerns of active military, veterans, and their families in a national newspaper.

In addition to writing the column, John Fales is President of the Blinded American Veterans Foundation. Fales was born in New York City and served in the U.S. Marine Corps until his retirement on disability. His decorations include Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Service Medal, New York State Conspicuous Service Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Combat Action Ribbon, and South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. Sgt. Shaft has no twin.

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Sgt. Shaft: Archives

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Dear Sgt. Shaft:

My name is Spc. Jake P. I am currently serving on active duty in the Army. My unit is finishing up our year in Iraq.

I recently read the article on the polls about making it illegal to desecrate the flag. It has always got me steamed to see people burning it and then hiding behind the First Amendment.

I have never seen someone desecrate my flag in person, and I hope I don't. My father served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. My grandfather served in the South Pacific during World War II. I have watched footage of people burning the flag with both of them, and I think I have seen looks that would kill from them.

If these people think it is so bad at home, then they should go live in Iraq or Afghanistan for a year. They would be trying to get back to America in less than a day. I would gladly lose my rank and much, much more to protect that flag from being burned by its own citizens. It's true, the First Amendment provides a lot of freedoms we enjoy in our great country, but desecration of the flag should not be one of them.

For more than 200 years, men have fought and died for that flag and the freedoms it represents.

Let's show it the respect it deserves. If you are burning my flag, you are spitting on all those who have fought for it and those who are still fighting for it. We can only hope that the higher-ups will do something about it.

Spc. Jake P.
Alpha Company

Dear Jake:

I have received many letters regarding my flag amendment column. Read on. Sgt. Shaft:

Before you post my e-mail and I get a million replies citing my "unpatriotic" nature, let me say that I agree with a majority of Americans --desecrating Old Glory is reprehensible, disgusting and downright nasty ... but I would defend it anyway.

I am a proud American, and have no doubt you are, as well. Part of this pride comes from our defense of "freedom of expression." We even made this most important political freedom number one on our list in the Bill of Rights. Majorities in democracies don't need as many protections ... They can vote for and pretty much get what they want unless it steps on a constitutionally protected right ... Then the court battles begin.

Burning the flag (at least by Americans) seems to be a cheap way to get attention for their cause, stemming from the idea that there is no such thing as bad press ... which is at least mostly true. When is the last time you have seen an American resort to this tactic? I haven't heard of it happening in some time. Does this make such a bill timely ... or relevant?

The most difficult time to protect speech is when that speech is hated ... which is when people with a sense of perspective on freedom of expression need to have the most courage to prevent another chipping away at our constitutional rights. Flag burning is certainly hated, by you, me, and a clear majority of Americans ... which makes it even more important to protect.

Thanks for your attention, and your good work.

Eric C.
Lakewood, Ohio


In my hometown of Baker City, Ore., we have had a couple of incidents of flag desecration, i.e., spray-painting of the flag, the stealing of flags, etc. I want to see the flag amendment referred to and passed by the states.

I have been in the military since 1990 and continue to serve my country proudly. It is a total disgrace to all of those who have died so that these individuals can do what they want.

Flag burning is not free speech. I caught an individual who spray-painted an anarchy symbol on my flag, and I told him that in any other country he would have been executed on site for what he did.

Scott S.
Baker City, Oregon

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

When people think "flag desecration," they think of dirty hippies burning one, but desecration encompasses so much more than that. How about the commercialization of the image? That is a desecration. Stickers, magnets, T-shirts, hats, jackets, logos, advertising.

Yesterday, I saw a license plate from Virginia that had a graphic of the Pentagon that included a portrayal of the flag and the numbers 9/11. Is that not a desecration? I think so. What is a license plate other than verification that taxes have been paid on a vehicle?

I love my country; I love our Constitution. Let's not fall prey to the emotional appeals of jingoism. A real patriot, in my opinion, will always value an actual liberty over a symbol. Bottom line, simple as that.

Having said that, if you burn one in my presence, it's at your own peril.

Shannon W.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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