Buddy Cundieff didn't like the condition of the flag flying outside a local business, so he stole it.
On Sunday afternoon as Cundieff drove past the Powell House assisted living facility on Longhorn Road, he was shocked to see a shredded United States flag flying from the pole outside.
"I looked up and saw the condition of that flag and said, ‘Oh my God, I can't believe this flag is even being displayed like this,'" Cundieff said. "The stripes were ripped all the way to the blue banner. It looked worse than flags that have flown over a battlefield. Those flags have a reason to be torn, but this flag was shredded almost beyond recognition."
Cundieff is a Vietnam era veteran who served in the army from 1971 to 1980.
"I almost lost my life on the East/West German border one night trying to preserve freedom and all that the flag stands for," Cundieff said.
When Cundieff got home, he said he immediately called the Powell House.
"I told the person on the phone that I felt the way they were displaying the flag totally dishonored all that the flag represents," Cundieff said. "I told them many men and women had died for that flag and that it shouldn't be displayed all tattered and torn. I told them that if it was still flying like that by sunset, I would take it down myself. That's when they hung up on me."
As Cundieff conveyed his message, he admits that he was passionate over the phone.
"I was hurt and I wanted it taken down," Cundieff said.
It was later learned that the Powell House personal service assistant who took the call didn't understand exactly what Cundieff was requesting and therefore didn't report the call until the following day.
"At 8:30 that night (Sunday) it was still flying, so I went and took it," Cundieff said. "I brought it home and folded it the best I could."
The next morning when Doreen Mandel, associate administrator of Powell House, got to work, she was surprised to see the flag was missing. "I said, ‘Oh my gosh, who would do that?' That's when I learned about the phone call the day before."
Mandel said there was some confusion about what Cundieff was trying to say.
"The PSA thought he was upset about the lights on the flagpole," she said.
Mandel said the phone call was very animated and that Cundieff used colorful language.
"We had no idea that the flag was torn that bad," Mandel said. "I didn't even know it was torn -- and that was stupid. We should be keeping an eye on it."
Mandel had the flag replaced immediately.
Mandel expressed compassion for Cundieff, but thought he could have handled it differently.
"He must have been through a lot of terrible heartache. I feel bad that it hurt him that much," Mandel said. "He could have come and asked us -- he didn't have to take it."
Cundieff stands behind his decision, even if he is charged with a crime.
"If I get charged for taking that flag down, so be it. It's like when Patrick Henry said ‘Give me liberty or give me death.' Give me the chance to honor this flag on any given day, or take my freedom away," Cundieff said. "If a judge can sit in his chair and say that I did something wrong, I'm willing to pay the price. Other men and women have paid a more severe price for our flag."
Cundieff suggested if anyone ever sees a flag that is not fit to fly, that they should ask first before taking it down. "But in the end there is only one choice, that flag has to be taken off the pole."
Mandel said they have no intention of pressing charges and that she felt the incident was a good reminder for everyone.
"After Sept. 11, it seemed everybody started trying to be more patriotic," she said. "Maybe we've forgotten. We should be looking up at our flags more often. We have a lot of veterans here. My husband is a veteran and my dad was. We certainly want to fly the flag with pride. We'll be keeping a better eye on it from now on."
Common flag etiquette
The US flag should not be flown when tattered, torn, dirty, significantly faded, or when it is no longer a fitting emblem for display.
The flag should be disposed of in a dignified way, preferably by burning.
The flag should not be used as apparel, napkins, boxes, or anything that is designed for temporary use and discarded.
The flag should be properly lit if flown at night.
Log on to payson.com to take the Roundup's flag etiquette quiz.