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thedrifter
12-19-08, 09:53 AM
Vets Group to Fly Flag Upside Down
December 18, 2008
Valley Morning Star, Harlingen Texas

HARLINGEN -- An announcement by a local veterans group that it plans to fly the American flag upside down to call attention to the lack of a veterans hospital in the Rio Grande Valley is receiving a chilly response from some fellow veterans.

Commander Josemaria Vasquez of America's Last Patrol Post 3 quotes a federal law about displaying the flag in a news release:

"The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property," Vasquez said.

"America's Last Patrol ... unanimously voted ... to display our American flag upside down as a signal that immediate action must be taken to stop the loss of life of our brothers and sisters in arms.

"America's Last Patrol believe that our comrades are dying because ... health care is being denied by our government."

In the past, America's Last Patrol has organized marches across the Valley and from the Valley to San Antonio to call attention to its plea for a veterans hospital.

Luis Perez, leader of United Veterans Organization of the Rio Grande Valley, said he agrees medical care for veterans is inadequate in the Valley.

"That's a fact," he said. "But (displaying the flag upside down) is not going to get us a hospital built. That's not the way to go about it. They need to act like adults, like veterans," Perez, a Marine Corps Vietnam combat veteran, said.

Retired Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. William Steigerwald said he also was shocked that a group of veterans would fly the flag upside down.

"I think it's wrong," said Steigerwald, a former staff member of Marine Military Academy in Harlingen.

"They could protest at the federal building up there in Austin," he said. "They could get people to write (elected leaders), call or e-mail. But putting the flag upside down ... that's not the way to do it."

Trying to push for a veterans hospital when a new clinic has just been built in Harlingen, with the promise it will be tripled in size, is bad timing, Steigerwald said. The government is now in the midst of a financial crisis, he said.

He agrees with Perez's stance that veterans should just be able to present their Department of Veterans Affairs card at any local hospital for payment.

"We've got (undocumented immigrants) going to the hospitals," he said.

Manuel Rodriguez, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10464, Weslaco, said he is also opposed to America's Last Patrol's decision to fly the flag upside down.

DVA medical care has improved in the Valley, Rodriguez said. The new Harlingen DVA clinic is now providing services that in the past required a trip to San Antonio, he said.

But he applauds America's Last Patrol's efforts to keep the issue of medical care for veterans in the forefront, he said. Also, he commends its practice of erecting flagpoles at the family homes of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen killed in combat, he said.

But he said flying the flag upside down is where he draws the line.

"It's a disgrace to fly the flag upside down," he said. "I first got to know this group about three years ago," he said of America's Last Patrol.

"They invited me to come to their events, but I don't want nothing to do with them ... They're still acting like school kids," he said.

Only Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn have done anything to help Valley veterans, he said.

"They're Republicans," said Rodriguez, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Korea.

"In reference to the Democrats, none of them have done anything," he said. "We don't have no representation in Washington."

Ellie