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Vets upset about upside down flag

36th CPS student killed this school year
May 7, 2009 5:14:57 AM PDT
Some war veterans are calling on Fr. Michael Pfleger to fly the American flag properly.And some want the cardinal to get involved.

Pfleger is flying an upside-down flag outside of his church to draw attention to the violence on Chicago streets. But some say he's alienating people who might otherwise support his cause.

Patriotism is like breathing for war vets and their supporters. So when Fr. Michael Pfleger hoisted the flag upside down to make a point, it upset them.

"I feel the same way I did 43 years ago...they they were disgracing the flag, and I'm fed up with it," said Rich Wayne, Vietnam veteran.

And so are members of Rolling Thunder's Illinois Chapter 1. Eighty percent are vets, most have seen combat. And the group's mission is to raise awareness about POWs and MIAs.

To them, an upside down flag means immediate distress and shouldn't be used in a political fashion.

"They are using the US flag, the veterans and what they've stood for and fought for...as a tool to maybe sensationalize his point," said Douglas Mahar, Rolling Thunder.

Fr. Pfleger's point is that too many people, especially children, die violently, including a 16-year-old boy who was killed on the West Side Wednesday morning. That means 36 Chicago Public Schools students have been killed this year.

In Warrenville, the vets are asking Fr. Pfleger to fly the flag right-side up and hope, Francis Cardinal George gets involved.

"There is a better way of doing things," said Dominic Ruggerio, Vietnam veteran, who added he thinks Pfleger should be admonished for his actions.

ABC7 reached out to Fr. Pfleger on Wednesday night and did not receive a response.

36th CPS student killed this school year

Another Chicago public school student was shot and killed Wednesday morning. It comes as community leaders renew their call to stop the violence.

A 16-year-old Crane High School student was killed while walking his younger sister to school in Chicago's Garfield Park neighborhood. He is the 36th Chicago Public Schools student to be killed by violence this school year.

A Chicago priest is making a very visual statement to show that the nation is in "distress" over the growing numbers of young deaths.

The United States Flag Code has a long list of ways the American flag should be properly displayed, and hanging the flag upside down should be done only as a sign of distress. With violence claiming the life of one more teenager Wednesday, community activists say one way to stop the deadly trend is to sound the alarm.

A 16-year-old boy was killed Wednesday morning by an unknown assailant on the West Side, shot right in front of Leeroy Fong-Yee's house.

"The guy was taking his sister to school and somebody shot him in the head," said Fong-Yee.

The murder happened just as community activists are taking drastic measures to draw attention to the ongoing effort to stop gun violence. Father Michael Pfleger hung an upside down flag in front of Saint Sabina Church. It's an old symbol of distress, and Pfleger says, he knows it's a radical move.

"The whole country reacted aggressively to the possibility of the swine flu. But we have remained silent to the reality of the killing of our children," said Pfleger.

Wednesday morning's murder brings the total number of Chicago public school students killed this school year to 36.

Gun control is one of the reasons why several Chicago aldermen boarded a bus for Springfield to meet with members of the Illinois General Assembly.

Wednesday, Mayor Daley said he understands Father Pfleger's motive for turning the flag upside down.

"In America people are killing each other. You write headlines about Mexico and Afghanistan, you should write how people are killing each other with guns," said Mayor Daley.

But not everyone agrees with associating an upside down flag with the anti-violence effort.

"I think when people use it for their own gain, I believe the law is being broken," said "Harley" Steve Pletzke.

Pletzke is vice president of one of the chapters of Rolling Thunder, a veterans service organization. He says the organization understands the need to stop violence, but he says using the flag for the cause is disrespectful.

"He's hurting a lot of people who fought for this country, that take that flag very seriously," Pletzke said.

Pletzke went on to say he would like to see Pfleger take the flag down.

As for Wednesday morning's shooting, there is no motive or a suspect in this case.

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