VETERANS, MERCHANTS AT ODDS OVER FLAG

June 13, 2001 12:00 am

More than 30 Brookings-Harbor residents met Tuesday hoping to reach a compromise on the Port of Brookings Harbor flag controversy, but with no luck.

Although there was a lot of attempts to extend friendship and understanding during the one-and-a-half hour open discussion, no specific consensus could be reached.

The meeting was called after concern, and even threats, were raised over the flying of the Peoples Republic of China flag at the ports boardwalk.

Pat Silveria, a port business owner, had purchased the flag to add to the collection of Friendship Flags flown at the port. She had done so to honor her grandfathers memory, a U.S. Navy veteran who had served 30 years in the Asian fleet. She also said she cares for the people of China.

On Memorial Day, a group of Vietnam veterans and other concerned citizens objected to the China flag being flown during veterans ceremonies on the boardwalk. The Chinese government was a major supporter of the North Vietnamese during the war in Southeast Asia.

By mid-morning, Port Manager Russ Crabtree had all the flags taken down, so as not to offend the veterans nor the rights of Silveria.

The next day, port officials and port merchants decided that the Friendship Flags would be taken down on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day out of respect to the communitys veterans. The flags would be flown on all other days.

When the flags were raised again on Wednesday, the port received information that a group of veterans intended to take the Chinese flag down by force and destroy it. Crabtree once again was compelled to take down all the flags.

At that time Crabtree decided to let things cool down a while and then hold an open meeting for those interested in voicing their opinion on the issue, which resulted in Tuesdays meeting at the Harbor Water District community room.

Crabtree opened the meeting outlining the desire to resolve the issue and move on.

Hopefully, we can set the record straight concerning the mistake on Memorial Day, he said. No disrespect was intended.

We understand all sides. We understand the feelings of the veterans, but we also realize First Amendment rights need to be respected.

Crabtree told the audience that four options to resolve the issue were presently on the table:

Take down all the flags and poles and dont fly them at all.

Restrict the flags to be flown to those of the 50 states.

Restrict the flags to be flown to nautical flags and banners.

Fly the five U.S. service flags and American flags on specified holidays and fly the Friendship Flags purchased by individuals the rest of the year.

Crabtree said the last option was the preferred one.

The final decision will rest with the port board of commissioners, according to Crabtree, but he wanted the commissioners to have all the input possible to make a fair and legal decision. He added that wouldnt necessarily be an easy task.

We want to respect the rights of the veterans, he said, but also we cant tread upon individual rights.

Its a catch-22. Some group or individual will not like the boards decision, he said. But we are at an impasse and need to start lines of communication so we can preclude any further problems.

Richard Sloniker, representing the local VFW, said he was empathetic to both sides of the issue.

We understand the veterans point of view and we understand the First Amendment issue, he said.

In response to a written statement by Silveria that the United States had not been at conflict with China in decades, Sloniker disagreed.

Pats statement that we have not been at conflict with China in 40 years is wrong, he said.

Recently we have had soldiers held hostage by the Chinese and they still hold our plane hostage.

We are still at odds with China, but we cant stop you from flying their flag.

Bob Gilmore, representing the American Legion, said it was important to remember the role of a soldier.

We are sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, he said. This is not about the Chinese people, the flag is a symbol of the Communist government.

But we will support her (Silveria) right to put it up. We agree with the idea of flying the service flags on the holidays.

Bill Farrell, a Vietnam veteran, attempted to explain his problem with flying the Chinese flag over the port.

The first thing I saw when I saw the flag was dead Marines in the DMZ, he said. I will never get over that.

Most vets who live here are Vietnam vets and they remember fighting the Chinese. I cant live with the Chinese flag . . . flying over our community.

I have an obligation to those Marines and their families. I cannot live with the enemy flag flying over my community. I just cant do it.

Larry Roberts, also a Vietnam veteran, had similar feelings, but was sensitive to Silverias rights.

Every time I see the color of that flag it reminds me of the blood my brothers dropped, he said. I dont want to stop (Silveria) from flying the flag, but it shouldnt be flown on public property.

Ann Younger said it was time to move beyond the past.Progress is being made. We must move on to the future, she said.

We need to leave things behind us.

Sloniker then said both sides have rights that need to be protected.

She has the right to fly the flag, he said. But others have the right to protest it, but not with violence, we wont condone that at all.

Port Commissioner Ed Gray, a World War II veteran, compared the flag controversy with other potential conflicts of interest from past wars.

How many of you are driving Japanese cars? he said. How many of you use Japanese or German made cameras?

Do we put a limit of 50 years on this thing or do we let our government set the policies with these countries?

I understand the Vietnam vets, but somewhere along the line its gotta be dropped and move on.

Gale Scriven, a port business owner, tried to remind those in attendance of the purpose of the Friendship Flags.

We need to remember the spirit of the program, she said. They are flown in the spirit of hopefulness of getting along with our neighbors and of putting down war.

We shouldnt take down the Chinese flag or any others because we disagree with them. That is not what First Amendment rights are about.

Steven Drydent, a Vietnam vet, said people needed to remember why he and other veterans fought.

Sometimes we forget about taking other people into consideration, he said. Especially those who fought for those rights.

Gray was concerned that if one flag is excluded, a domino effect might follow.

If you take down the Chinese flags because we fought them, he said. Then we would have to take down a German flag, Japan, Italy, France, Mexico.

Silveria said the problem could have been avoided from the beginning.

If they (Vietnam veterans) had come to me at the beginning and had said it hurt, I would have understood and taken it down, she said. But nobody came to me peacefully or asked me.

I despise Communism and the government that stands for it, but I love the people. It was not my intention to embarrass, bring back flashbacks or make anyone sick.

The flag doesnt represent Chinese government, it represents the Chinese people.

Port Commissioner Ken Byrtus felt the solution should have been simple.

A little communication would have settled a problem, he said. It seems like we are taking a sledge hammer to kill an ant.

Scriven said perspective of the issue needs to be changed.

I am having a hard time of this not being able to move from personal views, she said. It was never meant to be a political statement.

Sloniker disagreed, A flag is very much a political statement.

Crabtree said some kind of consensus needed to be reached if the flags were to be flown.

We need to put this issue to rest, he said. We need to sit down and work this out collectively.

Its not a simple issue, its a difficult issue to decide.

There has to be flexibility to meet part way if we want to continue the Friendship Flag program.

Byrtus asked Silveria if she would consider withdrawing the Chinese flag.

You have said if they had come to you at first and told you that it hurt them you would have taken down the flag, he said. But you have bowed your neck.

All of them (veterans) have apologized to you and I think this would be a way to resolve it now.

Silveria said she couldnt do that at this point in the conflict.

Weve gone into a whole different realm now, she said. If you are pushed to the wall, then you stand your ground.

What will happen the next time if I back down now? Will it escalate the next time?

It just keeps going on and on and on. Its not your flag, you dont have to look at it. Every flag is going to upset someone, somewhere.

Crabtree said that without a consensus, the final outcome will not please everyone.

If we dont come to a conclusion here today, he said, the decision will not be something everyone will like.

Weve been here over an hour now and were still at an impasse.

Silveria said the decision should then rest with the port commissioners.

Crabtree said he expected the commissioners to decide the issue during their regular board meeting in July.