A Flag Will Fly in Woodbine

But was it worth it?


Last Monday, Western Howard County Delegates Warren Miller and Gail Bates introduced a bill that would direct the Maryland State Highway Administration to “establish a permit program allowing individuals and organizations to display a United States flag on state–owned circular islands at the center of a traffic roundabout.”

Not coincidentally, last month a Western Howard County family, the Winklers, held a “patriotic rally” in Woodbine for the right to display a United States flag on a state-owned circular island at the center of a traffic roundabout.

The Winklers, and their hastily formed nonprofit, “United Patriots of Maryland,” had attracted attention from local (Howard County Times) to national (Fox and Friends) media over a dispute with the State Highway Administration (SHA) concerning the right to fly a flag at a Woodbine traffic circle.

The family had maintained a flag in the circle for more than three years, finally culminating in the installation of a full-on cemented-in flag pole and the trimming of nearby non-flag-supporting fauna. SHA found the sudden and unexpected sprouting of a potentially dangerous hazard troubling, and removed the entire apparatus.

Fox News screamed “State Says American Flag Violates Law,” which, of course, is not really what the state said at all. With all the attention, the Winklers soon had a pro bono lawyer preparing that most American of responses, a lawsuit.

Rhonda Winkler vowed to fight until the flag flew over a nondescript traffic circle, in support of the “military” and “armed forces.”

“I'm proud of what we are doing and what we're standing up for," she told the Howard County Times.

We were presumed to be standing for more than just one roadside flag.

Now, with the introduction of HB 132, our long national nightmare is over. Assuming it passes both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly, soon the Winklers will have the ability to apply for a permit, pay a small fee, and, thanks to the Winkler Rule (my name), fly roundabout flags to their hearts’ content.

The “problem,” such as it is, has been addressed. The birth of bureaucracy, before our very eyes, allows our well-oiled patriotic machine to roll on. The able elected representatives of the offended family are to be commended for seeing a problem—and its attendant media attention—and taking action to quell the well-covered controversy.

But what, exactly, has been accomplished by this sudden sturm und drang? Are veterans better supported by their community, their state? Has justice returned to Woodbine?

Imagine, perhaps, if a quarter of that time, effort and expense had been spent instead on behalf of an established veterans' advocacy organization. (Team RWB is my personal mission, but there are many others.) Likewise, imagine if Chili’s donated half the amount it usually gives away in free meals on Veterans Day to the Wounded Warrior Project (knowing, of course, that the cost won’t be offset by vets' families’ meals or drinks or desserts).

Imagine if instead of planting a flagpole on someone else’s property, the Winklers had built a ramp for a recently returned wounded vet. Imagine if instead of raising some overblown alarm, Fox had spent some time reporting on the need for improved PTSD care.

While Woodbine and the SHA were squaring off, Ron Paul brought a uniformed Army corporal onto stage in Iowa, in violation of both well-established and well-known military regulation and campaigning propriety.

Yesterday, a former Navy SEAL wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal condemning the release of operational details by politicians, stating: “It is infuriating to see political gain put above the safety and security of our brave warriors and our long-term strategic goals. Loose lips sink ships.”

All of this may seem a long way from Woodbine and one flag-flying. Still, all are ultimately self-aggrandizing actions taken in the name of “supporting”—without any real support offered—some nebulous concept of the military or patriotism. Everyone wants their piece of the troops, to add an imprimatur of military support to their own personal message. What they don’t seem to want, however, is to labor for those who truly need their help, to work without notice and without widespread recognition.

So now Maryland traffic circles join car dealerships, Chick-fil-As and Ralph Lauren in their right to fly the American flag. With that task accomplished, I ask that everyone who “fought” for this, everyone who waved a flag or muttered about government incompetence, to take an afternoon and help a vet find a job. Help your elderly neighbors with their chores. Do something beyond the symbolic. For that, your country will be in your debt.

Fox News, though, may not come calling.

Kim Stillions February 03, 2012 at 08:17 PM
I truly understand about the nursing homes because I work in one and seeing the residents who are vets there and what they are going through I am so proud to say each and every day that I got to feed them today because I am a cook at my nursing home. I get to even listen to some of the stories these vets have to tell about the wars that they have been in. Melissa I am very proud of you for fighting for our country and Rhonda I am very proud of you for fighting for everything that you believe in. Both of you keep it up.
S. Gray February 03, 2012 at 08:32 PM
TJ, you rode the coat tails of a much bigger article, and left out one huge piece of the story. The reason that the flag was put there in the first place. And no, the reason has not been stated anywhere in here on any replies or in your poorly written "opinion" piece. The reason the flag was put there was for her nephew who was returning from his deployment. If you knew anything about this area, TJ, you would know that the traffic circle is the first place you hit when you enter Lisbon from Rt 70. So, again you show how little time you spent researching and how much time you spent looking down your nose on someone. And, I just stood at BWI Airport on Monday evening with my son and welcomed home 26 guys from my unit from Afghanistan. They were but 26 of over 250 that were returning on that plane. And there were at least 300 friends, family members and local volunteers that came out and welcomed these troops home and there were at least 100 flags being waved. I can tell you with near certainty, this made these troops happy. Not everyone has a cynical view on why someone shows respect to those in uniform. Oh, and just so you know, Rhonda inquired about volunteering with the Welcome Home Maryland group at BWI. And it was NOT for a self serving reason. If you have any sense, you will write your next "opinion" piece on "opinions" without the "facts".
S. Gray February 03, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Ryan, let's be real about this. Both you and TJ are backpedaling right now. He does hint that there are sparse programs by saying that Rhonda and Chilis should do more for programs assisting the troops than what they are already doing. Who is he to say what someone should be doing? How is my "opinion" of him as someone who got out as a disgruntled kid, "sour grapes"? I'd love to hear your explanation on that one. Fact is, I thew that out there because in my 22 year career, I have seen his type many times. He only knows what is right in front of his face, and what he has to actually work to figure out, doesn't exist in his world. I noticed he listed two great organizations, but failed to mention anything about the Veterans Administration. Any reason for that? Would it be that he doesn't mention them because they offer a wide array of services and benefits for those that honorably served, and it would not support his "opinion"? Actually, I thought your little, "I served too, and I enjoyed it, but I got out because I was tired of deploying" bit kind of supports what I am talking about. You voluntarily signed up to serve, knowing what we were doing. You did your part, but that does not give you or TJ the right to 1)Speak for those that serve or 2)Look down on those that do not. Finally, don't try putting unemployment rates of ex military into this discussion. If you get out without a plan, that's on you.
Ryan Stavely February 03, 2012 at 09:24 PM
It's pretty clear that you're no longed interested in facts (assuming that you ever were), and just want to insult people that happen to have a difference of opinion with you. You are right about one thing, I am disgruntled - disgruntled with fellow veterans that think that I should think a certain way because of my prior service and try to belittle those of us that happen to hold an unpopular view. Good luck with that, but I'll not going to participate in it. You're welcome to your own opinions, just as I'm welcome to mine and TJ is to his.
Melissa Ridgely Covolesky February 04, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Whoa fellas - lets take a breath & remember that we're all on the same side. A few of us didn't like an opinion that was posted & we've put our 2cents in to correct the record & possibly change his opinion. But attacking each others service records isn't the way to settle anything. Not everyone can or even wants to serve til retirement. Our structure isn't set up for everyone to stay 20+. And people join for many different reasons - some for education benefits, some for specialized training or experience, some for mere adventure. Whatever the reason, if a person served honorably, they served honorably. End of story. If someone's obligation's up & they choose to leave the service, that's OK. We need civilians who understand (&respect) the military. The way to have that is to have young veterans in the civilian work force. For citizens to serve 1 or 2 tours then return to civilian life. To have many people with some experience with the military is better than a few with a lot of experience. Many valid points about our community out in the western end have been made, and we stand on that. We won't apologize for standing up to have our flag returned, regardless if someone thinks its not time well spent. In the end, most of us don't really care what TJ thinks, if we're honest about it. But we chimed in because of how wrong he was about this particular person. We did it more for her than for him, lol. But it has ceased to be productive & we should all be better than that.


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