By Tom Davidson
SHENANGO TOWNSHIP — As a veteran of the siege of Khe Sanh in Vietnam, Dennis Shacklock remembers watching men die for their country. As a 61-year-old Shenango Township resident who pays attention to national affairs, Shacklock’s become a disgruntled American.
“We’re on the brink of collapse,” Shacklock said Wednesday, sitting at his dining room table with his wife Kathleen and neighbor Tom Hunt.
With the economy showing no sign of improvement and wary of the election of Barack Obama as president, Shacklock decided to showcase his feelings by flying the American flag upside down in front of his home on state Route 318.
He did it immediately after the election and again this week as bad news about the economy built.
Monday evening, Southwest Mercer County Regional police knocked on his door.
“They wanted to know if everything was OK,” Shacklock said. “The one officer said ‘Do you know you’ve got your flag …’
“I told them it was my flag.”
Police were dispatched to check on Shacklock’s home after someone reported the upside-down flag to 911, Southwest police detective Capt. Doug Long said.
One of the policemen at the scene is a veteran and told Shacklock the way he was flying the flag was disrespectful to veterans, Shacklock said.
“He mentioned how people gave blood for that flag,” Shacklock said.
He explained to the police that as a Vietnam veteran he knew that, but that it was his flag to fly, he said.
“I kept telling them it’s my flag,” he said.
The American flag should only be flown upside down “as a signal of dire distress” according to the U.S. Flag Code.
That’s the condition the country’s in, Shacklock said.
“I think our country’s in distress with the administration we’re going to get,” Shacklock said of president-elect Barack Obama.
He didn’t mean to disrespect the flag or to offend anyone, he said.
“Some of the people that bled for it, I knew,” he said. “And I wouldn’t be disrespectful for these guys.”
But flying the flag upside down is nothing compared to what Vietnam protesters did to the flag or the way he was treated when he came home, he said.
Now, he’s taken down the U.S. flag and put up a white flag that symbolizes surrender.
Hunt, his neighbor, turned his flag upside down once he heard of Shacklock’s run-in with the law and kept it that way throughout Tuesday.
“I made my statement in support of Denny,” Hunt said.
By Wednesday, Hunt had switched his flag back to normal to appease his wife.
There’s nothing actually illegal about flying the flag upside down, although a Web site devoted to flag etiquette recommends against it. An April report to Congress by a think tank characterized the Flag Code as “merely declaratory and advisory” and not punishable by law.
The country’s present condition has spurred others across the nation to put up the distress signal.
In Plainfield, Ill., a woman attracted national attention by flying the flag upside-down to protest the $700 billion government bailout of Wall Street. A Manitowoc, Wis., man made the news this year by flying an upside-down flag in June to protest the general state of the country.