Stunned. Angry. Disgusted.
George Lo Greco said a wave of emotions washed over him Saturday when he arrived at the Whitfield County Courthouse and saw Dalton Fire Department firefighters picking up flags that had been ripped from the courthouse lawn and the median on King Street.
"This wasn't just vandalism," he said. "It was desecration. They were finding them behind bushes, in the parking deck. Some of the flags had been rolled up and tossed up into trees like javelins."
The flags are placed on the courthouse lawn and on King Street on patriotic occasions by a community effort called United We Stand, which has been putting the flags out since 1991. Dalton American Legion Post 112 is the administrative organization for the effort, and Lo Greco, an American Legion member, is the chairman for the program.
The flags had been placed in observance of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, which was Saturday, and for National POW/MIA Recognition Day, which is this coming Friday.
Each flagpole has a small placard honoring a Whitfield County veteran, many missing in action or prisoners of war, paid for by their families.
Lo Greco said that makes the vandalism even worse.
"They weren't just desecrating the flags," he said. "These are memorials to men and women who served this nation."
Lo Greco said Dalton firefighter Gary Stanley, who had delivered the invocation Friday when the flags were put into place, was the person who first noticed the vandalism Saturday morning.
"He called me. He called the police, and he called the fire department," he said. "By the time I got there, the police were already there, and the fire department was there in force retrieving the flags. I can't thank firefighter Stanley enough."
Stanley could not be reached immediately Monday. Fire Chief Todd Pangle said Stanley is a U.S. Army veteran and "as patriotic as they come."
"He had taken his young son down there to show him the flags to try to teach him about 9/11 when he saw the vandalism," Pangle said. "He notified the officer in charge for us as well as George Lo Greco and law enforcement."
According to a Dalton Police Department incident report, at about 11:15 Saturday morning an officer responded to a call about the vandalism.
"I arrived on King Street and observed an American flag with a flagpole hanging inside a tree. I observed firefighters walking towards the flag to retrieve it and return it to the flag area it was taken from at the Whitfield County Courthouse," the report stated. "The firefighters informed me that they observed American flags and Prisoner of War/Missing In Action flags misplaced/disturbed/and hanging in the trees."
The report said the officer began to help look for the misplaced flags and found three "thrown in the bushes along King Street," and helped put the flags "in their rightful place in the median grass area along King Street."
Lo Greco said five flagpoles and six flags are still missing.
"Whoever did this ripped the flag off of one flagpole and took the flag, leaving the flagpole behind," he said. "Three of the missing flags are POWs or MIA. I did a quick inventory and saw that they were missing. But there are 775 flags. I need help to do a full inventory and find the names on the other (missing) flags. If I could get maybe half a dozen people, we could do that. But I can't inventory 775 flags by myself."
Lo Greco said he wants to do the inventory this week before the flags are retrieved. Anyone interested in helping inventory the flags can call Lo Greco at (706) 259-0072 or (706) 260-6611.
Lo Greco estimated the cost of replacing the missing flags and flagpoles at more than $600.