Rochester veterans admonish city hall over tattered U.S. flag

Elected officials never know what to expect during the public comment period that kicks off many city council meetings. But it’s safe to say members of the Rochester City Council have never been called on the carpet in the way three veterans from the American Legion did in a recent meeting.

Two members of the honor guard from the William T. McCoy American Legion Post 62 held up a tattered and faded American flag that flew over city hall for months. Then fellow legionnaire John Kruesel took to the podium to tell Rochester Mayor Kim Norton and city councilors he was so upset when he saw the sorry state of the flag that he took matters into his own hands, personally hoisting a proper flag over city hall.

The aging veteran proceeded to politely but firmly admonish the elected officials before him for neglecting their duty to instill respect for Old Glory.

“It became what you see now—faded, torn and tattered,” Kruesel said in addressing the council. “This troubled me so much that I broke the law to take it down and replace it with a new one. In the days since, I have been increasingly troubled to know that our flag flew over our city hall for months in this disgraceful condition and that no one in any of the government offices noticed its condition or took any steps to have it replaced.”

Kruesel said he wrote down his comments in order to better control his emotions when discussing the flag and all it stands for.

“This shows conclusively that we have a collective lack of awareness of what our flag means. That flag outside should stir our hearts and remind all of us that our responsibilities towards one another are tied to our responsibilities to the flag. Our public servants’ sense of duty to their people should be tied to their duty to the flag.”

The Rochester City Council restricts comments from the public to four minutes, allowing no questions afterward. But before wrapping up, Kruesel got in a plea for Rochester and Olmsted County officials to institute a new regimen that would reinforce reverence for the flag over public buildings.

“I suggest in an effort to raise everyone’s awareness that the council adopt the following new system of display. A custodian or police officer should post? The flag briskly each morning and lower it ceremoniously at sunset. In inclement weather the flag is not to be raised unless it has proper lighting and when a flag succumbs to elements it should be given to the American Legion or the VFW to be appropriately burned.”

Several members of the audience applauded as the veterans folded the old flag and left the room. The city council moved on to other matters. But the city administrator later told the Rochester Post-Bulletin their vigilance paid off.

Rochester City Administrator Alison Zelms said, despite growing up on military bases, she wasn’t aware the flag had ended up in such shape, but she added quick action is planned.

She said once Kruesel raised the issue Monday night she emailed staff members during the 66-minute council meeting to make sure all flags at city locations are checked.

She said she also plans to speak with Olmsted County officials to discuss who has responsibility for flags at the shared Government Center, with the hope of establishing a plan for proper care of the replaced flag.

“Either way, we are going to make sure a flag is raised,” she said.