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Pennsylvania News

Patriot in the details for area man

Warren adopts Congress-specified flag.

11/04/01

By BRYAN W. WAAGNER
The Express-Times

To understand Ed Smith’s three-year crusade for the U.S. flag, one must understand what makes him go.

"My whole life it’s been drilled into my head to pay attention to detail," said Smith of Franklin Township, Warren County. "Detail is what makes all the difference, but for some reason that basic axiom doesn’t apply here."

That is why Smith has worked three years to get the official United States flag recognized here in Warren County and he hopes in the state and nation, too.

His quest led him to court where his case was dismissed in Warren County Superior Court.

Some call it frivolous, but to Smith it’s the details that set the United States apart. He also says he is a law-abiding man. One who says he respects the authority of Congress.

His fight was successful when Warren County freeholders unanimously adopted a resolution on Oct. 24 to buy and display flags as U.S. Congress defines. The resolution was forwarded to all New Jersey counties and other government agencies.

Smith called the passage "historical" as Warren County tries to become the first county to comply with Congress’s code.

In 1998, Congress defined official U.S. flags with a proportionate formula. The definition found in Title 4, Section 5 of the United States Code does not specify exact sizes for flags but details proportions that work for any size flag.

The height of the flag is the basis for checking a flag. When the height is 3 feet, the proper length is 5 feet, 8 inches.

Multiply the height of the flag by 1.9 to calculate the proper length.

The code also specifies the length of the blue union. Multiply the height of the flag by 0.76 to get the size of the union. To calculate the diameter of the stars, multiply the height by 0.0616.

"The merits of the reasons behind Congress’s decision should not be discussed," Smith said.

Congress’s 1998 action modified the Flag Act of 1818 for the first time.

Cornell Plebani, of Phillipsburg, served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam. He said, when in combat, soldiers stitched flags to uniforms and helmets and carried flags in their pockets.

"It doesn’t matter what size the flag was," he said. "What matters is you learn to respect the symbol and all the freedoms associated with it."

"It was established (by Congress) now recognize it," Plebani said. "It’s a matter of respect and unity."

But procuring proportionally correct flags that meet congressional guidelines may be another battle.

Smith has met with resistance from flag makers. He called the resistance "perplexing."

Warren County purchasing agent Christopher J. Pessolano said his department is tallying how many flags the county would need before writing specifications for the flags and then buying them.

"From what I’m hearing that could be a problem," he said of finding a vendor who sells them. "We have a lot of flag vendors. We’ll hit all of them."

For numerous reasons flag manufacturers have spurned congressional guidelines.

Ron Kleiman, manager of Metro Flags in Dover, N.J., said "the commercialized sizes are more aesthetically pleasing"

"When Congress makes an obscure law it’s easier to ignore it than to do more work and waste more paper on changing it," he said. "This is more a question to ask Congress."

Kleiman said the huge demand for American flags has strained the flag-making industry. He said his company did make official flags in the past.

Flags flown over the U.S. Capitol are not official proportionally correct versions, according to Kleiman. Smith agreed.

"If it is good enough for the Capitol, it should be good enough for civilians," he said.

U.S. Capitol officials did not return calls Friday.

Lisa Gates-McCormick of Gates Flags of Clifton, N.J., is aware of Warren County’s resolution but was not sure what it would mean for flag manufacturers.

She said Annin Flags of Roseland, N.J., makes all their flags. Gates-McCormick said they have carried the government-specified flags.

A spokesman at Annin Flags said making flags to congressional guidelines would be too costly. Cutting machines are set to cut fabric in whole increments, not in feet, inches, and fractions of an inch.

He said customers who order 3- by 5-foot flags will wait up to 17 months for them. Annin produces hundreds of thousands of flags a day.

Smith does not accept the higher-cost argument.

"There is no reason why they should not have them," Smith. "If it cost more, you know who it would be passed onto - the consumer."

Smith said in these times he would not mind paying more for an official flag and does not believe others would mind.

"I’m willing to bet a lot of people are more than happy to pay more for a flag," he said.

 

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