Andrew Dys

Disabled Rock Hill veteran vows to fly American flag, whether HOA likes it or not

Gary Pittman outside his garage, a 1972 Dodge that he works on as a hobby and escape from his problems can be seen in the garage behind him.
Gary Pittman outside his garage, a 1972 Dodge that he works on as a hobby and escape from his problems can be seen in the garage behind him.

After five combat tours, including Iraq and Afghanistan, Marine Corps veteran Gary Pittman of Rock Hill believes he has earned the right to honor the nation he fought for by raising and lowering the American flag every day.

He wants to fly the stars and stripes prominently – from a flagpole in his front yard. He also wants to fly the Marine Corps flag underneath the American flag on the same flagpole.

Pittman has applied for a permit from the Norwood Ridge Homeowners Association, but he has not yet been given an answer.

“I told them I was going to do it anyway, that I would see them in court,” Pittman said. “I am a disabled veteran. I gave all I had for my country.”

One roadblock could be the recent debate over flying the Confederate battle flag on the Statehouse grounds, which captured the attention of the nation for the past month. The homeowners association has concerns that allowing a flagpole could lead to some residents’ wanting to fly the Confederate flag.

Pittman said he knows he can do what some of his neighbors do – fly the flag from a porch pole – and there is an American flag at the entrance to the neighborhood.

But Pittman wants to honor America by flying the flag in a place and manner of dignity.

“I served this country,” Pittman said. “I want to fly the flag from a flagpole. And fly it at half-mast when troops are killed, just like is being done around the country right now.”

This is the second veteran flag flap in Rock Hill in a week. On July 17, a veteran was told to move his flag from an apartment porch pole, but the complex owners later relented and the flag stayed up.

A 2005 federal law was designed to safeguard the right to fly the American flag, but lawsuits in other states have brought to light battles between homeowners and HOA groups over flag presentation and what is allowed at individual homes in neighborhoods with established rules.

A representative from the management company for the Norwood Ridge Homeowner’s Association confirmed that the flagpole request was received July 1 and no decision has been made. The homeowners association has up to 30 days to decide whether to approve the request.

Association president Todd Williams said he has asked his close neighbor to be patient as neighborhood leaders go through his request and others for changes on properties. The flagpole request has been sent to the association’s architectural review committee, Williams said, and a decision could come in the next week or so.

“There has been discussion about it,” he said. “It is being considered.”

The community of about 150 homeowners is “very patriotic,” Williams said, pointing out that it holds its own annual July 4 parade. Residents there know and respect Pittman’s military service, he said, and that service has been part of the discussion.

One concern being discussed, Williams said, is that if a flagpole were allowed, others might want to fly flags or banners that might be considered offensive by some residents.

Just two weeks ago South Carolina finally removed the Confederate battle flag from Confederate Soldier Monument outside the Statehouse. That action came after nine blacks were shot and killed in a Charleston church by Dylann Roof, police say, who has been seen in photos using the Confederate battle flag to promote his racist agenda.

Other factors being considered in the decision, Williams said, are the size, location and other aesthetic aspects of the flag Pittman wants to display.

An American flag flying from the community flagpole in front of the Norwood Ridge neighborhood this week was not at half-staff as are flags around the country after the killing of five service members in Tennessee. It also appeared to have been ripped along a seam.

“I understand both sides of the issue; I was once an HOA president myself,” said Harvey Mayhill, a veterans advocate who went to visit Pittman and saw the flag flying in front of Norwood Ridge. “But right now, the flag at that community is not in good condition at all.

“That flag up there now is no way to honor America as Mr. Pittman wants to do.”

If the HOA’s architecture committee gives a thumbs up, Pittman would have the green light. If not, Pittman can take his case to the full HOA board, and then the management company if need be.

Originally from Charleston, Pittman joined the National Guard as a teenager, then the Marine Corps. He served in Panama, Liberia and in Desert Storm in Iraq. He later became a Marine Corps reservist and was activated again after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington for tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Pittman’s disability is post traumatic stress disorder, he said, and he speaks openly about the bad combat-related dreams he has had for years and his needing medications to control his disability. He also speaks openly about punishment he received after he was accused of beating an Iraqi prisoner in 2003. Pittman was convicted by a military court of assault and dereliction of duty stemming from the incident. News reports from that time show that Pittman apologized and told the military court that other than his family, he loved nothing more than his beloved Marine Corps.

Even after that, Pittman continued to serve, including multiple deployments, until his retirement. He remains proud of both his service to his country and the military he was a part of. He has lived in Rock Hill since 2012, and moved to Norwood Ridge last year.

Al Guest of Rock Hill, a Vietnam War veteran and veterans advocate, said he can’t understand how any homeowners association would not want to allow the prominent display of an American flag – especially one flown by a disabled combat veteran.

“Good grief,” Guest said. “I can see them not wanting a tin roof on a carport, something like that, but the American flag? Please.”