Sometime Sunday night or Monday morning, someone stole the U.S. and POW/MIA flags flying above American Legion Post 36 in Yakima.
It was the fourth time in about six months both flags have been stolen from in front of the building at 1120 N. 34th Ave. After the third time, members installed a lock box over the cleat that secures the flag rope. The thief had the nerve to taunt them for it.
“I wish you wouldn’t have done that. Now I’ll cut the rope,” the thief wrote in blue marker on the white flag pole. Early this week, the thief did just that, leaving only a tattered remnant of rope sticking out from the lock box.
Matt Steadman, a Marine Corps veteran and Legion member, is among many spreading the word about the thefts in hopes people in the area and passersby help keep watch. The flags are illuminated and flown round the clock.
“This conduct is disgraceful to our community and to the veterans who frequent the American Legion. The suspect has no respect for the U.S., our community and our veterans,” Steadman wrote in an email.
Members noticed the words on the flagpole about a week earlier, when they were flying the flags at half-staff in memory of Charles “Chuck” Austin, 95, a three-war veteran and Legion member who died of COVID-19 on Jan. 25.
The flag thefts have angered members but also make them wonder, said Phil Steele, 2nd Vice Commander of the post. There haven’t been any other thefts or vandalism besides the words on the flagpole, he said.
Nearby, large American flags continue to fly at Rexford Manor and McDonald’s, though one member mentioned some damage to a flag at a hotel in the area.
“Why would you steal the flags? We would give them a flag. I personally would go to the store and buy you a flag,” Steele said.
Post Commander Tom Gilstrap pledged a reward for information identifying the thief. He didn’t say how much; Legion members have some replacement costs to consider, such as hiring a boom truck to install a metal cable on the flagpole (no more rope) and buying new flags.
The Yakima Police Department is aware of the thefts and officers are providing extra patrols, Steadman said. Anyone who knows or sees anything unusual should call police at 509-575-6200 or the Legion at 509-457-4510.