Ceremony honors flags, Vietnam vets U.S., POW colors back at restaurant

Bill Stewart of Murrells Inlet, a former Marine and member of the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle club, salutes while holding a black and white POW-MIA flag similar to the one raised outside the Chucktowne Tavern on Market Street Sunday, April 22, 2012. About 75 veterans, most belonging to motorcycle clubs, showed up for the ceremony. DAVE MUNDAY/STAFF

The U.S. and POW-MIA flags that were removed from outside a downtown restaurant were hoisted again Sunday after a proper ceremony.

About 75 veterans — mostly Vietnam veterans on motorcycles — showed up at Chucktown Tavern on Market Street to witness the raising.

“It’s important to respect the flag and to put the flag up in the proper manner,” said James Gregory of the Vietnam Veterans of America, who organized the ceremony.

The veterans group put up the flags in October after asking the restaurant’s owners, Hope and Marty Young. Last month, the Youngs received a letter from the Beach Co., which owns the building in Majestic Square, stating that the flags violate the city’s design permit and had to come down.

After public outcry and clarification from city officials, the flags went back up about a week later, but not according to protocol, said the veterans group.

Majestic Square is the only place in Charleston, outside federal reservations, where the U.S. and POW flags are flown together, Gregory said.

“So it’s important that down here in this tourist area, flying this flag and showing the world that Charleston cares,” he said.

The U.S. flag was flown over Afghanistan, said Marine Sgt. James Baker, who brought it to Charleston. The POW-MIA flag was flown at Arlington National Cemetery.

It was an occasion not only to respect the flags but Vietnam veterans.

“It (the POW flag) also represents the hundreds of thousands of veterans who came home from Vietnam and got treated the way we got treated,” veteran James Allen said during the ceremony. “I didn’t get my first welcome home until two years ago, after 40-something years.”

Retired Marine Gen. James Livingston, a Medal of Honor recipient and the keynote speaker, echoed the same theme.

“I want to say to the Vietnan vets, you are the current greatest generation,” Livingston said. “You not only went off to war and fought the enemy, you had to deal with the people back home who were very much against you.”

Former POW Chuck Johnson — who was shot down over North Vietnam in June 1972 and imprisoned for eight months — recalled how he was treated as a hero when he was released, while other veterans were scorned.

“We, the POWs, were treated the way you should have been treated when you came home,” he said.