Winkler and her family erected the flag in a traffic circle three years ago in the town of Woodbine. They posted the flag to honor their nephew, a soldier deployed to Afghanistan.
About a month ago a car crashed into the roundabout damaging a tree and destroying the original flag. So Winkler’s husband and an 88-year-old World War Two veteran replaced the flag. And that’s when the trouble started.
Winkler said she received a telephone call alerting her that state highway workers had taken down the flag and the flag pole, tossing both into the back of a dump truck.
“They told us it was against the law to erect a flag on the traffic circle,” Winkler said. “They told my husband that whoever put up the flag could be arrested for trespassing.”
State highway workers also told her that people had complained about Old Glory.
“We figured it’s the American flag and we live in the United States of America – how can anyone have a problem with it,” Winkler asked.
David Buck, a spokesman for the state high department, told the Baltimore Sun that there is also a safety issue.
“They don’t have traffic control out there, and they don’t have (road work) vests on,” he told the newspaper.
The flags removal sparked outrage across the community. Dozens of people turned out for a rally – many people waving flags. It was especially moving for local residents who have loved ones serving in the military.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Daniela Schnetzler told the Baltimore Sun. Her son just returned from Iraq. “We need that support. Freedom isn’t free, I’ll tell you that.”
And Winkler said that’s why the flag has been flying all these years – to support not just her nephew but every member of the military.
“If it was something derogatory or inappropriate, that’s one thing,” resident Gene Mellin told the newspaper. “But to take the flag down, it’s not right. I know they have rules, but it’s just a flag. It’s the flag.”
Winkler said she hopes her three young children will learn a lesson from the incident.
“When you believe in something, you have to take a stand,” she said. “That doesn’t mean going out and rioting and sleeping on streets and not going to work. It means you work hard, you work for yourselves, and you work for your country so that we are a better people.”
As for now – there’s no indication if the state of Maryland will reverse their decision – or if the Winkler family will get back their flag.
She said state workers have refused to return the Stars and Stripes.
Winkler said she is typically not one to raise a big stink about stuff – but not this time.
“We as Americans have to take a stand,” she said. “No matter what, we support the flag.”