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A U.S. Air Force veteran quit his job at a North Carolina supermarket after being ordered by his manager to remove his protective face covering because it depicted the American flag.
Gary Dean was so taken aback by what he saw as an anti-American policy by his employer that he had to quit his job “out of principle.” The 69-year-old military veteran told WNCN that his respect for those who have served compelled him to leave his job at the Food Lion in Havelock.
Dean, who reportedly served in the Air Force from 1970 to 1976, had been wearing his stars and stripes face covering for months while working at the supermarket. But earlier this week, a manager told him he could no longer do so, as company policy prohibited displaying clothing with symbols or insignia.
“Apparently corporate came down and said ‘Somebody was offended by the image of the American flag on the face covering,'” Dean said.
He felt the policy not only disrespected the American flag, it violated his own values and he could not abide by the rule in good conscience.
“As a veteran, my dad being a World War II hero, my best friend killed in Vietnam, out of respect for them I can’t just say no, I’ll take my flag and put it in my pocket,” he told the station. “I had to quit, out of principle.”
“Why would anybody for any reason be offended by the American flag, the stars and stripes?” he asked.
The grocery chain, its location in the town that is home of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, issued a statement in response to the television station’s request for comment.
“At Food Lion, we have great respect for the American flag. Like many other organizations, we also have policies that guide the attire and conduct of associates in the workplace,” the company said.
“As part of our effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the well-being of our associates and customers, we’ve required associates to either wear reusable face masks provided by Food Lion or choose to wear a different face covering while working. However, all face coverings must adhere to standards set by the company and communicated to each of our more than 77,000 associates,” Food Lion continued.
“The policy prohibits associates from wearing clothing with writing, insignia or symbols. The dress code is meant to ensure a consistent and professional representation of our associates inside of our stores,” the statement read.
Dean takes his patriotism seriously and shared some of his memories with the news outlet which noted that his home is full of patriotic objects.
“That’s my friend who was killed in Vietnam, he was a ranger,” he said, pointing at a picture of himself and another man in a photo album filled with memorabilia.
“David Toler. Got shot right through the heart, they brought him home. That’s an emotional subject for me. When you lose a friend that is fighting for your freedoms, you get angry,” he added, fighting emotions. “You get very angry when people disrespect the flag.”
While the Havelock Food Lion does have reserved parking spaces marked with American flags for customers who are military veterans, the ban on a flag-depicting mask is not justified in Dean’s opinion. He explained that, while he is not angry at the store managers, the corporate policy is another matter.
“I love this country,” he said. “I love that my dad went off and fought for my country, nearly got killed for this country but came back and raised a family. I love everything about that flag. So, yeah, that is my priority.”