Black's Building owner on flag controversy: "I'm sorry" - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Black's Building owner on flag controversy: "I'm sorry"

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WATERLOO (KWWL) - It's one of the most visible landmarks in Waterloo.

The flagpole atop the Black's building.

The decision to replace the U.S. flag with the Irish flag this weekend for the city's annual Irish Fest has some crying foul.

The building's owners say they wanted to be festive and get in the spirit of the weekend and said they had no idea the controversy changing the flag would bring.

High atop the privately owned Black's building, the owners swapped out the red, white, and blue for the orange, white, and green.

"We thought just for these 3 days, we'll join in the fest but unfortunately, it hasn't turned out very well and we understand, we understand," said Donna Nelson, the building's owner.

Veterans and dozens of others voiced their complaints about the change.

They say the American flag should always fly over downtown Waterloo.

"I have nothing against the Irish flag. It's just the fact they are taking the American flag to replace it with the Irish flag. I think that's like an insult to the veterans," said Richard Hockey, Sr. Vice Commander of VFW Post 1623 in Waterloo.

Nelson says she only found out a few days ago that it goes against flag etiquette to fly another country's flag with the U.S. flag so she and her family decided to put the Irish flag up.

"I made a commitment and once I give my word, I'm not going to go against that. I probably wouldn't do that again. I thought with so many Irish and so many good things Irish Fest does for Waterloo and the Cedar Valley, I thought people would understand. I never, never would disrespect our veterans. They do everything for us," said Nelson.

Nelson says about the only other option would be to put in a second flagpole. That would cost tens of thousands of dollars and yearly maintenance costs. She says that would be too expensive.

She says she never imagined the negative reaction and after this weekend the stars and stripes will return - for good.

"One woman just kept saying, 'Shame on you. Shame on you.' I tried to explain our situation. I do feel bad about that. Sort of made me cry but anyway, I won't do it again," said Nelson.  "I'm certainly sorry for causing any trouble or any sorrow on the behalf of the veterans or anyone else who loves the flag as much as my family does, my entire family does."

By the way, the American flag has flown pretty much continuously since the Nelsons bought the building in 1985, and of course for several decades before then.

The flagpole is actually secured through a couple of floors on the top of the building.

So why couldn't the Irish flag be flown under the American flag on that flagpole.

Title 4, U.S. Code, Chapter 1, Subsection 7g says: "When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace."

Read the Nelson family's full, unedited statement below:

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The actual flag rules, state that the flag of another country cannot fly on the same pole as the United States flag. The BLACK'S Building only has one pole. We meant no harm when we decided to honor James Black's heritage and join the festivities for these three days.

The United States people are generous and kind and welcoming........please refer to the Statue of Liberty "give me your tired, your poor, etc......I do not think our Forefathers would take offense at a salute to a nation that gave us these wonderful immigrants who helped build our community and defended this wonderful country with the ultimate sacrifice.

I do hope we can be generous when people are working so hard to bring music, fellowship and fun to our community.

We want to state that we are very patriotic and fly the United States flag proudly everyday and have done so for years.

The United States is a melting pot and many Irish besides Mr. Black settled in Waterloo......many working for the railroad such as the Five Sullivan family.

We were under the same impression that we could fly a smaller flag under our larger United States flag but found that we were wrong.

We would love to put up another smaller flag pole to salute the Irish but we are talking a minimum of 20,000 to 40000.00 dollars. The United States flags we fly now cost us around 600.00 each. Some last a few days and at the most a couple of months. One of these days we hope we can afford the second pole and also, poles for our other buildings downtown. To fly the United States flag.

Thank you for your understanding!
The Nelson Family

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