POSTED: Friday, June 15, 2012 - 10:45am
UPDATED: Friday, June 15, 2012 - 10:49am
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — An Atlantic City, New Jersey man celebrated Flag Day in what many considered an unusual way.
Dean Schoenewald set a dozen flags on fire.
"This is symbolic of what Flag Day is all about," Schoenewald said.
He feels there's no better way to honor and celebrate what the American flag represents than by burning more than a dozen of them.
"We're not in Iraq, we're not in Saudi Arabia, or North Korea, or China, we have this kind of freedom," he said.
Freedom that John Palmentieri, who earned a Purple Heart for his service during World War II helped fight for.
"To me, the flag means a lot."
He believes the flag should be celebrated in the traditional way, not by burning it.
"Why would we want to burn our own flag," asked 86 year old Palmentieri, "It don't sound logical because every time other countries, when they're burning our flags, it hurts."
The US Supreme Court ruled that flag burning and flag desecration is a constitutionally protected form of free speech, and while it's not illegal, some feel it is disrespectful.
"I'm amazed," said Palmentieri, "I can't understand it."
"I don't have any illusions that this would be something that's not emotional or very unpopular," said Schoenewald, "but the principle, the ideology of freedom outweighs that and that's something we need to work to preserve."
Schoenewald did want to do the burning on a public beach, and even had a special events permit from the city, but authorities wouldn't allow it, saying it wasn't cleared through the fire department.
"The fact is, he wanted to light a fire with ignition fluid on the beach and the fire department wouldn't approve a permit for that," explained Captain Charles Love, with the Atlantic City Police Department, "that's what it came down to."
Authorities say the subject of the burning was irrelevant, and while controversial, even Palmentieri agreed it is part of the freedom he helped preserve.
"That's why it's a free country, the man can do what he wants," said the veteran, "but it's not right, it's hurting the veterans," he said.
Schoenewald says he wants to make flag burning an annual event, something he plans to write a book about.