POW/MIA flag flying high again above Chucktown Tavern

The American and POW/MIA flag donated by veterans hung inside for a week at Chucktown Tavern following their removal from the flagpoles. (John Gaddy/WCIV)

By Natalie

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Allen James rolled up to the Chucktown Tavern with four or five other bikers Monday. The roar from his engine cut off and he got off the motorcycle wearing a leather vest and heavy boots. Don't let his appearance fool you though. James is not afraid to admit what makes him cry.

"When I hear the national anthem play, I'm 62 years old, I still puddle up every time I hear that national anthem," James said.

The Vietnam War veteran carries his battle scars on his bike, donning the POW/MIA flag wherever he goes. So, he and other veterans like James Gregorie found it appropriate to hoist the POW/MIA and American flag in front of one of their favorite hangouts, Chucktown Tavern on Market Street in downtown Charleston last year.

"I just thought when we put this flag up in October, that it'd be something all people would be proud to see and have," Gregorie said.

A group of the veterans, including James and Gregorie replaced colored banners with their flags. Last week, the property owner, Beach Company, ordered the flags to be brought down, citing city Board of Architectural Review regulations.

Following the order and removal of the flags, the Beach Company was flooded with calls and complaints. In a statement released over the weekend, the company stated:

"Presently we only have approval from the City of Charleston for green and red banners at this location."

The flags' removal created harsh sentiment among the veterans and patrons of Chucktown Tavern. Kay Shroka lives down the street. She's been living in Charleston since the mid-50's and she says she was horrified when she heard the patriotic flags went down.

"It made me sick to my stomach," she said. "I come from a service family. My father was in World War I in the Army. My husband is passed on but was retired Navy. My son was in Vietnam in the Marines and my grandson was in Desert Storm so I have a background of service and I couldn't believe one company would say and do what they did."

The Beach Company's CEO and President John Darby said there was no ill intent when the flags removal was ordered and claims he was trying to follow city rules.

But the city's Director of Planning, Preservation, and Sustainability Tim Keane says there aren't any city ordinances in place banning such flags.

"It's fine with us. There's no ordinance that prohibits it. As a matter of fact, it's permitted and you don't have to ask our permission," Keane said.

Monday afternoon Darby says he met with Keane and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley who informed him he could allow the flags. Darby released a statement where he explained the results of the meeting.

"Mayor Riley indicated to The Beach Company that the City would support the Company in flying the POW-MIA flag and would not enforce ordinances that were required in 2000 to allow only banners of green and red."

While the flag will be allowed to fly, Darby also encouraged Mayor Riley to seek what he calls a more appropriate space on the peninsula to display the flag.

"Long term we'd like to see the flag in a more prominent location maybe in a public land where more people could visit the flag and better tribute to the POW's," Darby said.

Veterans like Allen James say it's a privilege to be able to display the flag that represents the men and women who sacrificed for our country.

"I don't think there is an inappropriate place. You can put it anywhere you want. I mean, this has some great visibility right here with the tourists coming through town," James said.

Late Monday afternoon, shortly after his meeting with the city's mayor and planning director, Darby arrived at the Chucktown Tavern where he asked to hoist the flag back up. It's a move some veterans are frowning upon because they claim they wanted to hold a ceremony to re-raise the POW/MIA flag.

Despite that, the veterans still want to hold the ceremony. Gregorie says they even want Darby and others with the Beach Company to participate.

Darby, who says the Beach Company was unfairly portrayed by the Chucktown Tavern says he raised the flag because he was anxious to get the matter behind them.

"The whole POW flag was kind of forced upon us. It's unfortunate. A lot of misinformation went out to the veterans and we received a lot of phone calls and emails concerned about our actions. We were just following the city guidelines and caught in the crossfire. [We're] happy to do anything to celebrate the POW and veterans and anybody serving our country," Darby said.