A Homeowners Association (HOA) refused to let a Vietnam veteran fly the American flag in his yard and even took the man to court to force him to take down his flagpole. An ongoing dispute ensued, and after a 20-year battle, the HOA finally learned they had made a big mistake.
During the Vietnam War, Richard Oulton served his country in the 1st Battalion 9th Marines, which sustained the highest casualty rate in Marine Corps history and became known as “The Walking Dead.” Wanting to honor those who served with him, Richard erected a flagpole in his yard to fly the American flag at his home in Henrico, Virginia.
“For 749 Marines that I served with — for their memory,” Richard said, explaining his tribute to the brothers he lost in combat. “The memories are always there. Unfortunately, they’re deep inside me and I can’t clear them out,” Richard added. But, sadly, the Wyndham Homeowners Association didn’t understand or agree with the man flying the flag that he and his comrades had fought for.
In 1999, the HOA told Richard that his flagpole, displaying the American flag, violated the neighborhood by-laws and ordered him to remove it. Allegedly, neighbors had complained that it was a disturbance to their community. Enraged, Richard refused, and the case went to court, garnering national attention as Richard Oulton was ordered to take down the flagpole in his yard. Sadly, he had lost the battle. But, little did the HOA realize, the war wasn’t over.
After losing in court, Richard stood in his front yard as the flagpole was cut down in 2003. “I’m standing in my front yard being told my American flag is a visual nuisance and I can’t fly it in support of the troops,” he said on the day the pole was removed. “I think it’s horrible but I have to comply.” But, for this veteran, flying the stars and stripes was about more than patriotism, and he wasn’t giving up.
Proving a Marine isn’t one to just surrender, Richard refused to be defeated. Instead, 20 years after his first fight with the HOA, he engaged them in battle again. Side by side with Virginia Delegate John McGuire (District 56), who happens to be a former Navy Seal, Richard took on the Wyndham Homeowners Association one last time, finally teaching them that taking on a veteran is a big mistake.
“The one thing that unites us in this country is that American flag,” said Del. McGuire, “And, when I heard about that, I was like we got to get that American flag up,” he added. “Our men and women in uniform oftentimes risk their life or even sacrifice their life for freedom, and I think the least we can do is get a flag pole up so he can remember his brothers.”
The two veterans spent the better part of a year working to convince the HOA to allow Richard Oulton to resurrect his flag pole. Since the HOA was now in the hands of the homeowners rather than under the control of the developer, as it had been in 1999, Richard was told to poll his neighbors. The nine adjacent houses gave 100% support.
After two appeals, the HOA was finally convinced to let Old Glory fly on Richard Oulton’s property — a right he should have never been denied. Richard could finally fly the flag he risked his life fighting for. “This is something I just didn’t ever think was going to happen but I kept trying,” Richard said. He was finally victorious, two decades after the initial dispute began.
Although Richard’s flagpole is new, the flag taking the first trip up the new pole isn’t. Instead, Richard will hoist the flag that hung in his military bunker while he served in Vietnam during a special ceremony — a perfect tribute to the comrades he fought a 20-year-battle to honor. “It’s one memory I’ve kept,” an emotional Richard Oulton said, holding the flag in his hands. “It’s very important to me. It’s kind of tattered now but — lot of memories.”
While it’s understandable that neighbors would want their community to look nice, the American flag properly displayed on a flagpole in someone’s yard should never be an aesthetic concern. Old Glory waving in the wind as a tribute to our fallen from a fellow veteran is an admirable and beautiful site. From the beginning, this should have been an easy “yes” from the HOA. Bureaucracy has sadly replaced basic respect, but luckily, our veterans aren’t easily defeated as this HOA learned the hard way.