WILKES-BARRE — Jim Walsh sees red, white and blue all the time.
But when he sees the American flag being improperly displayed or desecrated, Walsh sees only red.
Walsh, 89, a veteran of World War II, became upset when he saw a picture of a painting done by a local artist for state Rep. Karen Boback.
In the painting, Boback, R-Harveys Lake, is depicted sitting at a desk with a U.S. flag draped around her shoulders as a shawl.
“That’s wrong,” Walsh said. “I spoke to the artist and she was not aware of flag etiquette. She became upset, but I don’t blame her. Rep. Boback should have known better, but I don’t blame her, either. We just need more education on the proper way to display our flag.”
Walsh said he isn’t angry with Boback or the woman who painted the portrait, Ruthy Sizemore. He said their ignorance is shared by most Americans who are unaware of how to properly display the U.S. flag.
“People can learn from others’ mistakes,” Walsh said. “We need more programs to teach people what to do and not do when displaying the flag. In my heart, I believe the intent of these two women was honorable.”
Walsh said he has a serious problem with people who deliberately violate the Flag Code. He said having lack of knowledge is one thing, but knowing you are desecrating the flag is another.
“We have to protect and honor the flag,” Walsh said. “In this case, the intent was honorable, but the depiction brought dishonor to the flag.”
Boback said she will not hang the painting in her district office. Sizemore said she won’t alter it, stating she did nothing illegal or wrong.
Boback has talked to Walsh and to Sizemore. She said both are aware of her support for veterans. She sits on the Veterans Committee in the state House and conducts programs throughout the year for veterans and their families.
Sizemore said she did not intend to create any furor over the painting.
“I have the greatest respect for veterans,” she said.
Sizemore’s husband of 53 years, David, is a veteran of World War II.
“The painting is a tribute to Rep. Boback and her passion to help veterans,” Sizemore said. “I painted the picture as I visualized her — a true patriot. I used the flag because it is the symbol of our priceless freedom.”
Boback said the issue is not whether anyone was aware of how the flag should be properly displayed.
“Ruthy was honoring the flag,” Boback said. “She meant no malice. She is a true patriot.”
Boback said Walsh accepted her explanation, and she thanked him for bringing the issue to light.
“We all should practice proper flag etiquette in its truest sense,” she said. “This has been a learning experience for everyone.”
John Raughter, spokesman for the American Legion in Indianapolis, said the organization promotes patriotism and educates the American public on the proper display of the flag.
“Basically the American Legion would rather direct our efforts on flag etiquette rather than searching for inadvertent or perceived violations of the Flag Code among well-meaning patriots,” Raughter said.
He said the Legion continues to advocate for passage of a flag protection amendment to the Constitution. He said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag desecration is an expression of free speech.
“The amendment would add language that Congress shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States,” Raughter said.
The amendment was again introduced last year, but fell short of passage by one vote in the Senate, he said.
Last year, Walsh sent a letter to the American Legion national commander on the proper way to display the flag. Walsh has copies of greeting cards circulated with the American Legion seal that depict a puppy laying on the flag and another with words written in the white stripes of the flag — both clear violations of the Flag Code.
“I have seen a decline in the display and respect for our nation’s flag,” Walsh wrote in the letter. “Patriotism is like a badge, and I wear it proudly and have throughout my life. No one is born a patriot — it must be taught.”