NEW PORT RICHEY — Just before 7 a.m. Friday, Chopper Davis went out to get the newspaper and glanced at the 216 American flags on his front lawn. They were all there, each one representing a Floridian killed while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
But when he left for work about an hour later, Davis realized someone had just trampled through his display, knocking down or snapping the poles of about two dozen of the 9-inch by 12-inch flags.
"I'm disappointed," said Davis, 60, late Friday morning.
Davis is known in the city as the former owner of Jilly's downtown bar, which he ran from 1983 to 1992. He is known, too, for organizing charity benefits, and he later worked for the Center for Independence, which provides services to people who are developmentally disabled. He now works in retail sales for the St. Petersburg Times.
His home is just off Madison Street, south of downtown. He has put up the small flags every Veterans Day and Memorial Day for the last three years. He varies the length of time he keeps them flying. One year, his wife, Lori, persuaded him to keep them up through Christmas.
To explain why he does it, Davis talks about his own family. He served in the U.S. Army, stateside, during the Vietnam War. His father was in the Air Force. He had uncles in the military, and a distant relative even served in the War of 1812. (Davis inherited the saber that soldier carried into war.)
"I just pay attention," he said, talking about the flag display, "and it came to me to do it."
Davis thinks the culprits may have been kids on their way to school; they are usually the only ones walking through his neighborhood between 7 and 8 a.m. But he isn't wasting much time trying to figure out who.
By late morning, he had taken a hammer and started pounding new flags into the ground.
An elderly man walking his dog by the home stopped as Davis worked. "Thank you, Chopper, for your display!" he called out.
The man said he'd been in the service, too. "I got my Purple Heart and all that," he said.
Davis thanked him for his service and went back to the flags. He had more in his garage. These days, he buys them in bulk.
"Sadly," he said, "the numbers increase."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at (727) 869-6247 or firstname.lastname@example.org.