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Thieves strip flags from Largo homes

(ran EAST, SEMINOLE editions)

The flag that hung from Olga Jacobs' home was given to her six years ago when she became a U.S. citizen.

A block away, Mary Richards flew a flag she had shared with her husband, a World War II veteran who died two years ago. And down the street, Dave McCord, who lost a leg when he fought in Vietnam, also hung a flag.

Those flags _ and dozens more _ had become permanent fixtures and testaments of patriotism in the neighborhood after Sept. 11.

Then sometime early Thursday morning, they all were stolen.

Thieves plucked at least 20 American flags from homes in the Shadow Pines subdivision, a cozy neighborhood of lush lawns and cul-de-sacs tucked between Ulmerton and Starkey roads.

Some were ripped from their hangers. Others were loosened from garages. One even was taken, flag pole and all.

Neighbors think it probably was a thief looking to resell them for a nice profit.

"You're just so angry," said Nancy Ellie, 43, who runs the neighborhood crime watch. "When the country's pulling together and we are more united than ever before, and you have these people who are profiting from the patriotism of America."

The thefts were particularly difficult for residents who had a personal connection with their flags.

Born in Mexico, Jacobs, 54, became a citizen six years ago in front of a judge in Tampa. She received a flag as part of the ceremony. Her oldest granddaughter, who was 4 years old at the time, was there, and Jacobs hoped to give her the flag when she was older.

"That one had special meaning to me," Jacobs said. "I was very upset because I really wanted it to be there for her."

Richards, 79, received her flag from a friend who got it from U.S. Rep. Bill Young. She shared it with her husband, Edward H. Richards, before he died two years ago. He had served in the infantry in World War II.

While she described her late husband as "a devoted, patriotic veteran," she had unkind words for the thieves: "Scum of the earth," she said.

Residents think the flags were stolen between midnight and 6 a.m.

McCord, the 53-year-old Vietnam vet, said that when he returned from getting coffee for his wife around 6 a.m. he pulled into his driveway and noticed the stars and stripes were missing.

He will fly another flag but probably will bring it inside after dark. He has a flag that was given to him when his father, also a veteran, died 10 years ago. But he doesn't want to risk such a precious item being taken.

"I'm stunned," McCord said. "It's frustrating. You figure, support your country in this time of tragedy, and then this happens. It's unfortunate."

Neighbors said the community is quiet and generally crime-free. It's a neighborhood thick with Americana: Pinwheels spin in front yards, kids on bikes dart through the streets and mourning doves perch above it all on telephone lines.

Neighbors say they will buy new flags. Some were even up by Thursday afternoon.

Ellie remembered the neighborhood was bright with flags on Sept. 12, a scene she believes she will see again in the next few days.

"It brought tears to your eyes the next day, on Sept. 12," she said. "There were so many flags out, it made you so proud."

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