Weather News

He flew the US flag off the NC coast during a hurricane — and he’d gladly do it again

The principal owner of a famous U.S. flag off the North Carolina coast is defending himself against critics for flying Old Glory during Hurricane Dorian.

“We know that some will not agree with the flag being up in this weather but truthfully, it is not our way to not fly Old Glory,” Richard Neal posted on Facebook about flying the flag at Frying Pan Shoals Light Tower, 32 miles off the southeastern North Carolina coast.

Neal, a software engineer from south Charlotte, said on Facebook late Thursday that he’s received “angry posts and comments on why we didn’t just hang a hurricane flag.”

“Why the hell would you allow the flag to continue to fly during an active hurricane?” one veteran posted on social media. “Seems disrespectful to the flag and to our active and veteran servicemen and women (myself included).”

Most on social media defended Neal.

“As a veteran wife — the flag should be raised,” a woman wrote. “Our veterans had fought through all types of weather. They never got put up if the weather got bad. It is a symbol of our country.”

Neal said he was caught unaware the storm would zero in so close.

“When we last raised the flag, Dorian wasn’t named and when it was named just a few days ago, it was forecast to hit and die out in lower Florida,” Neal posted. “All the best forecasting and skills in determining the possible path still resulted in a dozen spaghetti tracks.”

When he learned the hurricane would strike the area, “we couldn’t remove it,” Neal said.

The tower is difficult to get to, he said, and changing the flag requires low winds and multiple helpers. That’s because the tower lacks a conventional rope or cable to lower or lift a flag, he said.

“We had to fix the flag’s attaching point to the top permanently so it would not fray and fall down in the tremendous forces of nature out there,” Neal explained.

Also, the flag can be changed only if it’s worn or faces “an upcoming dangerous condition,” according to his post.

Neal bought the tower at government auction for $85,000 in 2010, the Observer previously reported.

He chose to fly Old Glory despite the tower being “well beyond the 26-mile USA territorial limit,” according to his post. “It is within the international economic zone which controls every nation’s fishing, navigation and energy production rights.

“That said, we chose to fly Old Glory in respect to our nation and those that have served,” Neal posted. “We mean no disrespect and are not profiting off the increased awareness that the media makes of us.

“Did they put us on their front page when the weather was nice or when the sky’s were clear? No, they chose to do so now because they deemed it newsworthy.”

On Thursday, The Charlotte Observer reported that a tower webcam was back online just in time for Dorian watching.

An electrical problem knocked out the camera, and Neal flew to the tower early Wednesday to hook up a generator to get the camera working, the Observer reported.

In Thursday’s post, Neal said “we also feel the pain of our flag being abused by the weather and by comments from those who do not value what we have in our great nation. We love our country and are doing our best to restore something from a time when men and women put their heads, hearts and bodies into getting it done.”

His post has received 6,900 likes and about 1,000 comments, overwhelmingly in favor of his flying Old Glory.

“You keep flying that flag!!!” a woman wrote. “It shows our strength as a country. We can and will endure anything!”

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