A decorated Navy veteran says he was fired from his job because he took down a tattered American flag, but his employer says that's not the case.
The flag was flown proudly outside the Yearwood Equipment Company in Fayetteville, and when it became worn down, veteran Rick Heilman, who worked at the tractor supply store, took it down.
"I went in first thing, and I took the flag down," Heilman said. "And then I folded it up properly the way it should be."
Heilman spent 22 years in the U.S. Navy and is proud of the work he did as a chief diver, a dangerous and important job.
He retired from the service so he could spend more time with his two girls and his wife, but his most recent job ended ugly.
Heilman says he mentioned to the store manager last Friday that the flag out front of the store was in tatters and needed to be removed.
"I said, 'Hey, the flag is pretty torn up out front. Do we have another one to replace it?' And he pretty much bluntly told me no. I said, 'OK, can we take it down until we get a new one?' And he again repeated, 'No,'" Heilman said.
Heilman went home unhappy.
"It bothered me all weekend. The right thing to do was take it down. And I should have taken it down on Friday. I took down it down this morning," Heilman said.
Heilman said his manager was instantly aggravated and mentioned he bought a new flag over the weekend and that Heilman should have waited.
"He said, 'You've not followed my instructions, and you've disrespected my authority and therefore you're fired,'" Heilman said he was told.
Channel 4 News went to Yearwood to get the manager's side of the story. We asked the manager, PD Shelton, to do an on-camera interview but he declined, citing employee confidentiality.
"Too often, we, as society, have come to a point where we see something is wrong, we know that it's wrong and it's easier to just shake our head and walk away than it is to confront the problem," Heilman said.
In a statement released to Channel 4 News on Thursday, Shelton said:
"Yearwood Equipment Company supports our nation, our veterans and our nation's flag without reservation. We agree with Rick Heilman that the flag outside our dealership was tattered. There was disagreement between Rick and me as to when, how and who would replace the flag at the facility. Rick was not dismissed from his position at the dealership. Rather, in order to defuse a tense conversation, I asked Rick to leave the premises temporarily. In respect of the flag, we should have moved more swiftly to replace it and we are deeply sorry this situation has intensified in this way."
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