Published May 28, 2004
OMAHA, Neb. – Every morning since 9/11, Donald Lamp has hung his American flag from his apartment balcony. Managers of his retirement community want it gone, citing policy on building appearances.
The case makes Lamp one of many Americans who, because of housing covenants (search), are discouraged from flying their flags this Memorial Day (search) weekend. But Lamp is different from the rest. He is the father-in-law of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (search).
Donald and Marjorie Lamp, whose daughter Virginia is married to Thomas, said they don't want to use the connection to influence anybody.
"We don't go around saying my son-in-law is Clarence Thomas," Donald Lamp said. "You don't do that. He wouldn't like to have us do that."
The couple's daughter, who works for the Heritage Foundation (search), a think tank in Washington, also said she is keeping her husband out of the fray.
"I'm just his crazy, activist wife," she said. "It's just me and my dad pushing this."
Still, Lamp is holding his ground on flying the flag.
"I'm not about to take it down," the 89-year-old World War II veteran said.
Cathy McGrath, the community's general manager, said Lamp's stature makes no difference to her. "We have a lot of important people here," she said.
She said the Arboretum's board set the policy forbidding outdoor hangings such as windsocks, wind chimes, planters and flags when the community opened in 1998.
"The board didn't want this very expensive property to end up looking like a frat house," she said.
In the end, she concedes, there's not much she can do if Lamp persists.
"We're not going to go and remove him physically," she said.
The Lamps' next-door neighbor, Grace Hansen, said she supports the couple's display of their flag.
"I can see it out my window, and I look forward to seeing it out there every morning. It means everything's right in the world," she said.
Another neighbor, Hazel Smith, said she hangs a U.S. flag from her balcony on national holidays.
"If it weren't so hard for me to put it up, I'd fly it every day like Don," she said. "I feel strongly that all of us should be flying the flag."