Gary Dean, a U.S. Air Force veteran living in North Carolina, told a local news station his employer ordered him to remove his American flag face covering while he was working.
Rather than kowtow the order from his bosses at the Food Lion in Havelock, though, the 69-year-old man just quit.
“As a veteran, my dad being a World War II hero, my best friend killed in Vietnam, out of respect for them, I can’t just say … ‘I’ll take my flag and put it in my pocket,’” Dean told WCTI-TV. “I had to quit, out of principle.”
It all happened Tuesday, according to Dean, who said a Food Lion manager pulled him aside to tell him his patriotic face covering violated the retail chain’s policies.
For his part, Dean said he was confused why anyone would find offense with his American flag-themed mask.
“Why would anybody for any reason be offended by the American flag, the stars and stripes?” he wondered.
In a statement to WCTI-TV, Food Lion said:
At Food Lion, we have great respect for the American flag. Like many other organizations, we also have policies that guide the attire and conduct of associates in the workplace. As part of our effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the well-being of our associates and customers, we’ve required associates to either wear reusable face masks provided by Food Lion or choose to wear a different face covering while working. However, all face coverings must adhere to standards set by the company and communicated to each of our more than 77,000 associates. The policy prohibits associates from wearing clothing with writing, insignia, or symbols. The dress code is meant to ensure a consistent and professional representation of our associates inside of our stores.
Dean, who served in the Air Force from 1970-1976, described the issue as “emotional,” due to the death of his friend, his father’s service, and his own love for his country.
“When you lose a friend that is fighting for your freedoms,” Dean explained, “you get angry.” He added, “I love this country. I love that my dad went off and fought for my country, nearly got killed for this country, but came back and raised a family.”