A retired New York City firefighter who responded to 9/11 said he found an American flag stuffed into a portable toilet at a softball field where he played in a league for senior citizens in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., this week.
The firefighter, Chris Edwards, told local media that he and the other players, many of them veterans and retired first responders, noticed the flag was missing from the field’s flagpole around 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Then 63-year-old Navy veteran Johnny Bellezza found it stuffed in the toilet, soaked in filth, the Poughkeepsie Journal reported.
“This is just absolutely the most disrespectful act against the flag I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Edwards told the outlet. “I’m really choked up and upset, to see this.”
The men pulled it out, did what they could to clean it off and hung it to dry before a local police officer said he would contact the American Legion to coordinate its proper disposal, local radio station WPDH reported.
Police told the Poughkeepsie Journal that they did not have any suspects but would be increasing patrols in parks around town.
Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive and a Republican who ran unsuccessfully against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2018, condemned the vandalism.
“This is entirely inexcusable & terribly disheartening,” he tweeted. “Desecrating our flag & damaging public property is insulting, disgraceful and illegal.”
Molinaro added that while Americans have a right to express their political differences, vandalism is not protected.
“We celebrate the right of our neighbors to exercise & express their views and beliefs,” he wrote. “Not in this way. Not ever.”
The vandalism occurred just days after someone in the nearby community of Washingtonville cut down a flagpole at a memorial to five firefighters who died in the Sept. 11 attacks. After hacking down the flagpole, graffiti was left on its base.
An eagle figurine that had been perched atop the pole was found down the street next to a toppled sign at a church.
Washingtonville is across county lines in Orange County, about 30 miles south of Poughkeepsie.
Both communities are within the Hudson Valley, north of New York City.