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Don't tread on Marty

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Published:   |   Updated: July 12, 2013 at 05:28 PM

Flags mean different things to different people. On this Flag Day, they probably come as a surprise to many Americans who see them popping up and don't know this is a special day to celebrate our national symbol.

Martin "Marty" Winters obviously is a flag person. You also would have to say Winters doesn't like to be pushed. If you do so, you pretty much can figure on getting pushed back.

You also can expect that when he gets fired up, he's going to go all out. That helps explain the haunted trail through swampy woods in eastern Hillsborough County where each Halloween he scares the bejabbers out of hundreds of people who say it is the greatest haunted attraction anywhere. I've heard there's even an old military tank in there.

It also is the reason that rising on a 130-foot pole in the middle of a lot he owns at Williams Boulevard and Pine Street, there's a U.S. flag that takes your breath away.

Midway up the pole is a building with a roof that opens. Winters can lower his flag into it during bad weather.

I found Winters sitting on a lawn chair with a couple of buddies at the corner of the huge lot. The parcel is empty except for the flagpole with the building halfway up it, and the flag itself, which Winters said was shipped in from California and measures 60 by 30 feet.

A couple of junkyard dogs next to Winters sat up as I approached. Winters owns three or four salvage yards, and these guys looked the part. His buddy, John Vaugh, who engineered the project, also was there. We all sat and stared at Winters' flag.

"My dad was in the Air Force," Winters began. "I have a great respect for our military. I think it was when those people (Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan.) started going around the country and protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed in action that I decided to do something.

"It seems like we've been getting pushed in every direction. … I decided it was time to push back, and this is the result."

One of the advantages of being in the junk and salvage business is you have plenty of resources. Winters has equipment to move things around.

"Well, I had this 130-foot pole I'd purchased from a power company down in Wauchula three years ago. It was in sections and just lying in a ditch. It was perfect. John (Vaugh) came up with the top of a propane tank he could put on the top of the pole so that the flag would swivel around in the wind. He cut it in half, painted it gold and mounted it on a roller."

Of course, you don't just stick something that monumental in the ground. He says more than 30 neighbors helped put it up. Winters and his crew dug a 20-foot-deep hole, and a crane put the pole into it. The hole was filled with cement.

Midway up the pole there's a covered platform with a roof that opens up. In bad weather, Winters pulls a few wires, the roof opens and the flag lowers into the building.

The building is draped with flags of the different military branches. Lights shine on the flag at night, and the platform itself lights up. On the pole are "POW" and "VFW," and even the Ten Commandments in big block letters. I mean, this is something you have to see.

I drove a few blocks to Lithia Springs Elementary, which has a flag, although it is dwarfed by Winters' flag in the distance. You can cross Lithia Pinecrest Road to the Riverhills community and still see the flag.

Winters has scratched out a small baseball diamond in the lot for kids to play ball on after school. He said he wants to put out some picnic benches and create a minipark, mostly for veterans and their families.

I love this thing and admire Winters' spirit, although I am sort of glad he's out in eastern Hillsborough.


sotto@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7809

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