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Grocery Chain Reverses Mask Policy after Veteran Quits over American Flag Ban

'When you lose a friend that is fighting for your freedoms you get angry. You get very angry when people disrespect the flag...'

A major grocery-store chain is backing off efforts to prevent a war veteran in North Carolina from using a mandatory facemask policy to show his patriotism.

Havelock resident Gary Dean left his job at Food Lion after a manager asked him not to wear a facemask depicting the American flag because clothing with graphics was against company policy, WCTI reported.

“Apparently corporate came down and said ‘somebody was offended by the image of the American flag on the face covering,'” Dean said.

After supposedly receiving push-back on Facebook, however, Food Lion declared its respect for flag and country, changed its policy to include the American flag, and expressed their wish for Dean to return to his job.

Dean has not yet determined if he will accept their offer.

Dean had been wearing the mask for several months and was outraged and confused that anyone should find the American flag offensive.

Dean said he feels passionate about his country after serving six years in the Air Force.

“Four of those were active, two of those were inactive reserve,” he said.

His father was a WWII hero, and many of his friends fought faithfully. One of Dean’s friends, David Toler, gave his life during the Vietnam War.

“Got shot right through the heart, they brought him home,” Dean said.

“That’s an emotional subject for me,” he continued. “When you lose a friend that is fighting for your freedoms you get angry. You get very angry when people disrespect the flag.”

Food Lion, a European-owned grocery chain, gave a statement regarding the controversy. Though they admit “great respect for the American flag” they also “have policies that guide the attire and conduct of associates in the workplace.”

Their policy “prohibits associates from wearing clothing with writing, insignia or symbols. The dress code is meant to ensure a consistent and professional representation of [their] associates inside of [their] stores.”

Dean said he felt he was denying the flag by taking off his mask.

“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 no, I’ll take my flag and put it in my pocket,” Dean explained. “I had to quit, out of principle.”

Food Lion has since revised the company policy regarding clothing. Moved by its respect of country and support of veterans, the company has decided to allow employees to wear masks depicting the American flag.

“Food Lion has the utmost respect for the American flag and has a proud, long history of partnering with and supporting military organizations and communities,” their Facebook post read. “Over the past few days, we have been listening to our associates and customers about Food Lion’s mask policy as part of our uniform standards.”

“While we continue to maintain our uniform standards requiring associates to wear masks without writing, insignia or symbols, we will allow associates to wear masks with the American flag that meet this standard.”

Dean was surprised to answer a phone call from the Food Lion District Vice President and hear about the change.

He was grateful that Food Lion responded to his declaration of patriotism.

“It was just a statement of faith and a statement of my belief in my country and my flag. That’s all,” Dean said. “It took off on its own because it’s a good cause and it worked. We won, God won, the country won, freedom won.”

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