- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2002

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) Marine Master Sgt. Stephen Gonzalez has festooned his Stafford County home with red, white and blue lights in tribute to his 21-year-old daughter, Shane, who is serving aboard the USS Peleliu near Afghanistan. And his neighborhood's homeowners association isn't happy.
The association governing St. George's Estates objects to the illuminated blue star on a second-story window, an American flag fashioned from Christmas lights and the letters "U-S-A" in red, white and blue rope lights.
In a Feb. 18 letter, the association asked Sgt. Gonzalez, 42, to remove the display to help "ensure our community's aesthetic harmony, and preserve and enhance our home values."
The association said he had failed to remove "holiday lights" 30 days after a holiday. Sgt. Gonzalez also was cited for having 10 small U.S. flags lining his driveway and sidewalk.
Sgt. Gonzalez, who pays $145 a year in association dues, won't hear of it. "I just think this is a travesty, a crime against America," said the veteran of postings in Beirut and Saudi Arabia.
He concedes that he altered Christmas decorations to create the patriotic display, and that the lights went up after Thanksgiving. The Christmas display came down promptly after the holiday, he said, but the patriotic rearrangement has remained. The lights are turned on in the early morning and at night.
The Gonzalez family is proud of its patriotism and military ties. In addition to the military service of Sgt. Gonzalez and his daughter, Shane, Shane's twin, Sherieare, serves in the Navy. Many of the home's interior decorations have a military theme as well, in the form of Marine Corps certificates, plaques and memorabilia, and a black-and-white photo of John Wayne in a Marine uniform.
This isn't Sgt. Gonzalez's first run-in with the neighborhood association. The group cited him in June for displaying three 12-by-18-inch banners the American flag, the Marine flag and a black-and-white prisoner of war flag.
"Flags in windows are not generally accepted window treatments," the association wrote him.
Marc Brito, president of the homeowners association, said the group doesn't mean to infringe on the Gonzalez family's patriotism. In fact, he points out, he recently retired after 25 years in the Marines and others in the neighborhood have military ties.
"They don't corner the market on being patriotic," Mr. Brito said.
The homeowners association didn't penalize Sgt. Gonzalez for the window flags, which remain on display. Mr. Brito declined to disclose the penalty for the lights violation.


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