SALEM — Gary Egge says he isn’t the kind of guy who likes to make waves or cause trouble.
But when the 71-year-old Vietnam War veteran recently heard about the Confederate flag controversy in South Carolina, he just had to speak out in his own quiet way.
The retired Osram Sylvania executive was upset when he learned that lawmakers in South Carolina decided to remove the rebel flag from the Capitol grounds earlier this summer in response to the firestorm that erupted after nine people — all black — were slain at a church in Charleston.
“I am not a racist, but I like to express my opinions,” Egge said.
Dylann Roof, described as a white racist, has been charged in the deaths. Tolerance of the flag was tested in June when photographs circulated on the Internet showing Roof posing with the Confederate symbol, prompting the state to remove it from its statehouse as well.
Across the country, opposition mounted against flying Confederate flags. Political leaders, including some presidential candidates, called for their removal.
Egge did just the opposite — he began searching online for a Confederate flag he could fly next to his American and Revolutionary War flags above the veterans memorial display he created in the front yard of his Veronica Avenue home.
“All of a sudden they are taking it down off buildings,” he said. “I was ticked off.”
Egge sympathizes with those affected by the tragedy in South Carolina, but said taking down the flag isn’t the way to resolve racial issues.
“I have the right to fly the Confederate flag,” he said. “One of my neighbors asked me to get one for him.”
Egge said he’s tired of a society controlled by political correctness.
“It’s a part of history,” he said, speaking of the flag and the Civil War. “I’m not out to offend anyone. I think our rights keep get taken away.”
Flying the Confederate flag has raised some eyebrows in other parts of the Granite State.
The town administrator in Caanan asked employee J.R. Defosse to remove a flag he was flying on his personal vehicle while it was on town property, but later reversed his decision because of a state law that protects the free speech of municipal workers.
Defosse, a transfer station manager, said he flew the Confederate flag in protest of the South Carolina decision. He received support from the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.
But Defosse decided not to fly the flag because he did not want to create a disruption in his community.
During the Energy 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race in Loudon in July, dozens of spectators displayed Confederate flags. New Hampshire Motor Speedway asked people to leave their flags at home and offered them the opportunity to turn in their Confederate flags in return for a free American or racing flag.
When Egge began looking on the Internet for his own flag, he found that companies that usually sell Confederate flags suddenly didn’t have any to offer. It took four weeks before he could finally add one to his veterans display.
The display in Egge’s yard features the three flags, a flowerbed, stone cross, a brass POW/MIA statue featuring an eagle, and the “Jungle Boots” he wore while serving with the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1967.
The nearly 50-year-old boots are filled with concrete and bolted down so they won’t disappear.
“I’m very proud of it,” he said of the display. “It’s something that reminds me of my time over there.”
Other veterans have liked the display as well, he said.
Egge, a Republican, said he takes pride in his service to the country. He’s concerned that the nation’s military isn’t as strong as it was before the administration of President Barack Obama.
It’s an issue that many of 17 GOP candidates for president have raised while they campaign in New Hampshire.
“We need to bring this country back to what it was after the last eight years,” Egge said. “We are in trouble — we are going to get attacked. We have to realize our security is at risk.”
Egge said no one has questioned him about the Confederate flag since he began flying it last month, but some neighbors said it’s become an issue discussed on Facebook.
But mostly, the residents wondered why it was there.
Salem police Lt. Joel Dolan said Friday that his department has not received any complaints about the flag from residents.
As a matter of fact, many of Egge’s neighbors said they support his stand on the issue. They include 59-year-old Bill Carrier, who served in the Air Force.
“I’m a veteran, too, and I’m with him,” Carrier said. “It’s part of our history.”
Dan Blaine, 70, agreed. He said flying the Confederate flag is not an issue of racism.
“I do think it’s part of this country,” he said. “I don’t know what more could be done to make black Americans feel more comfortable.”
Barbara St. Pierre, 62, was surprised to see the flag when he drove past Egge’s home.
“I noticed it, but it didn’t bother me,” she said. It also didn’t bother Arlene Romero, 42.
“Everybody has their own way about them,” she said. “They can do what they want as long as they are not (disrupting) things.”
Lisa Riddick, president of the Merrimack Valley Branch of the NAACP, said Egge has a right to express his opinion.
“We have no control of what someone wishes to display in their yard,” she said.