An Army veteran threatened on Saturday to call hundreds of veterans to protest unless a Walker McDonald’s restaurant agreed to fly its U.S. flag at half-staff in honor of four National Guardsmen killed in a helicopter crash.
The demand made by U. S. Army veteran Douglas Ducote, CEO of Veterans United for Justice, a Walker-based veterans group, led to an argument that only ended when the police arrived.
The incident began Saturday at about 6 p.m. when Ducote drove past the restaurant and noticed its U.S. flag was being flown at full height.
That didn’t sit well with Ducote, after a Black Hawk helicopter crashed Tuesday off the Florida coast during a training exercise, killing the four Hammond-based Louisiana National Guardsmen and seven North Carolina-based marines on board.
In the crash’s aftermath, Gov. Bobby Jindal ordered state buildings to fly U.S. and state flags at half-staff. Ducote acknowledged in a post on his group’s Facebook page Sunday that the governor’s order does not extend to private businesses. Still, Ducote decided to give the fast-food restaurant a call to see if it would lower its flag voluntarily.
When he did, though, an employee told him the request was “above something that she could handle herself,” Ducote wrote on Facebook. The employee told him to call the restaurant’s Baton Rouge corporate office on Monday — and hung up.
Ducote said he served four combat tours as a helicopter flight engineer and was not going to be so easily dissuaded. He made the first U-turn he could find, walked up to the front counter of the McDonald’s and demanded to speak to a manager — in a confrontation that a woman recorded and posted on YouTube.
“Would you like me to have about 200 veterans standing outside your restaurant in an hour, protesting that you won’t lower that flag?” Ducote can be heard saying in the video.
“We can’t do nothing like that,” the employee said. “We have people over us and we can’t do that.”
“It’s a flag,” Ducote said. “It’s on a pole. You just lower it at half-mast and you’re done with it. Do you think McDonald’s is going to fire you for doing that?”
Walker Police were notified of the disturbance at the restaurant, said Capt. John Sharp, a department spokesman. In the video, an officer can be seeing walking into the restaurant and leading Ducote out.
“I’m a veteran too, but … you can’t do what you’re doing here,” the officer told Ducote.
The incident ended without an arrest or citation issued, Sharp said.
Eventually, Ducote left.
Ducote said he has since spoken with the owner of the McDonald’s who said that he also comes from a family of veterans, and that he was sorry for the confusion.
The restaurant’s employees didn’t know the governor had issued a half-staff order, said Chris Valluzzo, the owner of the Walker McDonald’s along with 27 other McDonald’s restaurants in the area.
Had they known, Valluzzo said Sunday, the restaurant would have followed suit, as it normally does, and lowered its flag.
Ducote was unaware that Valluzzo has a policy that prohibits staff from touching the restaurant’s flags. That policy exists because some flags have been vandalized through “anti-American” behavior over the years, he said, so the flags are made difficult to access.
“We couldn’t give him that instant satisfaction because it’s not the normal protocols,” Valluzzo said. “We should have handled it better. We proudly display the American flag at our restaurants.”
By early Sunday morning, the restaurant’s flag had been lowered to half-staff.
“It’s no big deal,” Ducote said later. “I’m a very passionate person to start with when it comes to patriotism, but with the (helicopter) crash and dealing with that, and having served four combat tours myself, my emotions were already running pretty high.”
But he said he was still angry with the restaurant’s employee’s response to his first request to lower the flag.
“There was no reason to treat anyone the way they treated me on the phone,” Ducote said. “It was complete and utter disrespect. That’s what set this whole thing off.”
This was not Ducote’s first effort to make sure a U.S. flag is being flown properly. When he has noticed something wrong with a flag at a business, he has made a point to inform them of the problem. Within the last decade, Ducote said he has bought more than 60 flags for businesses when they tell him they don’t have the money to replace a torn or weathered flag.
After Ducote left the restaurant on Saturday night, he took to Facebook to detail his version of events. His first post had more than 1,500 Facebook comments as well as more than 5,000 “likes” and 6,700 shares as of Sunday afternoon.
“I sure didn’t expect it to go viral like it did,” Ducote said.
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter: @_dbethencourt.