Courtesy of The Auburn Journal
Published January 12, 2005
A Lake of the Pines soldier may not get the
hero's welcome his father envisioned.
Gary Stokes, 49, of Lake of the Pines, was told Monday that posting a
"welcome home" banner at the gated community's main entrance would
violate homeowners association rules.
"I was just so blown away," Stokes said Tuesday. "I'm still
U.S. Marines Pvt. Sean Stokes, a recipient of three purple hearts for injuries
sustained in battle, is expected to return to his hometown Feb. 4. A grenade
exploded three feet from him and a friend standing next to him was shot in the
head, his father said.
"He's a war hero," Stokes said. "He's volunteered to go fight
again because there was not enough military there. He's done this for all of
In the meantime, the City of Auburn and KAHI
950 AM radio are planning to herald the soldier's return.
"If a father wants to welcome his son home from protecting our country,
the city of Auburn is happy to help," Mayor Alice Dowdin said.
While he doesn't know what the city will end up doing, City Manager Bob
Richardson said he is not aware of any ordinances that would prohibit putting
such a banner in Auburn.
However, the 2,000-home Lake of the Pines community has homeowners association
bylaws intended to be fair to all residents and should not be viewed as
unpatriotic, said Ralph Kendrick, Lake of the Pines board president and
himself a retired U.S. Navy captain.
"Mr. Stokes was told the association policy is that we don't do this sort
of thing for individual members," he said. "It would be the same as
asking your newspaper to do the same sort of thing for his son above the
masthead. If you did that you would have to do that for every soldier coming
home from Iraq. And it doesn't stop there, you'd have to do that for everyone
who has a 100th birthday."
The administrative staff Stokes spoke with does
not create the policy, but only enforces it. Stokes was told he could go
before the board of directors at its Tuesday meeting to have a hearing.
Kendrick said the board has the power to make an exception. However, they
could decide to uphold the policy.
Kendrick was disappointed Stokes did not follow protocol. Stokes contacted
several newspapers and TV stations about the matter.
"It would have been nice if he'd gone through the options," Kendrick
said. "We're certainly not heartless."
Kendrick said Stokes could have placed a banner on his residence for his son
and remained within the bylaws of the community.
Stokes, a real estate investor, was expecting no problems when he called the
administration office Monday to see if a banner could be placed welcoming his
son. However, when he received a call back from another association staff
member, he was told there was no way to place a banner.
"I thought, 'You're teasing me, right?' he said. "My son risked his
life in Fallujah for the last seven months and you're saying I can't even put
up a sign? I got angry."
Although he was made aware of Tuesday's board
meeting, Stokes is not planning on attending unless the board is willing to
change its mind.
"The board of directors is a joke kangaroo court," he said. "I
don't want to waste any more time. Let the community deal with it."
Stokes has been waiting for seven months and is counting every day until his
son's return. Stokes is pleased Auburn may choose to honor his son.
"I want to see any other boys that are in Iraq treated with
respect," he said. "I don't want the same thing that happened to
Vietnam veterans to occur to our boys now. They're just boys that are in such
terrible situations. (My son) doesn't know politics, he just knows what our
president told him to do: Fight terrorism."