Lake of the Pines man wants to welcome son

home from Iraq with banner at main entrance
Homeowners association says it is against bylaws


Article Courtesy of The Auburn Journal

By: Michelle Miller
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 amazed."

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 us."

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."