Marion American Legion honors FedEx driver who stopped flag burning in Iowa City

'It wasn't just a flag ... it was his memory'

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MARION — The FedEx driver who stopped protesters from burning an American flag in Iowa City in January was honored Monday night by American Legion Post 298.

The driver, Matt Uhrin of Cedar Rapids, was given a membership to the post in Marion. He also received a certificate of appreciation from the national Legion headquarters. during a Sunday ceremony in Des Moines.

The awards follow Urhin’s action on Jan. 26 when demonstrators were attempting to burn American flags on the Pedestrian Mall in Iowa City.

Uhrin, wearing his FedEx uniform, used a fire extinguisher on the flames and took away one of the flags. The action was captured in a video by the Iowa City Press-Citizen, which went viral.

Uhrin, who served with the Army in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011, said he spotted the protesters while making deliveries. When he realized what was happening, he said he “just couldn’t let it happen.”

“My mind went back to having to load one of our sister company’s soldiers to an aircraft going home for his final flight. He was killed by a sniper,” Uhrin said.

“I flashed back to it, and I remember seeing his coffin on the cargo flight going home,” he said. “To me, it wasn’t just a flag. It was that flag. It was his memory being disgraced, and I couldn’t let it happen. It just wasn’t going to happen while I was there.”

Ken Rochholz, department commander for the Iowa American Legion, said the organization wanted to honor Uhrin for “bravely protecting” the flag. “He did the proper thing,” Rochholz said.

Shortly after the incident, FedEx tweeted that Uhrin would be keeping his job.

Two of the mall protesters were cited for open burning without a permit.

Rochholz said he doesn’t want to take away a protester’s right to free speech, but “we just don’t want them to bother the flag.”

“It may be legal. It doesn’t make it right,” Uhrin said of burning the flag. “A lot of things may be said to be legal but that doesn’t mean they’re morally or ethically right to be doing. Because to a lot of people, that flag was given to them instead of a loved one coming home. To them, you’re not just burning a flag, you’re burning the memory of that person or you’re burning the honor they were given coming home. It’d be the equivalent to slapping them in the face.”

Despite the recognition, Uhrin said he doesn’t consider himself a hero and said he is quick to correct anyone who calls him that.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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