Palm Harbor, FL -- As a disabled veteran and an American Legion member, you might think Robert Baratta would be a big fan of a proposed license plate being pushed by the American Legion here in Florida.
But that's hardly the case. In fact, Baratta says, "If this license plate gets approved, it's a disgrace to our great country."
The image depicts a soldier with a flag draped over his right shoulder. Funds raised will support youth leadership programs and veterans who have fallen on hard times.
Baratta, who resides in Palm Harbor, says that intentionally or not, the design has major flaws, which he pointed out to state legion officials when they made a plate presentation to the local legion chapter a couple of months ago.
Baratta says the soldier's image -- mourning a lost comrade -- is clearly wearing US Army fatigues, thereby excluding other branches of service.
His pocket is also unfastened. "This soldier is out of appearance in regulation," says Baratta. He notes that the soldier's face is solemnly looking down instead of up, proudly.
But perhaps the biggest flaw, says Baratta, is that US flag is draped over the soldier's right shoulder, a condition the Stars and Stripes should never be in.
"Our colors are never to be draped, and it's disgraceful to our country. I understand the photo is of a lost comrade. That still does not give reason to have the United States flag -- our nation's colors -- draped," he says.
We asked officials with the American Legion in Orlando, who designed the plate, what they thought of Baratta's criticism.
"Ninety-nine percent of people who saw the design gave us positive feedback and had no problem with it," said Jerry Mullenix, the Legion's Assistant Adjutant. Mullenix says they went through a long selection process before deciding upon this design, which has already been sent to the Florida DOT in Tallahassee.
He says thousands of people voted on it, and there were "two or three" critics. Even those issues, he says, were addressed if they warranted it.
Mullenix does say the unfastened pocket was an oversight, but it was too late for them to make a correction before the image was sent off to Tallahassee. The "Army" patch, depicting a particular branch of service was, however, removed using Photoshop, in order to be more inclusive, he says.
As for the flag?
Mullenix says they found nothing disrespectful about the way the flag was being draped, since "the stars are facing up and the stripes are down." Based upon their interpretation of the flag-flying guidelines regulations, it's not an issue.
So far, the Florida Legion chapter has collected more than 400 pre-orders for the plate. If they reach 1,000, it goes into production. Mullenix says what's more important is the $35 per plate that will be raised for the Legion's worthwhile programs and charities.
But Baratta says it should have been done better.
"If this license plate gets approved," says Baratta, "it's a disgrace to our great country, military, veterans, American Legion, and the great State of Florida."
If you'd like to see the plate, or perhaps even order one, click here.