Decorated Navy veteran Rick Heilman noticed last week that the American flag flying in front of the tractor supply store where he worked was tattered and worn.

Image source: WSMV-TV

Image source: WSMV-TV

So he approached his manager at Yearwood Equipment Company in Fayetteville, Tenn., about an hour and a half south of Nashville, and asked about replacing it.

Image source:

Rick Heilman (Image source: WSMV)

“I said, ‘Hey, the flag is pretty torn up out front. Do we have another one to replace it?’ And he pretty much bluntly told me no,” Heilman told WSMV-TV in Nashville. “I said, ‘OK, can we take it down until we get a new one?’ And he again repeated, ‘No.’”

Heilman went home disturbed. “It bothered me all weekend,” he told WSMV. “The right thing to do was take it down. And I should have taken it down on Friday.”

“I took down it down this morning,” Heilman told WSMV on Tuesday. “And then I folded it up properly the way it should be.”

That’s when trouble began.

Heilman said his manager was upset at his actions, noting he bought a new flag over the weekend and that Heilman should have waited.

“He said, ‘You’ve not followed my instructions, and you’ve disrespected my authority and therefore you’re fired,’” Heilman told WSMV.

WSMV said it visited the store to talk to the manager, PD Shelton, and conduct an on-camera interview; Shelton declined, citing employee confidentiality.

Image source: WSMV-TV

Image source: WSMV-TV

But Shelton did note that Heilman’s firing wasn’t related to him taking down the flag.

“He said, ‘You’re being fired for not following instructions, not because you took the flag down,’” Heilman told WSMV. “Well, the instructions he gave me were not viable. Too often, we, as society, have come to a point where we see something is wrong, we know that it’s wrong and it’s easier to just shake our head and walk away than it is to confront the problem.”

Heilman spent 22 years in the Navy as a chief diver then retired so he could spend more time with his wife and two daughters.

WSMV Channel 4

So, who’s in the right over the tattered flag? Heilman or his former boss?