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Neighbors’ flags, World War II Army veteran’s American flag burned in Alexandria neighborhood

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Since 1983, day and night, year-round, Richard Cohen says he proudly keeps an American flag flying high at his home.

Cohen is a decorated, disabled World War II Army veteran.

He proudly keeps his bronze star in an upstairs office, along with a purple heart, which he received after he was wounded by machine gun fire in Germany back in 1945.

"That cost me a year and a half in the hospital and the use of my left arm, so it was a price to pay," he says. "I served under that flag, I bled for it, it means a lot to me, it's a symbol of me."

But Cohen had to replace that cherished symbol last week.

Just a day before Independence Day, he says he went outside to find his American flag burned.

"The flag was just streamers of melted nylon," he says.

"This is a degrading, disgusting act of contempt and hatred toward the symbol of our country, and therefore the country itself. With the background I have, you can't accept that."

Cohen quickly realized he was not alone.

Neighbors say two other homes had flags stolen, including a family who found their flags tossed in the gutter.

Jenna Gasparott says her family got the call after the Fourth of July, while they were on vacation, that someone burned their flag.

"We were so shocked and so upset like how could this happen," she says.

"Nothing on people's lawns, mine included, was touched," says Cohen. "Except the flag."

After causing anger, upset, and fear, the person behind the flag destruction did do something positive--bring the community together.

"Everyone is really involved," says Cohen. "Flags went up on houses that hadn't had them."

Neighbors say the community is working closely with Alexandria Police.

They are also planning their own Flag Day on Saturday as a result of the crimes.

A neighbor came over to help Cohen hang up his new flag, which happens to be much bigger and brighter than his old one.

He hopes that sends a message.

"This is a deliberate act against the symbol of our country and it has to stop," he says. "We're doing all that we can to find who this is."