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Firetruck flies Confederate flag in Albert Lea parade

ALBERT LEA, Minn. -- A southern Minnesota firefighter flew a Confederate flag alongside Old Glory while he drove a firetruck in a July Fourth weekend parade in Albert Lea, and the event's organizer said Sunday that such a display was "unfortunate...

ALBERT LEA, Minn. - A southern Minnesota firefighter flew a Confederate flag alongside Old Glory while he drove a firetruck in a July Fourth weekend parade in Albert Lea, and the event’s organizer said Sunday that such a display was "unfortunate" but within the firefighter’s right.

The flag of the South during the Civil War flew at the same height from the back of the firetruck belonging to the Freeborn County town of Hartland during "3rd of July Parade" on Friday in Albert Lea that was organized by the Chamber of Commerce.

The Confederate flag’s display in the South and elsewhere has been at the center of a national debate since the June 17 mass killing in a predominantly black church in Charleston, S.C. The alleged shooter is an advocate of the Southern cause in the Civil War, and he has posted photos of himself with the flag in the past on social media.

The Hartland firetruck was driven by Brian Nielsen, a firefighter for about 10 years with the department. Nielsen said Sunday that he was not endorsing slavery but was fed up with what he views as "political correctness" attacking a symbol that is part of history.

"My view is that PC is going too far taking things out of history," Nielsen said. "It has nothing to do with slavery. I don’t see color, black or white. We’re all equal."

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Nielsen said on Sunday that his fire chief told him he's suspended pending an investigation, according to KTTC-TV in Rochester, Minn. He also says he's willing to apologize to the Albert Lea Chamber of Commerce, which organized the parade.

Randy Kehr, the chamber’s executive director, said, "My personal view is that it was unfortunate" that the Confederate flag was flown in the parade. "Certainly, it’s within their right. It’s a difficult situation. ... It’s a part of history. It truly is."

Kehr said he didn’t know ahead of time that the Southern flag would be flown, and if he had, "I would probably have asked (Nielsen) respectfully not to fly it."

Nielsen said the Confederate flag’s display was his decision alone and he did not think he needed his department’s approval.

"I didn’t think it would bring this much attention," he said. "I just wanted to stand up and say that PC is not right all the time. They’re actually not right most of the time."

Before the parade, Nielsen said, a woman wearing a DFL patch on her shirt came up to him and criticized him for having the Confederate flag on the truck. Otherwise, he added, "there were some people who stood up and clapped" as the truck went by with the two flags side by side.

Parade rules distributed to entrants say "all vehicles ... must be decorated in either a patriotic theme or according to the parade theme." This year’s theme: "Teaming Up for America."

Kehr chuckled a bit and acknowledged that the Hartland firetruck was "probably not" in compliance.

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