But the “unauthorized object” in question was a 17-inch American flag that he had placed in a flower pot. And Murphree, who says he spent half a dozen years as an air traffic controller in the Air Force, wasn’t budging.

“I lost it,” Murphree said of his state on receiving the letter. “It just dawned on me there’s people that strap on a gun every day to protect me and the people I love. It’s a small flag, but it stands for a big thank you.”

Thus began a saga that has consumed the past seven years of Murphree’s life and several hundred thousand dollars he had squirreled away to live in the retirement community in Sweetwater, Fla., his attorney said.