Clyde "Gunny" Harmon literally stared down the enemy during a tour in Korea and three tours in Vietnam. But when the American Legion Post 60 color guard leads the Fourth of July parade in Laurel on Saturday, he anticipates facing an enemy nearly as galling.

It's a lack of "flag etiquette," says Harmon, 64, whose service as a Marine gunnery sergeant earned him his nickname.

"I don't think they teach it in school anymore," he sighs.

Every Fourth of July, Post 60 marches down Laurel's Main Street, hoisting America's colors with pride. And every year, the marchers are horrified to see some festival-goers with their hats on their heads, hands falling limply to their sides. Some even sit down.

Equally vexed by the slight is Mike Obremski. At 30, he is one of the youngest members of the American Legion Post that has dutifully brandished the red, white and blue banners at every Fourth of July parade in Laurel since the 1950s.

On Saturday, members will carry the flags at the head of the parade once more. Yet, in a celebration that's meant to laud the hard-won independence in this country, Obremski is shocked by the public's heresy against the flag.

"It's very unsettling," says Obremski, a Persian Gulf War veteran and member of the Army Reserve. "The military has put their lives on the line. We are standing behind the flag, why don't you? Stand up, take off your hat."

It would behoove the residents of Laurel to oblige the legion, as its color guard leads just about every parade the city hosts. As one of several dozen American Legion posts in Prince George's County and one of 15,000 posts nationwide, Post 60 is part of a powerful organization made up of nearly 3 million military veterans across the United States.

All year long, Post 60 sponsors events in the county, from youth programs to scholarships to fund-raisers for hospitalized veterans. Post 60's women's auxiliary unit also donates time to veterans' causes.

But Independence Day is one of the group's most joyous occasions. On the Fourth of July, in addition to leading the parade, the group hosts a potluck picnic at its headquarters; the public is invited to come and contribute a covered dish.

"Independence Day is important for any veteran," explains George Collins, the legion's post commander, who served in Korea during the early 1950s. "We can't help but respect the forefathers who fought for us. We kind of like to think of ourselves as an extension of those who kept us free."

Collins's summary of the legion's mission explains the group's impatience with people who are blase about the star-spangled banner.

Irreverence toward the flag has been a touchy subject since the organization's early years. The American Legion played a large part in convening the first National Flag Conference in 1923, where the United States Flag Code was drafted.

The code laid down the law for "civilian flag courtesy," which eventually was adopted by Congress in 1942, according the American Legion's Web site.

If you are among those who were out sick the day flag courtesy was taught, here's how to avoid breaking Title 36 of the United States Code, Chapter 10:

* Stand when the flag is displayed.

* If you're not in uniform, stand at attention facing the flag with your right hand over your heart.

* Men not in uniform should remove their hats with their right hands and hold them at their left shoulders, with their hands at their hearts.

"The nation's colors should always lead the parade," Collins says. "It's in pure respect to our nation."

The Laurel Fourth of July parade begins at 11 a.m. at Sixth and Montgomery streets and continues on Fourth Street to Montgomery Ward & Co. at Cherry Lane; the parade review stand is behind Montgomery Ward. Children's games and other activities as well as live music by the Fabulous Hubcaps and Wayne Brown's 2nd Conspiracy are at 3 p.m.; fireworks at 9:15 p.m. at Gude Park in Laurel Lakes off Route 1 and Cherry Lane. For more information, call 301-490-5207.

CAPTION: Clair Rowell, left, Joe Longfellow, Eugene Obermeir, Frank Dubiel and Michael Obremski, of American Legion Post 60 color guard, which has carried the flag at every Fourth of July parade in Laurel since the 1950s.