By the dawn's early light last Sunday in the town where Francis Scott Key was born, an American flag proudly hailed as the largest in Maryland was missing from atop its 100-foot pole.

It was the fourth time in the last six months that the 20-foot-by-30-foot Old Glory had been pilfered from the Key Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership in Frederick.

Frederick police later found the king-sized banner in a parking lot at Hood College and charged three U.S. Naval Academy midshipment with petty larceny: First Class Midshipmen Daniel Gildea, 21, John Bollic, 22, and Patrick Keavney, 22.

The seniors, who had gone to Hood for a party over the Veterans Day weekend, were released in the custody of their company commander. A hearing will be held.

Since the 90-pound nylon flag was first hoisted in honor of flag Day last June, pranksters, as police call them, have pulled it down four times butsuspects have been caught everytime.

"When they cut the ropes and it dropped on them, it's a lot bigger than it looks," said Merlex Wise, company vice president, who says he is installing locks on the lines this week.

U.S. Naval Academy spokesman Cmdr. James Barrett said the three seniors face disciplinary action but were not likely to be expelled because they are not troublemakers."