As a retired member of the military, Bill Cimbalo has seen a thing or two in his lifetime, and it takes a fair amount of awe and excitement to rattle his cage, especially since he served in the Korean War.
But what he experienced on May 14, 2012 — and then again exactly one year later on May 14, 2013 — completely blew his mind.
When Cimbalo, a soft-spoken, mild-mannered gentleman, and his late wife Faye moved to Destin more than two decades ago, they designed their ideal home together. He's lived in that very house for 26 years without incident, until the night of May 14, 2012.
Like most people with a military background, Cimbalo, a retired United States Marine Corps Warrant Officer, considers himself an extremely patriotic person; dozens of American flags and various Marine Corps memorabilia adorn both the interior and exterior of his home.
But, his prized possession is his 25-foot flag pole that stands tall in his front yard. The flagpole proudly waves both the stars and stripes and the Marine Corps flag.
"I woke up last year and I immediately noticed that my Marine Corps flag was missing," said Cimbalo. "It's not hard to notice it missing; I have lights shining on the flagpole constantly."
Confused about how, who, or why someone would scale a 25-foot flagpole to steal a Marine Corps flag (leaving the American flag), Cimbalo chalked it up to bad luck. He told The Log that whoever took the flag was determined, because it would not have been accessible until at least 20-feet up.
Cimbalo went about his life as usual over the next year, nearly forgetting about the flag thief altogether, until the anniversary of the flag’s disappearance rolled around.
Exactly one year later, Cimbalo told The Log he woke up around 2 a.m. to some “unidentified noise” on his front porch.
"By the time I grabbed my housecoat and made it to the porch, no one was there," said Cimbalo. "But someone had been there; they had just left."
He noticed that his rocking chair, which is kept on his front porch, was turned toward his front door, and the chair was holding a familiar item, in perfect condition.
"My flag was there, folded military-style," said Cimbalo. "There was also a Marine Corps marathon medal and a note explaining and apologizing for taking my flag, and thanking me for my service."
Cimbalo said he believes a fellow Marine was the culprit because of the signature on the note; "Devil Pup," a commonly used nickname for a young Marine.
"I think he has a conscience, and most people don't," Cimbalo said. "Because of the timeframe I think he was probably stationed here when he took the flag or he was on vacation here and for whatever reason he's in the area again. I just can't believe this weighed on his conscience for a year."
The medal given to Cimbalo with his returned flag is an extremely prestigious one, earned only by finishing the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Va.
The date on the back of the medal is October 28, 2012, which directly backs up what "Devil Pup" writes at the end of the note; "As a token of my gratitude I offer you this medal that I've earned in a direct result of the motivation that you unknowingly provided me."
"Semper fidelis (fi)," said Cimbalo. "Always faithful — and a Marine really is always faithful."