But this story ends much better than it begins.
Within days, forces greater than a thief's sour spirit came to bear on the situation, in the slight and modest form of Lori Floyd.
Floyd, of Endwell, read Brown's letter to the editor published last month in this newspaper: "For the past several years I have posted the colors on our front porch 24/7. They were there through the entire winter, under light at night and proudly waving in the fiercest and slightest breeze. My flag was not there the morning of April 15. I hope the person who removed it has it displayed in a proud manner."
She read it, and she was appalled.
"I know things get stolen every day, but a flag?" says Floyd, 38. "I couldn't believe someone would steal a flag."
She and her family moved here from Troy, Ala., less than a year ago. She didn't know Joseph Brown, but that didn't matter.
Her husband, Tech. Sgt. William E. Floyd, is stationed in Kuwait with the U.S. Air Force Reserves 5th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron.
"I talk to my husband every day by e-mail," she says. "And in conversation I said, 'Guess what? I read a letter in the paper today about somebody who stole a flag.'"
C130 pilots take a flag on every mission with them, she explains, then present them to different people for different reasons. "Could you ask if we could get one for Mr. Brown?" she asked her husband, who is due home early next year.
When her husband went back and told the crew, they were astonished that someone would steal a flag, too -- and they were happy to send one to Joe Brown.
Through the newspaper, Lori contacted Joe and told him what her husband had done on his behalf. She had a very special flag for him, she said. Would he mind if she came by and gave it to him?
Joe was overwhelmed again, but this time with a different set of emotions.
"She's a busy lady," he says. "She has four kids, and she works. To think that she would take the time to ask her husband ... I am just thrilled."
On May 19, Lori and her 9-year-old son Jared pulled up in front of the Browns' house. Joe and Mary were in their living room, where a photograph of their grandson, a Marine, hangs proudly.
Lori handed Joe the folded red, white and blue cloth in a presentation box. It came with a certificate from the crew certifying that the flag had been flown over Baghdad and Kuwait City by Capt. William Thornley and crew of the 181st Airlift Squadron, Texas ANG -- and that the flag was to be presented to one Joseph Brown, Korean War veteran.
No flag ever flew more grandly than the one now waving in the gentle Endicott breeze from a new pole erected on the Browns' porch.
"I was flabbergasted," Joe says. "To think that something so cruel turned into something so beautiful."