After work Friday, I put on my ultra-tight 50-year-old army dress uniform, grabbed my furled peace flag and headed for the Blue Line Rapid about 100 yards from my house.
As usual, I stationed myself at the intersection of East Ninth Street and Carnegie Avenue for a little over two hours to greet pedestrians and drivers with my message. Most people ignored me, but at least there were no insults. I offered friendly greetings, saying “Hi!” or “It’s a nice day!” Most everyone agreed, even those who did not like my peace message. Several thanked me for my service.
One man asked me about the peace flag and I explained that when you take the two semaphore symbols for the letters N and D and superimpose them, you get the peace symbol. (N and D stands for nuclear disarmament but the symbol’s use has been broadened over the years since the 1950s to embrace an anti-war sentiment.)
The gentleman wondered about my service and I said I had been drafted in 1966 and served in Vietnam for a year. He shook my hand and thanked me for “saving his freedom.” Of course I said, “You’re welcome,” but after he left, I thought to myself, “What a bunch of nonsense. Neither the Viet Cong nor the North Vietnamese Army posed any threat to our freedom.”
One young man took a selfie of us and I encouraged him to circulate it as much as you can. He said he had worked for the Defense Department and then the VA. He said the VA treats veterans poorly but I said I have had a very good experience with the Wade Park VA in Cleveland. He was referring to the VA in Miami, where he had worked.
One man said, smiling as he walked by, “What year is that flag?”
I was a bit taken aback, since I had not heard such an odd question before, but I quickly responded, “It’s good every year!” He smiled and shook his head, but had no reply.
Here is the most interesting and unusual experience of the afternoon. An elderly couple crossed Carnegie, both wearing bright red tee shirts that read “Twins “on the chest, in white lettering. I cheerily said, “Welcome to Cleveland! Anyone from Mankato?” (Whenever the Minnesota Twins are in town and I am near Progressive Field, I ask folks wearing Twins gear if they live near Mankato, Minnesota, as a longtime volleyball buddy, Dr. Jodi Wilker, grew up in Mankato.)
The gentleman said, “We’re from Indianapolis.” I wondered why he was wearing a Twins shirt and he said his grandson would be would be pitching for the Twins that evening. I said to grandpa, “What’s his name?” and he said, “Kyle Gibson.” Then his head drooped dejectedly and he said, “He’s pitching against Kluber.” Grandpa was well aware of Indians ace Corey Kluber’s pitching prowess, and I said, “Well, good luck with that!”
Well, Kluber’s record going into the game was 10 wins, two loses. At the end of the game his record was 10 and 3. Yep, Mr. Gibson prevailed as the Twins winning pitcher, giving grandpa a wonderful Fathers Day present, as the Twins beat the Tribe 6-3.
Yesterday, Father’s Day, I again was at my post outside Progressive Field, wishing many dads with their kids a happy Fathers Day and to their wives, to the delight of the parents, I often added, “Happy Belated Mothers Day.”
One smiling, friendly Vietnam veteran going to the game recognized the yellow, red and green ribbon on my uniform indicating service in Vietnam and said, “draftee?” I said, “Yep. It wasn’t my idea.” He and his family laughed.
While meeting Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson’s grandpa was a pleasant experience, an exchange with another passerby yesterday was at the other end of the spectrum.
A man probably in his 70s, like yours truly, in seeing my flag, said, “What’s that?” I said, “It’s a peace symbol.” He immediately said, “chicken.”
I knew exactly what he meant. During the Vietnam War, those who supported the war derisively said the symbol was the “footprint of the American chicken,” believing those opposed to the war in Vietnam were draft dodgers, even though many Americans opposed the war on moral grounds.
As soon as the man said “chicken,” I shouted at him as he walked away, “YOU BEEN IN A WAR? I DIDN’T THINK SO.” He mumbled something unintelligible in return, indicating he heard what I had said.
If in the future someone compares the peace symbol to a chicken’s footprint, I will respond with this: “YOU BEEN IN A WAR? I DIDN’T THINK SO. SO WHO’S THE REAL CHICKEN HERE—YOU OR ME?”