The old saying “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” came to mind today as I stood on a grassy median near the front of the staging area for Lakewood’s annual Fourth of July Parade on Lake Avenue.
Here’s my plan that went awry, but first a little history. Several years ago, while standing on the median with my furled peace flag, a Vietnam veteran invited me to be part of the color guard at the front of the parade. I politely declined, noting I was carrying a peace flag. He was not happy to hear that, saying, “If you’re in uniform, you shouldn’t be carrying a peace flag.” I said nothing, but he ended his comment on a friendly note, thanking me for my service.
Today the idea came to mind to stand near the color guard and see if anyone would invite me to take part. Although some of those who would be in the vanguard of the parade noticed me, no offer was forthcoming. A Lakewood policeman was talking with some of the color guard, who were wearing camouflage uniforms. The officer may have remembered me from previous years and told the gentlemen that I had a peace flag. Hence, no invitation.
Here was my failed plan: If someone invited me to take part in the color guard I would have said, “Thanks for the invitation, but I don’t think you would like my flag.” Then I would quickly unfurl it, no doubt shocking the color guard. I then planned to say, “I don’t know about you but I’m a Christian–a follower of the Prince of Peace. Do you think Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the Prince of Peace, would like my flag? I think so.” Then I would turn and walk away, leaving the observers in a state of shock.
Oh, well. Maybe it will happen next year.
Lakewood Mayor Mike Summers walked over and warmly greeted me, thanking me for being at the parade once again.
Before the parade started, Betty Sutton, who was the U.S representative for Ohio’s 13th district from 2007 to 2013, circulated among supporters of Lakewood’s Nickie Antonio, who represents Ohio’s 13th district in the state’s House of Representatives. Betty is on the gubernatorial ticket with Richard Cordray, who hopes to be elected governor in Fall’s mid-term election. She kindly and thoughtfully offered to get me a bottle of ice water as I stood in the 90-degree heat in my wool and polyester uniform. She retrieved a bottle from a cooler owned by one of Nickie’s supporters. I thanked Betty for the water and mentioned to her that I had heard her speak on Cleveland’s Public Square prior to the March for Our Lives, which was held on March 24th.
There were pockets of applause along today’s parade route, which was gratifying to hear. At the end of the parade at Lakewood Park I stood near the park entrance so that parade participants behind me would see my message.
As I have often done in the past, I explained to a few people that I’m trying to get across the idea that some war veterans are pro-peace. “We’re not all cold-blooded killers, rapists and arsonists,” I said to a couple of spectators. I realize that comment does not sit well with folks who have sons or daughters in the military. Too bad. Even if the parade spectators’ military offspring are not in a combat role, they are supporting death and destruction indirectly–as I did during my year in Vietnam as a reporter, then editor, for the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division newspaper.
One woman who stopped to talk after the parade focused on the peace symbol. I explained its history and then said, “Some people have said to me over the years, ‘Where are the stars? There are supposed to be stars on that flag.’
I said to the woman, “My answer is this: the stars are in hiding. They are ashamed, embarrassed and disgusted by all the death, destruction, instability and chaos we have caused in the Middle East. Millions upon millions of refugees, and it all started with us after we invaded Afghanistan in October, 2001 and Iraq in March, 2013.”
I told the story about a man heading to an Indians-Yankees playoff game last fall, as I stood at Carnegie Avenue and East Ninth Street. He stopped with his family to tell me my flag “disrespects the American flag.”
What I said to the man, I told a woman, was this: “I don’t think it disrespects the American flag. From my perspective, having been in Vietnam for a year, the flag respects peace. People who have not been in a war will never ever respect peace as much as I do.” The man was quiet, I told the woman. He did not argue. I gave him something to think about and he walked away with his family.
One woman walked up to me to shake my hand today and said, “You’re my hero–again,” indicating she remembered me from previous parades. Then she said, “Bless you.”
I said, “Thank you. Same to you.”