“Memorable” is perhaps the best word to describe this Memorial Day weekend, as I was able to promote peace four days in a row for the first time ever, as far as I can recall. Friday evening I greeted people heading to an Indians-Rays game at Progressive Field. A few folks said they liked my peace flag and I gave my traditional response: “I wish everyone did.” Some people ignored my “Hi” greeting while others responded in kind, even though they might not have appreciated my presence. One middle-aged man walking by said, “What’s with the peace flag?” I said, “We need more peace, civility and mutual respect in our society.” He was out of earshot before I could also mention two more attributes in short supply in our “civilized” society: “tolerance” and “compassion”. One man testily said, “You’re a disgrace to the flag!” which puzzled me, since I think he meant to say that I was a disgrace to my U.S. Army dress uniform because I was holding a peace flag. At any rate, I responded: “Thank you. Very nice. Very kind.”
On Saturday morning I was at the weekly peace vigil behind the West Side Market and a couple of gentleman took issue with my message. One was a Vietnam-era veteran who was never in Vietnam. We argued politely back and forth a bit. In my last comment I mentioned President George W. Bush had lied about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction and my nemesis claimed he did but that “the weapons were hidden”. I exclaimed rather loudly, “OH MY GOD!”, indicating my disbelief in that misinformation. The man had heard enough from me and wished me a nice day as he walked away. Another man stopped to chat but we did not see eye-to-eye either. As he rode away on his bike he said, “Vote Republican!” Yeah, like that’s gonna to happen.
Sunday morning, in light of a thunderstorm in Shaker Heights, I decided not to take part in the Blossom Time Parade in Chagrin Falls, the quaint, picturesque village with beautiful, unique century-plus homes. But then I had a change of heart as the rain stopped and I thought maybe the weather was better in Chagrin Falls, several miles away. That was not the case, however. Light rain started to fall as the parade started, but I was prepared in case there was a downpour, as I had a collapsible umbrella tucked into a back pocket of my uniform trousers. The drizzle intensified a bit during the parade and I simply figured maybe God (assuming there is such an entity) was simply testing my resolve and dedication to peace. Fortunately, the rain did not become heavy during the parade and I did not have to pop open my umbrella.
My day in Chagrin Falls was far and away the most interesting in the 10-or-so years I have walked in the Blossom Time Parade, with strong reactions from opposite ends of the spectrum. There was the most applause EVER from spectators lining the route down East Washington Street–mostly by adults, but also from some teenage girls. Many more people than in the past, in short, appreciated my message.
The other end of the spectrum was not much fun, however. Two obnoxious, highly-agitated middle-aged men–madder than the proverbial wet hen–yelled at me, “SHAME ON YOU!! SHAME ON YOU!! SHAME ON YOU” One of them also shouted, “YOU SHOULDN’T BE IN THE PARADE!” I gently waved at them, smiled ever so so sweetly and shouted back at them, “THANK YOU!! THANK YOU! YOU’RE VERY KIND…VERY KIND.”
My polyester-wool blend uniform was nearly totally wet toward the end of the parade from the heavy drizzle. I walked up to a sheriff deputy, smiling, and said, “I hope this uniform doesn’t shrink. It doesn’t need to be any tighter than it already is.” He smiled. I said the same a few minutes later to a Chagrin Falls policewoman, who also smiled. After the parade I waited under an overhang covering the porch of the charming Christian Science church to wait for the rain to subside, since it had worsened. When the rain diminished considerably, I popped open my umbrella and walked up the East Washington Street hill toward where I parked my car. I got friendly responses to my greetings during the walk.
Here’s an anecdote I mentioned to a few spectators, including my dentist, Melissa, who lives in Chagrin Falls: “Prior to an Indians-Yankees playoff game in the 2017 post-season, a man, his wife and their two daughters stopped to talk. The man was friendly, but said my peace flag ‘disrespects the American flag.’ I said to the gentleman, ‘Well, I don’t see it that way. I was in Vietnam for a year and from my perspective, it doesn’t disrespect the American flag. It respects peace. People who have never been in a war can never respect peace to the same degree I do. It’s just not possible’.” I also recounted to Melissa my comments to a WGN television reporter from Chicago the day prior to the opening of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, 2016. The reporter and her cameraman had jumped out of their white van and sort of “ambushed” me as I walked along Euclid Avenue just east of Public Square. The woman reporter, toward the end of the interview, asked me what I thought about veterans who are Trump supporters and I told her, “They’re brainwashed. The biggest problem in this country is that people don’t question authority. They simply march in lockstep to whatever any president, Republican or Democrat, says regarding war. The second biggest problem in this country is we do not empathize with the people we victimize. People we are killing in the Middle East do not speak our language, do not dress as we do, do not share our culture nor our religions. It’s as if they are subhuman and it’s no big deal, therefore, when we kill them.”
After leaving Melissa and trudging uphill along the sidewalk, I started to pass a group of about 20 people seated at tables under a shelter while they ate. They all burst into applause at the sight of my uniform and peace flag. I have to say I was very astonished and touched. I had never received such a warm reception from a confined space and said, “Anyone want my autograph?” They laughed and one young man invited me to join their party and enjoy. I declined and said, “I hope to see you next year.” He said, “We’ll be here.”
On Memorial Day I again walked in the Shaker Heights Memorial Day Parade, without incident, and appreciated considerable applause as I walked along Van Aken Boulevard to the Van Aken District, a new retail development near Warrensville Center Road and Chagrin Boulevard.
Walking with me part of the way was veteran local television journalist Leon Bibb, also a Shaker Heights resident. Like yours truly, Leon was drafted in 1966, completed his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was sent to Vietnam. He served with an artillery unit in the Fourth Infantry Division while I was with the Public Information Office of the First Infantry Division where I was a reporter, then editor, for the division newspaper. We were discharged from active duty in 1968. Prior to the beginning of the parade a man of a certain age–perhaps also a Vietnam veteran, walked by me and jokingly shouted “AT EASE!”–army lingo which essentially means, “relax.”
I yelled back, “I’ve been ‘at ease’ for 50 years!”