World Series Game 1, Cavs Opener, Thousands of Sports Fans and One Rude, Insulting, Vulgar Marine
October 26, 2016
I had a short day at the office yesterday, enabling me to catch a fortifying hour-long afternoon nap and have some nutritious food before heading out to the nearby Blue Line Rapid Transit stop in Shaker Heights. I wanted to head downtown to promote peace among many of the tens of thousands of people heading to the NBA world champion Cleveland Cavaliers game in Quicken Loans Arena and to neighboring Progressive Field to see the Cleveland Indians host the Chicago Cubs in the first game of the World Series.
Since it was too cool to wear my uniform, I sported my 50-year-old U. S. Army field jacket over three layers of clothing, including a wool sweater. On the left breast pocket were the six medals—Bronze Star, Army Commendation, Good Conduct, National Defense, Vietnam Service and Vietnam Campaign awards which the army presented me before my honorable discharge in July, 1968. Beneath the medals was a button displaying a black peace symbol on a white field. Pinned to the right breast pocket were two buttons, both with black lettering on white fields. One button said, “I’m already against the next war” the second button said “Veterans for Peace” with the VFP logo. Of course my large peace flag accompanied me.
I positioned myself at the high-traffic intersection of Carnegie Avenue and east Ninth Street, where I had stood during playoff games against the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, conveying the idea some war veterans are pro-peace. Many people were not happy with what they saw, judging from their body language, but several appreciated my message, shaking my hand, giving me fist bumps and thanking me for my service.
One young man asked if he could interview me for a podcast. It was a very good interview. I supplemented one of my answers by noting that some people have asked me where are the stars on the flag’s navy blue field, instead of the peace symbol. I said, “The stars are in hiding. They are ashamed, disgusted and embarrassed by all the death, destruction and instability we have caused in the Middle East.” After the interview, the man took my photo with his cellphone.
Navy recruiters were also at the intersection and I had a pleasant chat with a career recruiter in his dress uniform. I noticed a little while later two other sailors dressed in blue camouflage uniforms handing out small American flags. An hour or so later, while walking toward Tower City to catch the rapid home, my path crossed that of a smiling young woman sailor who offered me a flag, but she then noticed I already had one. I said, “My hands are full.” I then urged her to “take care.”
When I got to the waiting area in Tower City, I sat on one of the grey wire chairs to wait for Blue Line rapid, not due for about another 25 minutes. I noticed a man, probably in his 40s, sporting Indians gear, often glance at me. He finally walked over to me and wanted to look at my medals, lifting the medals to look more closely at them. He asked why they were on my field jacket and I said it was too cold
to have them on my uniform.
Probably referring to the Bronze Star, he said, a few times “Sir, you do not deserve that medal.” My half-Irish blood started to get warmer and I said, “That’s your opinion. My lieutenant (Bill Sonnett, originally from Ada, Ohio), thought I deserved the medal” for my work as editor of the First Infantry Division newspaper in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, and he put me in for the award.
My nemesis, who noted he was a Marine, then insulted me by saying I was guilty of “stolen valor,” which refers to non-veterans posing as veterans. I said, “Stolen valor applies only to those who profit from posing as veterans.”
He continued to claim I did not deserve the medal so I stood up and whipped out a photocopy of my DD214 discharge paper from the right lower pocket of my field jacket, heatedly pointing out the medals listed on the form.
The Marine continued his harangue and threw another insult at me as he started to walk away. I said, “Thank you. You’re very kind. You must be a Christian–a follower of the Prince of Peace. Keep on walking. You’re annoying me.” He walked back to the two women he had been with.
When the Blue Line train entered the station, I boarded, taking a window seat. The Marine sat about five rows in front of me, on the other side of the aisle and frequently turned to stare at me. The first time he did that I flashed him the “V” peace sign. His reaction was swift and angry, bringing to mind Dracula’s reaction when he sees a crucifix.
“FUCK YOU!!,” he said loudly. I responded loudly, “NICE TALK!!”
His wife or girlfriend calmed him down when he arose, as he indicated he wanted to walk over and punch out my lights. The rest of the trip was rather uneventful, except for the occasional back-and-forth stare-downs until I got off at the Avalon Road stop in Shaker Heights.
The Marine did get the parting shot however during the trip, derisively calling me “old man”.
I guess this 74-year-old can’t argue that point.
Even Browns fans like Lou’s antiwar statement
October 9, 2016
As is my wont, I promoted peace today for the fourth straight day to various publics, this time greeting football fans heading toward the southwest gate of First Energy Stadium for the Browns-Patriots game. I was very surprised to see so many people wearing Patriots gear, most with football jerseys having the Brady surname on the upper back, as it was the Patriots’ quarterback’s first start after a four-game suspension in the wake of the infamous “deflategate” brouhaha. Perhaps that is why so many Patriots supporters were in Cleveland, since the game was Tom Brady’s first game as quarterback during the regular season.
About two hours before the game a young Browns fan walked past young women wearing Brady jerseys and held up a very deflated football, shouting at them, “Hey, Brady! You dropped your ball!” Some time later a Patriots fan tried to get even, shouting out the name “Johnny Manziel!!” at Browns fans, the name of the very troubled but talented former quarterback for the team.
My experience today was gratifying. No insults or criticism. Many people nodded back to me when I nodded and smiled at them, but I’m sure they were not happy with the image of a veteran carrying a peace flag. Since it was too cool for to wear my uniform, I wore my 50-year-old army field jacket issued to me in the fall of 1966 shortly after arriving at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, when I was assigned to the 13th Psychological Operations (Psyops) battalion at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, also home of the fabled “Green Berets” (Special Forces). Several months later I received orders to Vietnam, serving there from July, 1967 to July, 1968 with the First Infantry Division (Big Red One) as a reporter, then editor, of the division newspaper.
Many many people reached out to shake my hand or give me fist bumps, thanking me for my service. A couple of men said they, too, had been with the Big Red One in Vietnam.
One exceptionally cute and pretty middle-aged blond went out of her way to walk over and give me a hug and thank me for being there. I kissed the top of her head and thanked her for her support.
I tried to be as friendly as possible, constantly smiling and greeting people with such exclamations as “Beautiful day, eh!? Gorgeous day, eh? A classic fall day.” They responded with smiles and agreement, for the most part, even if they did not appreciate my presence. Some people completely ignored my greetings.
A friendly Marine Vietnam veteran stopped to chat for a few minutes after shaking my hand. I said, “We were sent to Vietnam to kill communists and now Vietnam, a communist nation, is our ally against China. Bottom line: more than 58,000 perfectly healthy young men’s lives were wasted.”
I don’t think the veteran had pondered such a thought before though, saying, “But remember, we are here.” Thinking of the dead soldiers, I said, “I wish they were, too.”
On the way back to Tower City to catch the rapid home, a pretty young woman in a group of three or four friends said, “I like your flag.” I said “thank you.” A young man with her noted the absence of stars and I said “They are in hiding. They are embarrassed, ashamed and disgusted with the death, destruction and instability we have caused in the Middle East.”
Lou finds a peaceful crowd at Indians playoff game
October 7, 2016
I thought last evening’s first American League Division Series game between the Indians and Red Sox would be a good opportunity to promote peace to fans, as the game at Progressive Field was all sold out. Thousands of Tribe fans and some Red Sox fans would be going to the game. So, since I was off yesterday, I went downtown in uniform with my peace flag in tow, stationing myself at the northwest corner of the East Ninth Street-Carnegie Avenue intersection.
Shortly before arriving there, while walking south on East Ninth toward Carnegie, a man coming toward me said my flag should have stars on it. I turned and shouted at him, “They’re in hiding.” He said, “Yeah, right.” I think he got the message that the stars are ashamed, embarrassed and disgusted with the death, destruction and instability we have caused in the Middle East.
One man, probably in his late forties and sporting long black hair walked up to me and asked about my purpose for being there. He sympathized with my perspective and became a bit exercised saying, “I hate Republicans.”
I would never go that far, but I said today’s Republican Party is not the party of Dwight Eisenhower. He said, “Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex.” He went on to say that if anyone should be pro-peace it is those who have been in a war.
To one man who did not like the combination of a uniform and peace flag, I said, “Did you ever notice that those who shout the loudest for war have never been in one?” He pointed to a man walking a few steps ahead of him, saying, “My brother was in a war.” I said, “Tell him I said, ‘Welcome home’.”
A World War II veteran and his wife stopped to chat. He pointed to the ribbon on my uniform representing the Bronze Star and said he had one also, as well as a Purple Heart medal. I grimaced when he said that, since the Purple Heart medal is awarded to military personnel wounded in war. I mentioned to the veteran that what we are doing in the Middle East is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline, simply making matters worse.
One Cleveland policeman driving around the corner in his squad car flashed me the familiar V sign with his right hand and said “Peace!” I replied, ” Yes sir!!”
Another policeman said to me, “You’re everywhere. I saw you at the RNC.”
One man of a certain age, probably in his late 60s, approached me unsmiling and looked at me very sternly with his steely blue-eyed gaze boring holes into mine.
He brusquely said, “What are you doing here?”
I said, “I’m promoting peace. I’m trying to get across the idea that some war veterans are pro-peace.” I asked him if he had been in Vietnam and he replied in the affirmative, but gave no details about his service there. I said, “We were sent to Vietnam to kill communists and now Vietnam, a communist country, is our ally against China. Bottom line, more than 58,000 young healthy American lives were wasted.”
The man gently tapped my left forearm as he left and said, “God bless you.”
Promoting peace at the final Cleveland Indians regular season home game
September 25, 2016
The idea came to mind yesterday (Saturday, Sept. 24) that since the Browns were in Miami to play the Dolphins on Sunday, I could promote peace that day to Indians fans, and probably a few Chicago White Sox fans, going to today’s game, the Indians’ final home game during the regular season.
So I donned my 48-year-old dress uniform Sunday morning and headed out of my house with my furled peace flag. After arriving downtown via the Blue Line rapid transit train I walked around the Indians’ Progressive Field to try and determine the best spot to promote my message to the greatest number of pedestrians as well as folks in vehicles. The best location was the northwest corner of the Carnegie Avenue-East Ninth Street intersection. I was there from about 10:30 until 1:30, around a half-hour after the game began.
I offered friendly “Good mornings” and “Hi’s” followed by an exclamation about what a beautiful Fall day it is, then followed by “I wish every day was like this. No snow to shovel!” Many people smiled and agreed with my comments. However, I was disappointed how rude some people were by totally ignoring my friendly overtures. There was no mean-spirited confrontation, though, perhaps because of my greeting and upbeat tone of voice.
One woman who stopped to talk with me for a few minutes appreciated my presence. She said her husband was a conscientious objector but still was sent to Vietnam working as a medic “picking up body parts” after devastating firefights.
One elderly woman–well, okay, she probably was about my age–was curious about a peace flag being carried by a veteran.
I said, “I’m trying to get across the idea that some war veterans are pro-peace. Just trying to give people something to think about.” She seemed to understand but still said, “That should be an American flag.” She walked away before I could say, “I guess we agree to disagree.”
One young man wondered about my rationale for being there. I said, “We were sent to Vietnam to kill communists and now Vietnam, a communist country, is our ally against China. Bottom line: more than 58,000 young American lives wasted. I lost a lieutenant in the Tet Offensive three days after his 23rd birthday. He was perfectly healthy one minute and the next minute his head was blown away by mortar shrapnel.”
One man, probably in his 50s and wearing a navy blue polo shirt with the company name BorgWarner embroidered on it, smiled as he walked up to me and eagerly reached to shake my hand, saying, “I’m tired of permanent war.” I said, “Me too. We’re on the same page.” We patted each other on the shoulder as he walked away.
One woman said, “I like your flag.” I said, “Thanks. I wish every one did.”
One man who walked by, referring to my Class A dress greens uniform, said, “I haven’t seen one of those in a while.”
I said, “It’s tight.”
He laughed and said, “I bet!!”
A Cleveland policeman in a patrol car who turned the corner at the intersection gave me the “V” peace sign and I waved at him. A male passenger in a car about to turn the same corner, but waiting for pedestrians to cross Carnegie, asked about my “protest.” I said, “I’m trying to give people the idea that some war veterans are pro-peace. I call it a ‘labor of love’.” The man and his woman companion who was driving thanked me for being there and for my message before driving off.
Promoting peace at the militaristic Cleveland National Air Show
September 5, 2016
It is now Labor Day evening, bringing to a close three days of yours truly promoting peace at the annual Cleveland National Air Show at Burke Lakefront Airport, as I have done for the past several Labor Day weekends. The event attracts folks who more or less rubber stamp everything the military does. In other words, it’s a tough crowd, but I did my best during four hours of presence on each day of the long weekend to win “hearts and minds.” I felt there needed to be a voice for peace to serve as a counterweight to the star-spangled, red-white-and-blue dog-and-pony show that is the air show–which essentially is a public relations and marketing ploy that also serves as a recruiting tool.
As usual, I positioned myself at the optimal spot for maximum exposure of my peace message to people in vehicles and pedestrians, standing at the northeast corner of the intersection of East Ninth Street and North Marginal Drive, across from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
I embraced a more pro-actively friendly tack this time. Rather than simply smiling and nodding to pedestrians as they approached as I have done for years, I took the initiative of cheerily saying, “Good Morning! Beautiful day, eh?” or “Good Morning! Gorgeous day, eh?” In the afternoon I would cheerily say “Hi!” or “Hello!”, followed by a comment about what a fine day it is.
My rationale for this approach is rooted in two old sayings, “It is easier to catch flies with a spoonful of honey than with a barrel of vinegar” and “kill ’em with kindness.”
As a result of my approach, no one became antagonistic, although I have to say, it was more than a little disheartening that so many people simply ignored me totally. It was as if they were deaf. Some attendees responded in a friendly manner, though, especially women. A handful of people said they “like” or “love” my peace flag and a few had their pictures taken with me, especially women.
Still, even among those ignoring me, I’m sure that the image of a war veteran in his dress uniform carrying a peace flag is not one they will soon forget. I said to many people, “I’m just trying to give people something to think about–that some war veterans are pro-peace.”
To a woman bicyclist who said she liked my flag I said, “I wish everyone did. I wish it flew over the White House.”
A few people did not understand the peace symbol and I explained it is the semaphore signals for the letters “N” and “D” superimposed on one another, originating in Britain in 1958, with the letters standing for “Nuclear Disarmament.” It has since become a generic peace symbol.
One young man wearing a white Trump-Pence tee shirt, while walking by me and referring to my flag, grumpily said, “It’s supposed to be stars and stripes.”
I shouted as he walked away, “The stars are in hiding.” He was out of earshot before I could finish my thought, which would have been, “They are in hiding because they are ashamed and embarrassed about the death, destruction and instability we have caused in the Middle East.”
Many people thanked me for my service, even though I sensed they did not like my flag. One attendee who was especially appreciative of my presence expressed his deep gratitude a few hours later when our paths happened to cross on Euclid Avenue at East Ninth Street as I headed to the RTA Rapid Transit station in Tower City for my ride home. He said, “Thank you for your service TODAY!”
To a few folks of like mind I said, “The peace flag ought to be the American flag. We need more peace, civility, mutual respect and tolerance–here and around the world.” One army veteran said the peace flag ought to be the national flag for all countries around the world. Amen to that.
On a lighter note, I had a little fun this morning with a U.S. Air Force officer walking a little ahead of me on East Ninth Street as we headed toward North Marginal Drive prior to the air show. When we reached North Marginal, I noticed the black embroidered officer insignia on the top of the right shoulder of his one-piece olive-drab flight suit.
I cheerily said, “Captain, I like your ‘onesie!!’ It’s a lot bigger than the first ‘onesie’ you wore.” The two young blond women walking with him laughed and he said, “Well, it is what is is.” I patted him once on his captain’s bars, saying, “I know, I know–regulations.”
At One World Day in Cleveland, Lou connects with younger Vietnamese woman, apologizes for war
August 29, 2016
Yesterday I took part in the 71st annual One World Day in Cleveland, which celebrates the city’s ethnic diversity. One of the features of the event is the Parade of Flags, where people of various foreign ancestries wearing apparel common to their ancestral homeland walked, carrying and waving flags of their native land or the land of their ancestors.
My intent was to promote peace among nations, so as a 1966 U.S. Army draftee, I wore my rather snug 48-year-old U.S. Army dress uniform, carrying my peace flag. My uniform included ribbons representing my Vietnam Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Initially, I planned to be the last “element” in the parade, but at the staging area prior to the beginning of the parade, I noticed a few familiar flags about 30 yards away being waved. They were the flags of South Vietnam, now an obsolete country, with three horizontal red stripes centered on a yellow field. The idea came to mind to walk with the contingent representing Vietnam. I approached the man who was to lead the group of Vietnamese, starting off with an apology for the United States killing three million Vietnamese during that ignoble venture in his ancestors’ homeland. I mentioned to one of the Vietnamese women nearby that my furled flag had a peace symbol on a blue field next to red and white stripes and she was very happy to learn that, welcoming me to their group. I unfurled my flag and a few Vietnamese women wanted to have their photo taken with me.
I complimented the women on their beautiful “ao dai’s” (ow-zyes), which is standard apparel for women in Vietnam. It consists of a form-fitting top, an ankle-length skirt slit to the waist, with ankle-length pants under the skirt.
One attractive young Vietnamese woman–I would guess to be about 25–wearing a white ao dai with minimal embroidery, came up to me to have her photo taken, hugging me and resting her head on the left side of my chest for the photo. I kissed the top of her head.
I apologized for our killing of three million Vietnamese and our terrible legacy of Agent Orange, which has caused cancer and birth defects among the Vietnamese.
She tried to soften my sorrow and regret, saying that was in the past and I have to look forward–focus on the future. I could understand her perspective, since she was born in Vietnam several years after the war ended in 1975, immigrating to the U.S. as a child–initially living with an aunt in Lorain County
I said to the young woman, “But the memory will always be there.” She agreed, sympathizing with my perspective.
RNC Final Day
Thursday, July 21, 2016
I camped out on East 4th Street, media central, and as usual was swamped by paparazzi and reporters. I absolutely LOVE that the RNC came to Cleveland, as it gave me a golden opportunity to spread the peace message around the world, literally. I have been interviewed during the week by journalists from Australia to Switzerland, my paternal great-great grandfather’s native land.
As was the case the previous evening, I stood with Vishavjit Singh, a Sikh, replete with turban and wearing a Captain America costume. We met on Sunday while walking in opposite directions on Euclid Avenue. He and three women companions, noticing my peace flag, stopped me to talk and we are all on “the same page” regarding peace. Vishavjit lives in Washington, D.C. and is a writer, costume player and writer. His parents were born in India. When we stood together, we told passersby who stopped to take our picture or interview us that our message is “pro-peace and pro-tolerance.”
Things were going smoothly, as has often been the case, until a nattily-dressed man (of course, he’s a Republican) took umbrage with my flag, calling it a “desecration” of the American flag.
I said, “Well, we’re all entitled to our own opinion.”
I then said, “Some people have asked me where the stars are and I reply, ‘They’re in hiding. They are ashamed and embarrassed by all the death and destruction we have caused.’
I then asked the man if he had been in a war. He said ‘no’ and I loudly said, “Why am I not surprised!!??”
Some minutes later, a radio reporter from New York City, who had overheard the conversation, said to me in an interview, “Someone said your flag is a desecration. How do you respond?
I said, “Well, we agree to disagree. Actually, I think this flag should be the American flag,” intimating we need much more peace in our society.
I said to one sympathetic couple, “Some people have said to me over the years, ‘If you don’t like it here, why don’t you move?'”
I reply, “I love my country as much as the next person, but I don’t like some of the things our government has done. We need to make a distinction between our country and our government.”
During two interviews I said to reporters, “If I could spend a few minutes with President Barack Obama, I would say to him. Please, please, please–I beg you–I implore you, please return your Nobel Peace Prize. You do not deserve it. A week before you accepted the award you ordered the deployment of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, you kept us at war in Iraq as long as you legally could, exiting at the end of 2011 because of a requirement agreed to by the Bush Administration with the Iraqi government.You sharply increased the number of Predator drone strikes that have killed hundreds of innocents in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
“Your acceptance and retention of the Nobel Peace Prize has tarnished the cachet of that prestigious award. If you return it, that tarnish will be wiped away, restoring the luster of that award.”
RNC Day Two – Bittersweet
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
“Bittersweet” best describes today, spending six hours standing on the sidewalk of East Fourth Street in downtown Cleveland, the epicenter of media coverage of the Republican National Convention and attendant activities. MSNBC and Today Show sets were on the street and the “CNN Grill” was across the intersection of Prospect and East Fourth. As usual, I was in my 1968 U.S. Army dress uniform, complemented by my peace flag.
Let’s get rid of the bad news first.I was quietly minding my own business when a nicely-dressed man–probably a delegate–walked up and began to make a federal case out the army patch on the right shoulder of my uniform. He had a small pin on his lapel that said Special Forces, commonly known during the Vietnam War as the “Green Berets.” He and I had been stationed at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, so he recognized the patch. While he was in the Special Forces unit, I had been assigned to the 13th Psyops (Psychological Operations) battalion.
He firmly pointed out the uniform’s right shoulder should have a “combat” patch, which I had on my left shoulder (First Infantry Division), pointing out the JFK Special Warfare Center is not a combat unit.
Exasperated, I said, “Okay, okay, I’ll have my tailor switch the patches!!”
Of course that’s not going to happen.
He walked away, perturbed. I’m sure I made his day.
Okay, here’s the most contentious “conversation.”
Another nattily dressed “gentleman” walked up and became rather “exercised” with my presence, repeatedly calling me a “fraud.” He had a pin in his lapel that indicated he was the recipient of a Bronze Star medal, which I also have. I had a copy of my DD214 discharge paper in my jacket pocket that I whipped out and showed him, but he of course rejected that,probably thinking it was “fraudulent.”
Above my First Infantry Division patch is a patch that says “Official U.S. Army Correspondent,” given to me because of my army job as an Information Specialist (reporter) for the division newspaper. Apparently he had never seen such a patch before and accused me of sewing it on there myself.
That’s when he really got my Irish up–well, my half-Irish. I gave as good as I got, yelling, “The army sewed on that patch at the Oakland Army Depot when I was discharged!!”
Of course he didn’t believe me, calling me a “fraud,” and walked away.
When he passed by me again going in the other direction, he shouted at me that he lost some friends in Vietnam. I shouted back, “Wasted lives!!” He kept on walking. The fact he mentioned friends’ deaths in Vietnam makes me think he finally accepted that I had served there also and was not a “fraud.”
The “sweet” part was meeting Katie Couric, who posted a photo of me and commentary on Instagram, and Joy Reid, who has appeared frequently on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
Lou becomes a media darling at the RNC Cleveland
July 17, 2016
Today (Sunday, July 17) was perhaps THE most interesting day in my life, except for perhaps the day I was born, which I have difficulty remembering, to be honest.
I took the Blue Line rapid transit downtown, wearing my rather snug 48-year-old Class A “dress greens” U.S. Army uniform, peace flag in tow. (Please google–Images for Lou Pumphrey–and you will see a few Zimbio photos taken earlier today.)
Shortly after I crossed Ontario Street by the Jack Casino in the old Higbee building and started walking up Euclid Avenue, a gentleman with a TV camera came up to me and a woman stepped out of an SUV with a microphone in hand to interview me. Turns out she and the cameraman are with WGN Channel 9, a Chicago television station. This was around 10:15 a.m.
I have to say I was amazed with the response by the print and electronic media, reacting to my uniform and peace flag.
As cameras clicked around me at East Ninth Street and Euclid Avenue, I said to onlookers, “I feel like George Clooney.”
I was interviewed and photographed by correspondents from The New York Times, Time magazine, New York magazine, The Washington Post, Getty Images, MSNBC, the ABC affiliate in San Francisco, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, a Dayton television station, a Swedish woman reporter based in France, a Washington-based Israeli reporter and a reporter from Kurdistan, who asked me about U.S. foreign policy toward his country. Being ignorant of such a relationship, I simply said, “I’m for peace between the two countries.” I thought that was pretty safe to say.
The Israeli reporter asked me what I thought about Israel and Palestine and I said something similar, adding that Israel has a bigger advantage in terms of weaponry, but both sides have been party to death and destruction.
I stood at the northeast corner of Superior Avenue and East Ninth Street for about a half-hour to convey the peace message to drivers turning north on East Ninth Street. After Mass let out at nearby at the St. John the Evangelist Cathedral, I said to a couple of Mass attendees if they thought the Prince of Peace would like my flag. They nodded and smiled. Bishop Richard Lennon, head of The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, posed for photos with some of the attendees and I asked him if he thought the Prince of Peace would like my flag. He said, “Well, Jesus’s message is all about peace.”
Here’s a compendium of what I said to interviewers who asked me why I was there:
“I’m promoting peace. There needs to be a voice for peace here, especially from someone who has experienced the bitter taste of war, to serve as a counterweight to the stupid, mindless, macho, red-white-and-blue star-spangled fear mongering and war mongering from Donald Trump and his followers who have never been in a war, will never EVER be in a war and have no qualms about sending the sons and daughters of other Americans into harms way and keeping them there indefinitely, deployment after deployment after deployment.
“Trump said, ‘I love war’ and ‘I will bomb the shit out of Isis’.
“If Trump loves war so much, why did he get five deferments during the Vietnam War?”
“It is impossible for a uniformed military to defeat adversaries wearing civilian clothes and living among civilians, which is the very successful strategy employed by the Viet Cong in Vietnam and successfully copied by al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. We need to leave the Middle East. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State hate each other. Let them kill one another off. We need to focus on terrorist plots in our own country. What we are doing in the Middle East is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. When we kill people and destroy property, we make new enemies among the survivors, making it easy for terrorist leaders to recruit new jihadists.
“A uniformed military is useless, worthless and obsolete in fighting terrorists wearing civilian clothes who live among civilians. Terrorist plots can only be foiled by sophisticated espionage and plain-clothes undercover work. One example is undercover New Jersey state and local police, collaborating with the FBI and CIA, who thwarted a plot by a terrorist cell to kill as many soldiers as possible at Ft. Dix New Jersey several years ago. In another example, terrorists planned to blow up jet fuel pipelines running to JFK airport under densely populated sections of New York City. An informant inside the cell tipped of local law enforcement authorities who foiled that plot. Our military had nothing to do with those two successes.
“A uniformed military in the Middle East, however, does ‘accomplish’ two things. It placates and mollifies millions of fearful, gullible and naive Americans with a false sense of security and of course fattens the bottom line of war profiteers, euphemistically called ‘defense contractors,’ such as Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon, BAE Systems, General Dynamics, United Technologies and Sikorsky, (now part of Lockheed Martin), to name just a few.”
Things getting interesting as RNC approaches
July 4, 2016
Saturday morning (July 2nd), while walking along Lorain Avenue in my Class A “dress greens” U.S. Army uniform and carrying my unfurled peace flag, a red compact car came to a stop and the passenger in the car jumped out and asked where I was headed. I told him I was on my way to a weekly hour-long peace vigil behind Cleveland’s iconic West Side Market, joining about eight other peace advocates.
About 15 minutes later, while standing with my fellow peace mongers at the vigil, the man who had gotten out of the car walked up to me with his colleague, the car’s driver, who wanted to interview me. Turns out the interviewer and his associate, who took photos of me and others during the interview, are journalists working for a weekly news publication in France. The reporter asked about my military service, pro-peace rationale and who I liked for president. I told him I had voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary but in the general election likely will vote for Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee, simply on principle, since the two major parties are owned by corporations that buy influence via their lobbyists.
I had to smile when, at the end the visit with the French journalists, the reporter asked us if we knew where he could “find Democrats.”
I said, “Not here. We’re all disgusted with the major parties for selling out to corporations.”
Later that afternoon, after enjoying my spring salad repast at Koffie Cafe on Market Street across from the West Side Market with with fellow peace advocates, I visited the Larchmere Festival on Larchmere Road in Cleveland, where Veterans for Peace shared a table with Cleveland Peace Action. Volunteers distributed literature about their respective organizations to passersby.
As I have done for the past several years, I stepped into the Fourth of July Parade this morning in Lakewood, walking along Lake Road in front of State Rep. Nickie Antonio’s car–a late model red Thunderbird owned by one of her many supporters, Mary Denihan.
For the most part, the parade was uneventful–for the most part–with smatterings of applause along the route for my message of being a veteran who is pro-peace.
The parade ended at the entrance to Lakewood Park, which is where I stood to watch parade participants who were behind me walk by. I wanted those folks to see my message and I also wanted to see them.
A man with a thick accent and wearing a patriotic red, white and blue shirt walked up to me and asked if he could take my picture. I of course obliged and we talked for a few minutes. Turns out that although he was born in Jacksonville, Florida, his father is Syrian and his mother was Armenian. I said, “Armenians and Syrians have had their problems,” recalling the Ottoman Turks genocide of Armenians a century ago and the ongoing death and destruction in Syria.
My new Syrian-Armenian-American friend’s name is Sam. He was in the Navy for several years and used his GI bill after his discharge to earn a structural engineering degree from the University of Central Florida. He applied his knowledge in Cleveland for construction of the Cleveland Browns’ First Energy Stadium, the Carl Stokes Federal Building and a runway at Hopkins International Airport.
Well, as I mentioned, the parade was mostly uneventful. Here’s where it gets a little dicey–a little unpleasant.
I was standing at the entrance to Lakewood Park when a big burly “gentleman” walked up to me and said, referring to my flag, “That’s disrespectful to the American flag.”
I said, “Well, we’re all entitled to our own opinion.”
“FUCK OFF!!,” he said.
As he turned and walked away, I said, “Thank you. That’s very kind.”
He said nothing in reply.
Lou invokes the First Amendment to Parade the Circle
June 11, 2016
As I’ve done a few previous years, I sought to promote peace at this year’s 27th annual Parade the Circle, which always begins behind the Cleveland Museum of Art, which, incidentally, is celebrating its centennial this year. And, as before, I wore my dress greens U.S. Army uniform and carried my peace flag.
Prior to the parade, which travels around Wade Oval behind the art museum, I met with about a dozen fellow peace aficionados from Veterans for Peace, Cleveland Peace Action and Cleveland Friends Meeting (Quakers). We all stood on the landscaped median on Euclid Avenue, just west of Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra. My fellow peace travelers held signs with various peace messages. One held by a new friend, Diane, read “Peace is Patriotic.” Got that right.
The intent was to convey the concept of peace to drivers heading to Parade the Circle. We were gratified by many, many friendly toots of car horns and thumbs up as well as the “V” peace sign from drivers and passengers sticking their hands out of car windows.
Parade the Circle is an event featuring musicians, floats, dancers, stilt-walkers, parading artworks etc, comprised of more than 1,000 participants. The event was expected to draw 80,000 spectators.
I left my fellow peaceniks early, about 45 minutes before the scheduled start of the parade, to give myself time to decide when and where to begin my “one-man parade” prior to the noon kickoff of Parade the Circle. The event, featuring musicians, floats, dancers, stilt-walkers, parading artworks etc, is comprised of more than 1,000 participants. It was expected to draw 80,000 spectators I stepped out onto the roadway behind the art museum, unfurled my peace flag and in short order was confronted by a middle-aged man who was, for want of a better word, the “starter” for the parade. He said to me, “Respectfully, you cannot be in the parade.” I said I did not want to be in the parade and was going to walk by myself before the parade started. He clearly wanted me to leave and I said, “I have a permit.”
I reached into the pocket of my decades-old army shirt and whipped out a photocopy of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and pointed out the words “freedom of speech,” which I had capitalized.
He finally relented said if I was going to walk by myself, to walk “way ahead” of parade participants. I was happy to do so and while walking around Wade Oval, was gratified by support from many of the spectators, with applause coming in waves. One group of people would see me and start applauding. Other neighboring spectators would look to see what the applause was all about and start clapping. About a half-dozen people asked to take my picture. My answer was always affirmative, but sometimes I jokingly asked, “You aren’t with the NSA, are you?”
After I finished my walk around Wade Oval and stood outside the entrance to the art museum, my antagonist–wearing a rainbow-colored shirt and an ankle-length black skirt that flared from his waist, I guess to indicate he was some sort of “artiste”–spotted me and dramatically gestured for me to get out of the street. I stood still. He walked up to me and I said, “I’m not stepping into the parade. I’m a spectator.”
He told me to go stand on the sidewalk, rather than in the street. I said, “This street is public property.” He said, “so is the sidewalk.” I said, “My choice is to stand here.”
He put his head down and turned and walked away, clearly disappointed he could not order me to move from the street to the sidewalk.
After watching the beginning of the parade for about 10 minutes, I left for my walk to my car, with the intent to head home after writing this report. Yet again my antagonist confronted me, saying I now was on private property and to get off said property, since I was walking on a Cleveland Museum of Art sidewalk.
I said “I’m going home.”
“Good!!” he said. He was so happy to hear I was leaving that he reached to shake my hand.
I cheerily said, “I hope to see you next year” and he said, “I hope not!”
Memorial Day Parades: “May you live in interesting times”
May 30, 2016
For the ninth straight year, and with a forecast for pleasant weather, I decided to walk in the Blossom Time Festival Parade in Chagrin Falls on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and in the Shaker Heights Memorial Day Parade the following day, wearing my Class A “dress greens” U.S. Army uniform given to me upon my honorable discharge from active duty in July, 1968, at the Oakland Army Depot near San Francisco, after serving a year in South Vietnam as a reporter, then editor for the First Infantry Division newspaper Of course I carried my peace flag, conveying the idea to spectators that some war veterans are pro-peace.
I have to admit to a bit of trepidation whenever I indulge in such initiatives because I never know how my message of a war veteran supporting peace will be received, especially in that bastion of Republicanism in Chagrin Falls.
The Blossom Time parade began just outside the entrance to Chagrin Falls High School, heading down East Washington Street, ending in front of the police station near Triangle Park.
I looked for an organization that I would feel comfortable walking with and, in turn, would be comfortable with me in their presence. I saw a float publicizing the Chagrin Valley Little Theater and its upcoming production of “The Addams Family,” running from July 22nd to August 20th, and concluded that would be a good group to join. I said to one of the costumed women in the theater group walking with me in front of the float that it has been my experience most people in the arts community support peace. She smiled and said, “We’re honored to have you walk with us.” I thanked her.
The walk was mostly uneventful, with scant applause, although there was enthusiastic applause from two groups of at least a half-dozen women each. Folks who did not like what they saw kept their, well, peace, but no doubt will not soon forget the image of a pro-peace message from a war veteran.
Toward the end of the parade, however, a thin grizzled old geezer—well, okay, he probably was about my age–shouted at me, “That’s not right! That’s not right!” I just waved and smiled, not responding to his criticism.
The Memorial Day Parade in Shaker Heights the following day was a bit more, shall we say, “interesting.”
In the past I’ve always walked with a Shaker Heights church group–either Christ Episcopal Church or Plymouth Church, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, but neither church was represented in the parade. So I walked in front of a banner touting the Shaker Heights Historical Society. The parade began in front of city hall on Lee Road, heading east on Van Aken Boulevard. Shortly after crossing Lee, I heard a spectator to my right say, “You’re desecrating the American flag on Memorial Day!” I pretended not to hear him, seconds later thinking of a retort: “Thank you. You’re very kind. You must be a Christian–a follower of the Prince of Peace.” But, in the final analysis, I concluded silence can be a much more powerful and effective “response” than sarcasm, which would have been counterproductive At least I gave him something to think about.
It was very heartening to hear quite a bit of applause along the parade route, which is not very surprising since Shaker Heights has a much more cosmopolitan population than what you will find in conservative Chagrin Falls, much as I love that quaint, charming, cute and very attractive little community.
On the other hand, one spectator attending the Shaker Heights parade was more than happy to give me a “what for.” He was extremely, EXTREMELY unhappy to see me with my peace flag. (Did I mention he was EXTEREMLY unhappy?) I had run into this guy before several years ago when he complained as I walked with fellow Veterans for Peace members Art Dorland and Walt Nicholes.
My adversary was gunning for me, figuratively speaking of course, not literally, thank goodness. When he spotted me, he walked up and began walking by my side, saying, “I thought I’d see you here again!” He then launched into a pro-Vietnam War tirade that was not exactly something the Prince of Peace would appreciate. I countered his comments in vain. Exasperated, I finally said, “I’m not going to change your mind and you’re not going to change mine, so let’s just let it go.” But he continued his nasty rant as he walked next to me for several more minutes, in the midst of considerable applause from onlookers who appreciated my presence and message.
I said to him, smiling, “They all think you are with me.”
That’s when he got nasty, yelling at the spectators, “He’s a traitor! He’s a traitor!” My companion also stuck his right hand in front of my face, with his thumb pointed down, to indicate his intense anger that fairly dripped of vitriol. He would have thrown me to the lions, if there were any around.
My walking partner yelled at me loud enough for some of the spectators to hear, saying, “North Vietnam loves you!!”
I thought to myself, “North Vietnam does not exist. It is unified with South Vietnam–all one Vietnam.” But if North Vietnam still existed, I’m certain it would love me and the United States for not continuing to kill its people and destroying their property.
Here’s the most amusing part of our, um, “conversation.”
My nemesis said, “Is that your uniform, or are you some pretty boy wearing someone else’s uniform?”
“Pretty boy?” Now that’s funny. I really don’t think there are any ANY 73-year-old “pretty boys” in the ENTIRE world. For the record, there are lots and lots of wrinkles on this “pretty boy.”
The parade ended at Thornton Park and as I walked up the hill toward the park’s recreation area, a man walked up to me, shook my hand and thanked me for my service. I said, “You’re welcome” and, noting the gentleman looked familiar, I said, “Are you Peter Lawson Jones?”
He acknowledged same and I introduced myself and he said, “Lou Pumphrey!! I’ve read your letters in the paper. I like your critical thinking.” I said, “Yeah, there is not enough critical thinking in this country.”
That was a nice compliment from Mr. Jones, a former Shaker Heights councilman, Cuyahoga County Commissioner and state representative–especially since he is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University, where he also earned his law degree.
Giving macho motorcyclists something to think about…
April 25, 2016
For the second time in three years I attended the 14th annual “Rally for Troops” on Sunday (April 24th), at the War Memorial in downtown Cleveland. The event honors veterans and those who have been killed in action in recent wars. As is the case every year, Sunday’s event drew hundreds of bandana-bedecked bad-ass macho motorcyclists, many with their honeys sitting behind them on their bikes. I wore my Class A dress greens Army uniform and carried my large pole-mounted peace flag. I have to admit, though, I was a bit nervous about the response to my presence in front of those bikers–many of whom looked pretty darn intimidating. Well, okay, really really scary. To my surprise, initially at least, some attendees were friendly. One Vietnam veteran, noticing my First Infantry Division shoulder patch, stopped me to chat for a few minutes, noting his unit had provided security for Big Red One convoys. I gave him my traditional spiel about the Vietnam War and he commiserated, saying it always comes down to money. I said, “That’s right. There is big money to be made in war.”
A few attendees took my picture and one woman whose late father had served in Vietnam asked another spectator to take a photo of her with me.
A few other people were amazed I still fit in my 48-year-old uniform and I said, “I’m sucking in my gut as we speak.” They laughed and one veteran said, “I used to fit in one of those when I weighed 150 pounds” and I said, “I really don’t need a belt to hold these pants up, if you know what I mean.” He laughed.
In listening to the annoying fear-mongering, war-mongering jingoistic speeches and shaking my head, I was reminded of an old saying I applied to the guest speakers: “I’ve got my mind made up. Don’t bother me with the facts.”
The most aggravating militaristic observations were delivered by event founder John C. Kikol, who—surprise surprise—has never experienced war nor even been in the military. Isn’t it a funny coincidence that those who shout the loudest for war have never been in one?
The rally included the playing of “Taps”, recitation of names of area service personnel killed in recent wars, and a contingent of bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace.”
Toward the end of the event four young men approached me–none of them smiling. I’m guessing they were in their 30s. One of them said, “It really pisses me off to see your uniform and peace flag.”
I said, “Well, we all have our opinions. I’m trying to get across the idea that some war veterans are pro-peace.
“I lost a lieutenant in the Tet Offensive three days after his 23rd birthday. His whole life ahead of him blown away. We were sent to Vietnam to kill communists and now Vietnam, a communist country, is our ally against China. Bottom line: more than 58,000 perfectly healthy Americans sent to early graves. 3.4 million Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians sent to early graves. What a waste.
“It’s impossible for a uniformed military to defeat adversaries wearing civilian clothes and living among civilians, as the Viet Cong did successfully in Vietnam. The Taliban and al-Qaeda copy that successful strategy. When we kill terrorists with airstrikes or with Predator drones the surviving family and friends are angered and become fertile ground for recruiting new terrorists. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We are doing the same thing in the Middle East we did in Vietnam.”
One of the men said “We have to get them before they come over here.” I said, “They’re already here. We have to focus on destroying terrorist plots in this country and not worry about terrorists 7,000 miles away.”
The men turned on their heel and left before I could tell them that the only way to neutralize terrorist plots is to infiltrate their cells, discover their plans and have them arrested and prosecuted. I guess my visitors already had their minds made up and didn’t want to be bothered with the facts.
Lou’s antiwar T-shirt finds a fan in Cleveland Browns QB Josh McCown at St. Augustine Hunger Center Thanksgiving meal
November 26, 2015
As I’ve done for the past several years, I got ready Thanksgiving morning to volunteer serving meals to people much less fortunate than myself, wearing my favorite tee shirt that I purchased from my employer, Funny Times. It is a black tee with white letters reading, “I’m already against the next war.” I also wore jeans and my favorite baseball cap, an embroidered military hat indicating I’m a Vietnam veteran who had served with the First Infantry Division in Vietnam.
The men and women volunteers, as well as teens and younger children who served meals to guests at the hunger center, were required to wear hairnets and latex gloves for sanitation reasons while serving food.
As I stood in line with a styrofoam plate that would soon be filled with a Thanksgiving meal composed of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy and green beans with chopped cooked onions, one of the other volunteers in line pointed out that a tall man ahead of us wearing a charcoal grey shirt was Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown, resplendent in a hair net and latex gloves.
Several minutes later, when our paths crossed, I said to Josh, “If you had your helmet, you wouldn’t have to wear a hair net.” He smiled and said in a soft southern drawl, “Yeah, I should have brought my helmet.”
I thought McCown was alone and that he was there simply for a public relations photo op and that he would be at the hunger center only for ten minutes or so, but I found out that his wife, Natalie, and their two daughters and two sons also were there to help serve meals to people who have fallen on hard times, some of them homeless. And it was not a brief visit, as the family was at the hunger center for at least an hour.
While Josh did serve some meals, much of the time, understandably, was spent graciously and patiently posing for cellphone photos with volunteers.
Another time when Josh was within earshot I said, “Stay healthy.” He said, “Thank you.” (Josh suffered a concussion during a game a few weeks ago.)
On more than one occasion I overheard Josh say to a volunteer, “Thanks for letting me serve here.”
The guy is truly a class act.
Toward the end of the McCown family’s volunteering, I said to his wife, Natalie, after Josh had spent so much time posing for photos and said, “I hope he’s out of here in time for the game Monday night.”
Smiling, she said, “There’s no rush.”
Another class act.
Before Josh left the hunger center he said to me, “We like your shirt.”
I said, “Thank you. It’s better to spend money on saving lives than destroying lives.”
Josh nodded in agreement.
Promoting peace to a Cleveland Browns crowd
November 1, 2015
For the second time in this 2015 football season I ventured to downtown Cleveland to promote peace among the hundreds of Browns fans streaming into FirstEnergy Stadium today to watch the hometown team take on the Arizona Cardinals. I positioned myself about 100 yards southwest of the southwest gate into the stadium.
Today I wore my Class A dress greens uniform, as the temperature was in the 60s–a beautiful, sun-drenched, albeit windy, classic Fall day–ideal football weather. Because of a much chillier temperature a couple of weeks ago, when the Broncos were in town from Denver, I had to wear my vintage army field jacket given to me in September, 1966, shortly after my arrival at Fort Bragg’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center in North Carolina, where I had been assigned to the 13th Psychological Operations (PsyOps) Battalion for AIT (Advanced Individual Training), after completing basic combat training at Fort Benning, Georgia that summer.
Of course on both football Sundays I had my peace flag in tow.
Before the Broncos game a couple of weeks ago, a perplexed middle-age fan walked up to me and lifted his arms, palms up, straight out from his side as if to ask “what gives?”
Noticing one of the buttons on my field jacket, he said, “You’re already against the next war?”
I said, “Yeah, I’m a Christian…a follower of the Prince of Peace.”
He said, “Me too…a Catholic.”
I said, “Me too.”
I said, “I lost a lieutenant in the Tet Offensive three days after his 23rd birthday. His whole life ahead of him blown away. And for what? We were sent to Vietnam to kill communists and now Vietnam, a communist country, is our ally against China. Bottom line: more than 58,000 American lives wasted and a combined 3.4 million Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian lives wasted.”
We had a cordial back-and-forth for a couple of minutes and when he left, he thanked me for my service. I’m sure I gave him a memory he won’t soon forget.
Today, while walking to the stadium, one of the sidewalk vendors said, “I saw you at the air show with a peace flag.”
I said, “Yeah, that was me.” She asked if her co-worker could take a picture of the two of us with my peace flag and of course I said “yes.”
As Browns fans and a few Cardinals fans walked to the stadium, I nodded, smiled and said “Hi” to many attendees. Most would return the favor but a few ignored me. Still, it was gratifying to have a large number of people reach out to shake my hand and thank me for my service. You’d think I was running for public office.
One sweet young thing walking by said, “You’re looking good, baby.”
Pleasantly surprised, “I said, ‘thank you’.”
Another sweet young thing, who told me she is in the army reserve asked if she could take a picture of us together. She said she was able to include my peace flag in her selfie of us.
A middle-aged woman, referring to a Fourth of July parade, said, “I saw you in the Lakewood parade. Peace.” I said, “Thank you.”
A middle-aged man, referring to my uniform, said, “It still fits.” I said, “I’m sucking in my gut as we speak.” He laughed.
Another middle-aged man said, “A uniform and a peace flag…you don’t see that very often.”
A little girl about four years old dressed in a cute Halloween costume and walking with her dad, said, “I love your flag.” I was impressed someone so young recognized the peace symbol. A few adults also said, “Love your flag.”
One young man said, “Thank you for what you are doing here.” I said, “I’m just trying to give people something to think about.” He nodded his approval.
About 1:30, as the number of attendees thinned out, I started to walk to Public Square for my ride home on the rapid when a young man approached to give me hell about my presence there in uniform and carrying a peace flag.
I gave him my opening line about being a Christian and a follower of the Prince of Peace. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” I said.
I told him about my Vietnam experience and about the thousands of perfectly healthy young men losing their lives. He said, “We had that war won, but we backed out.”
I strongly disagreed, saying “It’s impossible for a uniformed military to defeat adversaries wearing civilian clothes and living among civilians. It didn’t work against the Viet Cong in Vietnam, nor with al-Qaida in Iraq nor the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
The guy got my Irish up a bit and after a few minutes, exasperated, I said, “I guess we have to agree to disagree.”
He walked away, heading in the same direction as I was about to go. A few seconds later, as I approached him, an elderly black man walking toward the stadium reached out to shake my hand. In a voice loud enough for my nearby nemesis to hear, I said, “Thank you. Take care. Life is fragile.”
At the Cleveland National Air Show: giving people something to think about
September 7, 2015
As was the case for the past several three-day Labor Day weekends, I felt a very strong urge to make a statement for peace in light of the overwhelming military dominance at the National Air Show held at Burke Lakefront Airport in downtown Cleveland this weekend. The weather was perfect all three days, although the temps were close to 90 every day. I was eager to get across to those attending that there are many war veterans who are pro-peace, so as usual I wore my now-47-year-old U.S. Army Class A dress greens uniform, complemented by my peace flag. I stood at the northeast corner of East 9th Street and North Marginal Drive, across from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. It was the optimal location for maximum exposure of my message for those coming to the show on foot or in cars.
Dominating the show were admirable precision aerial maneuvers by the Air Force Thunderbirds, which alternates yearly with the Navy Blue Angels. I have enormous respect for the talent and skill of the pilots, especially when flying in close formation, but essentially the event is a marketing tool, recruiting effort and public relations ploy for the U.S. Air Force. Nothing more, nothing less.
As usual the reception to my presence was mixed, but the huge majority of folks, judging from their response, are people who blindly rubber stamp anything the military does. Oh, well.
I was especially friendly today (Monday, Labor Day), greeting people with “Good morning’s” or Hi’s.” Most responded in kind but a few ignored me, most memorably a young woman in her Air Force uniform who one would think was totally deaf, although her female companion smiled at me.
One man who walked by me said, “You’ve got the wrong flag, buddy.”
I said, “I’m pro-peace, not pro-war.”
He said nothing and kept on walking.
On the other hand, several people thanked me for my service, shaking my hand. On more than one occasion I responded, “You’re welcome. I wish I could say ‘It was my pleasure,’ but it really wasn’t,” and they would say, “I understand.”
An Air Force sergeant dressed in his Air Force two-tone blue camouflage uniform approached with his wife and two daughters, curious about my presence.
I said, “I lost a lieutenant in the Tet Offensive three days after his 23rd birthday. His whole life ahead of him just blown away. We were sent to Vietnam to kill communists and now Vietnam, a communist country, is our ally against China. Bottom line: More than 58,000 perfectly healthy young American lives WASTED, not to mention 3.4 million Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians.
“Forty-five hundred American lives wasted in Iraq. What was accomplished there?
“It is impossible for a uniformed military to defeat adversaries wearing civilian clothes and living among civilians, as was the immensely-successful strategy employed by the Viet Cong in Vietnam, subsequently copied by al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”
The sergeant and his family listened attentively and as he left, he complimented me on my uniform. I said, “It’s a lot tighter than it was in 1968.” They smiled.
Also at the air show was a group of fellow peaceniks associated with Catholic Worker, a decades-old social justice movement founded by Dorothy Day. One of the peace advocates told me that parking near the gates to the air show cost $30.
“Gouging,” I said. “Does Halliburton run the parking lot?”
Two of the Catholic Worker participants were Tim Musser and Father Ben Jimenez, S.J. When about a half-dozen members finished their shift today and came to my intersection, I said to them, “al-Qaeda and ISIS hate each other. We need to get out of the Middle East and let the different terrorist groups fight among themselves. Our presence there is like pouring gasoline on a fire. We don’t need to worry about terrorists half-way around the world. We have to focus on terrorist plots in this country.”
One of the young men in the group softly said, “You’re preaching to the choir.”
I said, “Okay, okay. I’ll get off my soap box.”
When I left for a lunch break, walking up East Ninth Street to a Subway restaurant, a policeman directing traffic said to me, “You’re here every day.”
I said, “Yep. It’s a labor of love.”
The most positive experience this afternoon was a conversation with a mom and her three young daughters who were most appreciative of my peace flag. Mom asked where I served and I said, “Vietnam.” Her oldest daughter said, “How old are you.” I said, “Funny you should ask. I turned 73 today.” In unison they all smiled and loudly said, “Happy Birthday!!”
Later in the afternoon as a young woman drove away from the air show, she yelled at me through her passenger door window, “Shame on you!” (I’ll take a wild guess here: she never experienced the bitter taste of combat.)
Of course the irritated woman was quickly out of earshot, so I was unable to thank her. However, I take great comfort in the likelihood, that the image of me in uniform holding a peace flag is something that she will not soon, if ever, forget. How cool is that!!?? Same goes for a guy I had a rather heated conversation with later in the afternoon.
As he approached me with his significant other, I noticed the man was wearing a baseball cap with ARMY emblazoned on the front, and wearing a tee shirt with a similar message. He asked me what kind of symbol was on my flag and I explained it was a peace symbol.
To say that he suddenly became rather agitated would be a HUGE understatement, saying in so many words that I ought not be in uniform and carrying a peace flag, missing my message that many war veterans–and not just aging hippies–are pro-peace. The word “disgraceful” or a variation thereof may have been part of his tirade.
I said to the man, “I’m pro-peace, not pro-war. Been there, done that…thank you very much.”
He continued to razz me mercilessly. I had trouble understanding what he said because of aircraft and other noise, although I could tell from his tone of voice he was very exercised.
Still, I gave as good as I got, with boatloads of sarcasm, loudly saying, “Thank you. Thank you. You’re very kind. You must be a Christian…a follower of the Prince of Peace.”
We then parted ways, he heading in one direction and I in the opposite direction–in more ways than one.
I doubt he’ll soon forget me. And that’s the point.
Saturday Morning Peace Vigil at West Side Market: Showing Some Courage
August 24, 2015
For the past several years I’ve participated in peace vigils on Saturday mornings behind the West Side Market from 11 to noon with at least a half-dozen or so other aging peaceniks as a reminder to passersby about the horror, wastefulness and injustice of war. In good weather I wear my decades-old U.S. Army dress uniform issued to me upon my return from Vietnam in July, 1968 and carry a peace flag.
Afterwards some of us walk to nearby Koffie Cafe on Market Street across from the Great Lakes Brewing Company for a little repast and discuss how we are going to solve the world’s problems. Occasionally fellow patrons will shake my hand and thank me for my service and on a couple occasions ask me why I am there. In the past I simply say I’m having lunch with some friends, but it hit me that such a comment really is a cop-out and I decided the next time someone asks me why I am there in uniform, I really need to provide a detailed explanation.
Such an opportunity arose this past Saturday (August 22nd). While talking with three other friends from my peacnik group, an unusually attractive woman–I’m guessing in her early 40s–walked into the cafe with her teenage son. She and I smiled at each other and said “Hi.” She sat at a nearby table.
“Your uniform fits well,” she said.
“I’m sucking in my gut as we speak,” I said. “It’s a lot tighter than it was in 1968.”
She smiled, got up and walked over to me and, standing next to my chair, said she had been in the Army and her husband was an Army veteran and her son was thinking about going into the Army or Air Force.
I said, “I hope he stays stateside.”
I told the woman I take part in a peace vigil each week behind the West Side Market as a member of Veterans for Peace.
“I lost a lieutenant in the Tet Offensive three days after his 23rd birthday,” I said. “His whole life ahead of him blown away. Such a waste. We were sent to Vietnam to kill communists and now Vietnam, a communist country, is our ally against China. Bottom line: more than 58,000 American lives WASTED and 3.4 million Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians killed.”
She listened attentively, perhaps more than a little stunned.
“It’s impossible for a uniformed military to defeat adversaries wearing civilian clothes and living among civilians,” I said. “It didn’t work with the Viet Cong in Vietnam and hasn’t worked with al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Iraq and Afganistan.
“We need to get out of the Middle East and let those different terrorist groups fight among themselves. We need to focus on terrorist plots in this country.
“When we kill people with air strikes and drones in the Middle East, the victims’ surviving friends and family members get very angry at the U.S. and become more likely to join terrorist groups to attack our troops there. What we are doing in the Middle East is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. It is making the situation worse.”
The woman did not disagree and asked if Veterans for Peace had a website. I said we did. She then walked over to her son and as they walked out of Koffie Cafe, her son took a moment to shake my hand and thank me for my service. I said, “You’re welcome.”
I’m sure Mom told her husband about our conversation. Maybe there will be at least one new convert to Veterans for Peace.
“How do you like my flag, governor?” “It’s beautiful!”
July 8, 2015
For about the fifth year in a row I donned my 47-year-old U.S. Army Class A dress greens uniform and took my peace flag to the Fourth of July parade in Lakewood, which steps off from Kenneth Road and heads east down Lake Road to Lakewood Park.
While waiting in the parade’s staging area on a road off Kenneth, with my flag still furled, a man walked up to shake my hand, introducing himself as Mike Summers, mayor of Lakewood. Another man, recognizing my First Infantry Division patch on my uniform’s left shoulder, walked up and mentioned he also served with the Big Red One in Vietnam. He was “in country” a year later than I, missing the first Tet Offensive, but was there for the smaller-scale “Son of Tet” attack in the spring of ’68. He said he was an infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment and I said, “The Black Lions?” He was visibly stunned that I had remembered the nickname for his unit. I explained I had been a reporter, then editor for the First Infantry Division newspaper in Vietnam and had run stories about various battles in which the Black Lions had participated.
Another man walked up to shake my hand and thank me for my service.
I gave him my traditional spiel: “You’re welcome. I wish I could say ‘it was my pleasure’, but it really wasn’t. I lost a lieutenant in the Tet Offensive three days after his 23rd birthday. His whole life ahead of him blown away. What a waste. We were sent over to Vietnam to kill communists and now, Vietnam, a communist country, is our ally against China. Bottom line: more than 58,000 American lives wasted and a combined 3.4 million Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian lives wasted. And our Agent Orange legacy has caused cancers and birth defects among Vietnamese people. War is the most insane invention of man.”
The gentleman, who no doubt assumed my furled flag was a U.S. flag, seemed to agree as he walked away, albeit a bit stunned. He likely didn’t expect such a diatribe from a veteran–many of whom simply march in lockstep to our war initiatives, regardless which major political party war monger sits in the White House.
As was the case last year, I had positioned myself in the shade on a tree lawn near a late model red Ford Thunderbird convertible with campaign signs for Nickie Antonio (D-13), who serves in the Ohio House of Representatives. Her district includes Lakewood and several wards in the City of Cleveland. I asked Nickie if it would be okay if I walked in front of her car with my peace flag and she said, “I would love it!!” (I had walked in front of her car in past years, so I expected a positive answer.)
About a half hour before the parade started, I noticed Nickie greet and hug a man she addressed as “governor.” She used the word as a sign respect for former Ohio Democratic governor Ted Strickland who was about to take part in the parade and is hoping to be elected a U.S. senator, which would require unseating Republican Senator Rob Portman.
During the parade, Strickland walked behind Antonio’s Thunderbird but in front of a banner reading “Lakewood Democratic Club.” He was about 15 paces behind me.
As usual, the parade, aided by great weather, drew a large crowd of spectators. Several people “of a certain age” i.e., middle age and above, applauded my message as a war veteran promoting peace. Those uncomfortable with my message were silent, but at least I gave them something to think about.
When we reached Lakewood Park, I walked up to Strickland, extended my hand to shake hands with him and said–taking a cue from Antonio’s greeting of Strickland before the parade–“How do you like my flag, governor?”
He said, “It’ beautiful, May I get a photo with you?”
I said, “Sure” and an aide took a cell-phone picture of us.
A few minutes later a smiling young woman walked up to me and said, “I take your picture every year and post it on Facebook.” I smiled and said “thank you.”
A young mom asked if she could take a picture of me with her daughter who had marched in the parade and who I am guessing is about six years old. Mom asked where I got my flag and I said, “Funny Times. Just go to funnytimes.com.” She indicated she would do so.
Memorial Day Parades for Peace, in Chagrin Falls and Shaker Hts.
May 26, 2015
I mentioned to a middle-age couple at the Hessler Street Fair last weekend that sometimes I feel a little like Sisyphus struggling to push a boulder up a steep hill when I promote peace in public, but told them I felt compelled to keep on pushing–to keep the the issue of war and peace in people’s minds.
So, for the seventh straight year I drove out to Chagrin Falls yesterday for its annual Blossom Time Festival, wearing my Class A uniform and bringing my peace flag.
The driveway circling Chagrin Falls High School is the staging area for parade participants so I walked around the school looking for an organization compatible with my message. A few years ago I was welcomed by a group associated with the Geauga County Library system, after I mentioned to them that libraries like “peace and quiet.”
At first I thought about walking with the Chagrin Valley Little Theater contingent, as I had done in the past, since theater folks tend to be pro-peace. But then I noticed a pick-up truck promoting the village’s historic and legendary Popcorn Shop and noticed the truck had two peace symbol magnets on either side. The two men in the truck were happy to have me join the parade with them. (One of the men was Dewey Forward, owner of the Popcorn Shop as well as a coffee shop on Shaker Square.)
Chagrin Falls, while a charming and picturesque village with interesting very old homes and commercial buildings, is a bastion of conservative Republicans. A huge majority of homes along the parade route on East Washington Street displayed U.S. flags and some even had red-white-and-blue bunting like you see at baseball parks during World Series games. Not a peace flag in sight in that largely-Christian community. No small irony there.
So when heading down East Washington Street during the parade it was gratifying to hear applause from some spectators. However, almost all were at least middle age and remember the Vietnam War and the draft. There was one exception, however.
A middle-aged man—I suspect the same one who yelled at me last year—shouted at me, “Shame on you!!”
I gave him a friendly wave and shouted, “Thank you!!!”
We went back and forth saying the same thing to each other probably about a half-dozen times until we were out of earshot. I think my “thank-you’s” irritated the hell out of him and the sight of my uniform and peace flag probably put a bit of damper on the rest of his day.
The parade ended in front of the brick village police station, an elegant former private residence, Victorian in design, I believe. One of the village policeman approached me smiling and extended his hand to shake mine. I said, “This wool and polyester uniform doesn’t go well with this temperature.” He smiled but left when a teenage boy walked up to me to shake my hand and thank me for my service.
Minutes later, the police chief, Jim Brosius, formerly assistant police chief in Shaker Heights, came up to me to shake my hand. I had met Jim a couple of years ago at one of several Thursday evening free concerts held on the village’s triangle park when he invited me to a VFW picnic that I attended a month or so later.
I mentioned to Jim I am simply trying to get people to think about what we are doing in the Middle East and he commiserated, saying it’s a mess and is not being handled properly. As Jim walked away, he thanked me for a story I wrote about the VFW picnic that was published in the Chagrin Valley Times weekly community newspaper a couple of weeks after the picnic.
Before the parade started, two women of my generation chatted me up and one was especially critical about what we are doing in the Middle East. The other woman, interestingly, had worked as a volunteer at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. during the Vietnam War, reading to patients recovering from their war injuries. She saw the reading and her friendship with the soldiers as therapeutic to their recovery.
The thought occurred to me that the real war heroes are not soldiers who kill and destroy but medics, doctors, nurses and mental health professionals–and volunteers like the woman I met yesterday–who strive mightily to repair as best as possible the bodies and minds of those ravaged by war.
Today, Memorial Day, also for the seventh year in a row, I walked in the Shaker Heights Memorial Day Parade. I wasn’t sure which group I would walk with. In the past it has been either Plymouth Church, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, or Christ Episcopal Church. Today the first church banner I saw was one carried by folks affiliated with Christ Episcopal. I said to a man helping to carry the banner, “I was raised Catholic but my dad was Episcopalian, so is it okay if I walk with you?” He smiled and said, “Sure.”
Unlike the Blossom Festival Parade, the Shaker parade went smoothly–no rude comments or gestures, although in the past I heard a mild boo and one guy flipped me off, but said nothing.
While several spectators appreciated my message, the response was considerably muted compared to last year’s parade. I think people are spooked by ISIS and believe a uniformed military is the “solution” to neutralizing terrorism, even though traditionally trying to vanquish a shadowy adversary wearing civilian clothes and living among civilians–as terrorists do–has failed miserably, as was the case in Vietnam with the Viet Cong wearing street clothes, and with the plain-clothes Taliban and Al Qaeda jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Still, I gotta keep pushing up that boulder.
Promoting Peace at the Hessler Street Fair
May 18, 2015
For at least the fifth straight year, as a member of Veterans for Peace, I took part in the Hessler Street Fair in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood. As I approached the VFP table yesterday (Sunday, May 17th), manned by fellow peaceniks Michael McMurray, Art Dorland and John Harmon, Michael, when he saw me in my U.S. Army dress uniform, said, “Ladykiller!!” I replied, “Chick magnet!!” He laughed.
For some reason, military dress uniforms are real “head-turners.” During the course of the afternoon, five women asked if I would follow them home. That’s the good news. The bad news: so did eight guys.
The Hessler fair attracts people ranging from babies to people I would guess are in their eighties. Most folks tend to be left-leaning in their politics, so I didn’t expect any criticism and received none. Those who did not like seeing a war veteran carrying a peace flag kept their, well, peace. But I’m hoping I at least gave them something to think about. I want people to realize it is not just aging hippies who are pro-peace but also many war veterans.
It was a nice surprise to see and chat with a woman named Sue, who introduced me to her teenage son, Jack. I had talked with Sue on earlier occasions when she and I volunteered at the St. Augustine Hunger Center on West 14th Street on Thanksgivings, Christmases and Easters. Sue told me, however, that even though she lives in Euclid, she now attends Mass at St. Augustine and does other volunteer work more frequently for the parish.
Sue and I are on the same page when it comes to war and peace, and asked if I know Father Ben Jimenez, SJ (Society of Jesus, i.e. Jesuit), who has been active for years promoting peace. I said I’ve known Ben for quite a while. (He is the parochial vicar for St. Augustine Parish.)
Sue said that occasionally when Father Ben celebrates Mass in St. Augustine Church, he will focus on peace in his homily (sermon) which prompts grumbles from one of the men at Mass and sometimes annoys him so much that he gets up and leaves.
I said to Sue, “And that guy claims to be a Christian, a follower of the Prince of Peace? How can he walk out on a sermon against war? That makes no sense.”
As Sue left I told her I hoped to see her next Thanksgiving at the St. Augustine Hunger Center.
Several people at the fair thanked me for my service and I gave them my standard reply: “You’re welcome. I wish I could say ‘it was my pleasure,’ but it really wasn’t.” They would nod in understanding. I told some people, “One of my lieutenants (Billy Joe Blacksten, from Versailles, Missouri) was killed during the Tet Offensive three days after his 23rd birthday—his whole life ahead of him just blown away. More than 58,000 Americans killed and 3.4 million Vietnamese also sent to early graves. We were ordered over there to kill communists and now Vietnam, a communist nation, is our ally against China…all those wasted lives.”
A middle-age man, noticing my name tag on my uniform, asked if I was the same Pumphrey who has written many letters to the editor. I admitted same and he smiled and said, “I’ve been reading your letters for 20, 30 years.” I said, “Thanks. You made my day.”
One young woman, admiring my 47-year-old uniform, said, “It looks as fresh as when you got it, I’m sure.”
I said, “Well, it’s a lot tighter than it was in 1968. I’m sucking in my gut as we speak.”
She doubled over in laughter.
I added, “I really don’t need a belt to hold these pants up.”
I was quite surprised when a sweet young thing–I’m guessing about 25–impressed with my uniform and peace flag, asked if she could hug me. Of course there was only one answer to that question, and of course I reciprocated in kind.
As has often happened over the past few years, several people asked if they could take my picture with the peace flag. On one occasion, when fellow peacenik Janet Smith was standing nearby, I jokingly said to the woman taking the photo, “Are you with the NSA?”
Janet chimed in, “They already have your picture.”
Vietnam War veteran brings peace message to Indians home opener
April 14, 2015
A few Indians fans yelled derisive, insulting Indian war whoops at about 20 sign-carrying people protesting the Indians name and Wahoo logo that demean native Americans, near Progressive Field before the team’s home opener on Friday, April 10th.
Although sympathetic with the protesters, I stood about 30 feet from the group along East Ninth Street near Bolivar Road with a different issue in mind. What prompted my presence was a Plain Dealer sports story on April 1st noting that pre-game ceremonies would include representatives of all branches of the military who will present “the colors and an oversized American flag will occupy much of the field.”
“Goddammit”, I thought. “Here we go again.”
The image in my mind was that the ceremonies, as has been the case at Cleveland Browns football games, would be faintly reminiscent of the late renowned cinematographer Leni Riefenstahl’s nationalistic and jingoistic Third Reich propaganda films from 1930s Germany.
Annoyed, I thought there really really needs to be a preemptive strike for peace–that there needs to be a voice for peace, especially from someone who has experienced the bitter taste of war, to serve as a counterweight to the mindless macho militaristic swagger and posturing scheduled before the Indians game at Progressive Field. The pre-game ceremonies ostensibly were to “honor the U.S. military,” said The Plain Dealer story, when it really would be an advertisement for the military.
The best way to honor and support our military is to get them out of harm’s way—out of unwinnable, endless, tragic and terribly-prosecuted incursions into other nations’ civil wars thousands of miles away that we exacerbate with our bombs, bullets and missiles. Support and honor the troops by bringing them home alive now, not in flag-draped aluminum military-issue caskets.
So the afternoon of the home opener, with the temperature too low to wear my Class A dress greens uniform, I wore my 48-year-old U.S. Army field jacket with the six medals the army awarded me pinned to the flap of the left breast pocket, including a Bronze Star Medal for Meritorious Service. The army had presented me the medals after I returned to the states from Vietnam in July, 1968, where I was a reporter, then editor for the First Infantry Division (Big Red One) newspaper. Beneath the medals I had pinned a button graced by a black peace symbol on a white field. On my right breast pocket flap was a black and white Veterans for Peace logo button and another black and white button reading “No More War” with peace symbols in the o’s.I also wore my black embroidered baseball cap identifying myself as a First Infantry Division Vietnam veteran. My unfurled peace flag, similar to the American flag, featured red and white stripes with a white peace symbol supplanting the stars on the flag’s navy blue field.
I was pleasantly surprised with the number of people who thanked me for my service, with several shaking my hand. I stood next to an unoccupied police motorcycle and when the policeman returned, we had a pleasant conversation. Shortly before he drove away to go on patrol he said, “Thank you for your service.” I said, “You’re welcome. I wish I could say ‘it was my pleasure,’ but it really wasn’t.” He nodded that he understood.
I could tell from the facial expressions on many fans walking by that they did not like what they saw, but they did not say anything insulting or rude. One thing is certain, the fans will not soon forget–if ever–the image of a decorated war veteran displaying peace symbols.
One woman who walked by said, “Are you going to be at the Parade the Circle this year?” I said, “I’m planning on it.” I was surprised she recognized me as I have worn my Class A “dress greens” uniform at those parades over the years, since the temperature has always been too warm to wear my field jacket.
One middle-aged man was especially effusive in thanking me for my service, shaking my hand for several seconds, adding, “Thank you so much for being here and for what you are doing. Is there anything I can do for you?”
I said, “No, the handshake is enough.”
Promoting Peace at St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 17, 2015
I have to admit, despite having done so several times over the past eight or nine years now, to more than a little anxiety about wearing my vintage U.S. Army duds and carrying a peace flag in public. The same angst bubbled up today as I awaited a ride on the RTA (Regional Transit Authority) Blue Line train as it approached the Avalon Road stop on Van Aken Boulevard in Shaker Heights. I was headed with my furled peace flag to downtown Cleveland for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which I had attended twice in recent years in my “dress greens” Class A uniform, carrying my peace flag. Today it was too cold for the uniform, so instead I wore my nearly-49-year-old army field jacket, a relic from my days at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from 9/66 to 6/67. On the left pocket flap I had pinned the six medals the army awarded me upon my discharge in July, 1968, after a year in Vietnam, where I was a reporter, then editor, of the Army’s First Infantry Division newspaper, after being drafted in 1966. Beneath the medals was a button graced by a black peace symbol on a white field. On the right pocket flap I had pinned a Veterans for Peace button and another button saying, “No More War,” replete with peace symbols in the middle of the “o’s”.
The reason for the anxiety? I never ever know if anything untoward might happen–an unpleasant encounter with a war monger, perhaps even descending to beer-fueled physical assault, despite the venue being extremely family-oriented and family-friendly.
Today I walked to a spot on the parade route on Superior Avenue with my peace flag still furled, showing only red and white stripes, thinking I would step into the parade with the Diocesan Holy Name Societies, as I had done a few years ago in my dress uniform, when the temperature was in the unseasonably warm low-70’s, and the parade drew about 400,000 spectators.
I was hoping to see Father Tom Haren walking with the group, as he had done a few years ago when I walked with him, but he was not there. (He is pastor of St. Monica Parish in Garfield Heights.)
So I kept an eye out for a group that would be sympathetic with my message of peace.
Bingo!!! I hit the jackpot when I saw a man and woman holding a banner with the word “VEGAN” in white letters on a black field. I noticed a peace symbol below the word and thought that group would not mind if I joined them. I walked onto Superior Avenue, approached the man holding the banner and said, “I like your peace symbol. Is it okay if I join you?” He said, “Sure” and I unfurled my peace flag. Underneath the word “vegan” were several other words, only two of which I remember: “compassion” and “non-violence.” I felt right at home. The man holding the banner introduced himself as Justin, and in shaking my hand said “Thank you for your service.” I said, “You’re welcome. I wish I could say ‘it was my pleasure’, but it wasn’t. I was drafted in 1966.”
The parade finished without incident, with a few other people thanking me for my service or from afar, giving me a thumbs-up. One member of the vegan group said he had remembered me being in the parade a few years ago and said the vegan philosophy meshes very well with the message of peace.
One of the many “sweet young things” at the parade–I would guess she was about 17, said to me as I walked to the rapid, “I like your flag.” I said, “Thank you. I appreciate that.” She then said, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” and I said, “Thanks, same to you.”
During the ride home on the RTA train, I stood rather than sat, facing an attractive middle-aged couple also standing who looked at me with rather somber expressions, and the gentleman having even a rather unpleasant look on his face. Neither smiled at me nor indicated approval of what they saw. Both were wearing leather jackets and after a few minutes I was able discern the words “Harley Davidson” embossed on the front of the woman’s jacket. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “No peaceniks there.” I don’t know about you but I have this gut feeling that anyone with the words “Harley Davidson” embossed or embroidered on any apparel is 100% true-blue die-hard militarists who time-and-time again rubber stamp any lethal and destructive actions taken by our military–no questions asked. But on the other hand, I figure the couple and others at the parade who didn’t like my message got something to think about and likely will remember for a very, very long time the image of a decorated war veteran with a great, profound passion for peace.
How about peace outside the womb?
January 30, 2015
For the past several years, as a Vietnam War veteran and member of Veterans for Peace, I have participated in peace vigils behind the West Side Market late on Saturday mornings, followed by lunch with about a half-dozen like-minded people at the nearby Koffie Cafe on Market Street. However, on Saturday, January 24th, I opted to take part in the Catholic Pro-Life Rosary Procession that was to begin at the Cardinal Mindszenty Plaza at E. 12th Street and Lakeside Avenue.
I wore my 1966 U.S. Army field jacket, a relic from my days at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after being drafted earlier that year. On the left breast pocket flap were the six medals the army awarded me, including a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service, after serving a year in Vietnam, as a reporter, then editor, for the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division newspaper. I also brought along my peace flag, which has a peace symbol on the flag’s navy blue field, in lieu of 50 stars.
The long-time objective of the right-to-life movement has been to foster respect for human life “from conception until natural death,” but thousands upon thousands of unnatural deaths have occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen during the watches of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as for decades in the execution chambers of many of our prisons. I wanted to find out if any procession participants supported peace outside the womb as well as in the womb, respecting human life in our prisons’ death chambers and in war zones.
Alas, my plan did not come to fruition. I did not feel comfortable asking strangers point blank their opinion about war and capital punishment without first establishing rapport. Conversation was impossible, however, because the participants recited the rosary aloud as we walked. (There were about 40 men and women of all ages, and children with the youngest being a toddler pushed in a stroller by her mother.) It would have been inexcusably rude of me to begin talking with those praying. So I kept my peace as I walked at the end of the procession, which began on Lakeside Avenue in front of the Doubletree Hotel, heading west.
Suddenly, as we crossed Lakeside at E. 9th Street, we were confronted by about a half-dozen pro-choice advocates led by a young woman with a bullhorn shouting “Abortion on demand, with no apology.” The woman was accompanied by about five young and middle-aged men.
The pro-choice group walked with us as the woman shouted other slogans, such as “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” “Not the church, not the state; women must decide their fate.”
As we headed south on E. 9th Street the woman said, “a fetus growing in the womb is a potential life.” I said to her, “if it’s growing, it’s already alive.” She said nothing and we kept walking.
Toward the end of the hour-long procession, heading down Lakeside toward Cardinal Mindszenty Plaza, a middle-aged man approached me and asked about my flag.
“It’s a peace flag,” I said and he said, “So you’re pro-abortion.”
Shocked, dismayed and perturbed, I said, “NO!!! I’m pro-peace in the womb and pro-peace outside the womb!” How on earth could the man equate the peace sign with abortion rights. That makes absolutely no sense–the epitome of an oxymoron.
The thought arose that if the man had believed I was pro-choice, many others in the procession might also assume so and I was very eager to disabuse them of such a notion.
At the end of the procession and the prayers, I shouted at the crowd, “Thanks everyone for coming. Peace on earth and peace in the womb.” Many smiled in agreement.
Unbeknownst to me, the pro-choice group left the procession a few minutes earlier and got into a waiting car. I had wanted to bid them farewell with these words: “Take care everyone. Life is fragile.”
Maybe next year.
An Oxymoron to Beat All Oxymorons: Christian Supporters of War
Sun, Nov 30, 2014 3:42 pm
While helping to serve Thanksgiving meals last Thursday at the St. Augustine Hunger Center on West 14th Street in the Tremont neighborhood, I ran into old friend Father Ben Jimenez, SJ (Society of Jesus). The Jesuit priest is parochial vicar for St. Augustine Parish and enjoys a lengthy history of being a strong, tireless advocate for the poor, peace and social justice.
Aware of my pro-peace activism, Father Ben mentioned that Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, headquartered, n Washington, D.C., would be celebrating Mass in St. John Cathedral 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 29th. Of course it didn’t take much encouragement from Father Ben for me be there to offer a different perspective on war for those entering the cathedral for Mass.
Since it was too chilly to wear my dress uniform, I donned my vintage U.S. Army field jacket issued to me in the fall of 1966 at Fort Bragg, NC, after completing basic training as a draftee during that summer at Fort Benning, GA. On the left breast pocket flap were three medals: Bronze Star, Army Commendation and Vietnam Service. On the right breast pocket flap was a button displaying the peace symbol and the Veterans for Peace logo button. I also wore my 1st Infantry Division Vietnam Veteran baseball cap.
I said to several people entering the cathedral, “Please remember Christ’s admonition to love thy enemy….and thou shalt not kill.” One woman said, “That’s a good thought,” and I thanked her.
A nattily dressed man reacted kindly to my message and reached to shake my hand. He mentioned he had been in the Marines and after I had said, “Thou shalt not kill,” he said “I haven’t had a weapon in my hands for 50 years.” I said, “Good for you.” He smiled when I said the Marines’ traditional “Hoorah!!”
A couple with two young children walking past the cathedral stopped to chat for a few minutes. We were on the same page, especially the woman, agreeing that politicians play the fear card to manipulate Americans into doing whatever they want when it comes to war. Her husband also was supportive but asked me what to do about ISIS. I said, “It is impossible for a uniformed military to defeat adversaries wearing civilian clothes and living among civilians, as was the case with Viet Cong guerrillas in Vietnam. The only way to neutralize ISIS is undercover plain-clothes covert operations: gain their confidence, infiltrate their cells, discover their plans, arrest them, jail them and prosecute them.” Of course it is always a good idea to try to broker peace agreements, although in the case of ISIS, that is a daunting challenge.
The woman mentioned how our bombs are killing civilians and I said such a strategy on our part angers people in Iraq and Syria and provides enormous opportunities for terrorist groups to recruit new militants. That’s what happened in this country after 9/11. Military enlistments rose dramatically as millions of Americans wanted revenge. The coin has been flipped and now many Syrians and Iraqis want revenge against the United States for what our bombs and bullets continue to do to their respective countries and people.
I decided to attend Mass in St. John’s Cathedral, familiar territory for me since I had been a reporter for more than 10 years for The Catholic Universe Bulletin, official newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, back in the ’70s and ’80s.
Archbishop Broglio is a Cleveland Heights native who attended St. Ann School and graduated from St. Ignatius High School before graduating from Boston College with a degree in the classics. He also has a degree in theology and a doctorate in canon (church) law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he was also ordained a priest from the Cleveland diocese. For two years in the late ’70s he was associate pastor at St. Margaret Mary Parish in South Euclid, before leaving the diocese for further education and assignments.
Well, Broglio’s academic credentials are impressive and of course there is no question, obviously, as to him being intellectually-gifted: “book smart.” But I have to wonder about any depth of street smarts when it comes to war–especially since he is a “professional Christian”–supposedly a follower of the Prince of Peace. I have seen nothing in the news media where Broglio condemns our futile, counter-productive, mismanaged, unwinnable wars in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, nor condemning the use of Predator drones that have killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, as such condemnations surely would please the Prince of Peace.
During his homily (sermon) at the Mass, Broglio said that nobody wants peace more than our men and women in uniform. It reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with a Marine in his dress uniform after the Memorial Day Parade in Shaker Heights. He was agitated about me being in my vintage army dress uniform while carrying a peace flag. The marine said, “Nobody wants peace more than I do.” I said, “If that’s so, then why do you have a problem with my peace flag?” He said nothing and walked away.
Cleveland’s Veterans Day Parade: Giving People Something to Think About – Sat, Nov 15, 2014 2:46 pm
For the first time in 42 years, a Veterans Day Parade was held November 11th in Cleveland. In reading Brian Albrecht’s Plain Dealer story a few weeks ago announcing the parade, the thought came to mind that there really ought to be a voice for peace on site, especially from someone who has experienced the bitter taste of war, to serve as a counterweight to the macho, jingoistic swagger characterizing such parades.
I figured there would be many veterans and their supporters at the parade who, while otherwise good people, are loath to question authority and simply march in lockstep to whatever alarmist, fear-mongering rhetoric our presidents offer, be they Republican or Democrat commanders-in-chief.
Therefore, I fully expected my peace flag to be an unwelcome sight among most people at the parade. To mitigate against any possible unpleasantness from other veterans, the thought came to mind to finally use the Bronze Star, Army Commendation and Vietnam Service Medals that for more than 45 years have graced a drawer in my bedroom. I figured the medals–especially the Bronze Star–might give pause to any belligerent blood-thirsty veterans I might encounter, much like a crucifix gives pause to a blood-thirsty Dracula. I pinned the medals on my circa 1966 U.S. Army field jacket’s left breast pocket flap, assuming the day would be too cold to wear my U.S. Army dress uniform.
As luck would have it, Veterans Day was gorgeous, sun-drenched, and warm enough to wear my class A, dress greens uniform, supplemented by my peace flag. I had pleasant conversations with two Vietnam veterans who unfortunately are among those otherwise good people who do not question authority, especially when it comes to decisions to go to war.
As I stood in front of Cleveland City Hall, a fellow veteran of First Infantry Division service in Vietnam, Patrick McLaughlin, an attorney, approached me and we had a friendly chat, with him initially questioning if I was there to “make some sort of statement.” I identified myself as a member of Veterans for Peace, saying we were sent to Vietnam “to kill communists and now Vietnam, a COMMUNIST country, is our ally against China.”
“War is the most insane invention of man,” I said to Patrick. “More than 58,000 American lives wasted in Vietnam; 3.4 million Vietnamese lives wasted.”
He said he was there to honor the veterans for their service and those who were killed in action. I can appreciate that, but I prefer honoring living soldiers rather than dead ones whose lives were blown away in unnecessary, enormously wasteful, unconscionable, counterproductive, futile and mismanaged politically-motivated wars designed to enhance the careers of fear-mongering politicians and the bottom lines of war profiteers.
Remembering soldiers who died by their own hand
Sat, Oct 11, 2014
“Your sign makes me want to cry,” a woman said to me at the annual LifeAct (formerly SPEA–Suicide Prevention Education Alliance) “Into the Light Walk” fundraiser at the Cleveland Zoo on Sunday evening, October 5th.
Signs pinned to the backs of jackets worn by hundreds of adults and high school students attending the event said “In memory of” or “In honor of” followed by the name of a loved one who has committed suicide.
My sign, pinned to the back of my 1966 Army field jacket simply said: “In memory of soldier suicides.” Embellishing the sign was a peace symbol I had drawn under the words. (In 2012 more U.S. soldiers died by suicide than were killed in combat.)
Accenting my field jacket was a peace symbol button pinned on the flap of the left breast pocket and a Veterans for Peace button I had pinned on the right breast pocket flap. I also carried my peace flag.
The woman who was nearly moved to tears by my sign asked me if I knew a soldier who had committed suicide and I said, ‘no’ but I later remembered one of my buddies in Vietnam had lost his father to suicide. The soldier had a drinking problem which I suspect was to dull the pain of having lost his dad.
As I approached a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs table at the fundraiser, I said to the folks there, “I LOVE the VA!!,” mentioning how pleased I’ve been with the care I have received over the years at its facilities, first in Brecksville and now at the Wade Park facility near University Circle. One of the women at the table who works for the VA handed me a “Veterans Crisis Line” card for me to use in the event I ever feel depressed. The card has contact information and on the back, a list of “signs of suicide risk,” such as “thinking about hurting or killing yourself” and “hopelessness, feeling like there’s no way out.”
The keynote speaker at the event was Caitlin Lewins, a young woman who lost her brother, Micah, to suicide and more recently a cousin, Heather. She supplemented her talk with a PowerPoint presentation of a series of photos of her brother and her cousin, indicating how much their lives meant to her and the loss she feels by their deaths. But she emphasized a message of hope, as had earlier speakers, that there are very successful, proven methods of treating depression and that suicide can be prevented.
Loree Vick, as in past years, did an excellent job as the MC of the event. (She had lost her husband to suicide nine years ago.) In closing remarks prior to the walk, Loree provided a poignant, eloquent observation, noting that unlike last year’s event dampened by a downpour, “tonight we can see the stars,” imagining the stars as being loved ones lost to suicide who are “at peace and no longer in pain” and looking down on survivors wishing that they, too, be “at peace and no longer in pain,” tenderly adding that she wished “happiness fills the cracks of your broken hearts.”
After the walk and as I neared the exit of the zoo carrying my unfurled peace flag, a woman approached me and thanked me for my message. Thinking she was referring to my peace flag, I asked her if she saw the sign on the back of my field jacket about soldier suicides and she said that was what she was referring to, apparently having noticed the sign earlier in the evening.
I said, “I like to think the soldiers know about my message.”
“They know,” she said.
A pre-emptive strike for peace at the Cleveland Browns home opener
From: Louis Pumphrey
Date: Sun, Sep 14, 2014 6:35 pm
“I remember you from last year,” said the smiling young man as he reached out to shake my hand, in front of First Energy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns.
Yes, I had been at the Cleveland Browns home opener last year when they played, but lost, to the Miami Dolphins. As was the case last year, I had positioned myself in my U.S. Army dress greens uniform with my peace flag unfurled, standing about the length of a football field from the southwest entrance to First Energy Stadium to get across the idea to hundreds of fans walking past me to watch the Browns-New Orleans Saints game that there are some war veterans who are pro-peace.
The idea to carry the peace message at last year’s home opener came to mind because there was no Cleveland National Air Show in 2013 due to federal budget cuts, so I went to the Browns’ home opener game last year to make up for that lost chance to promote peace. This year I went to the first day of the air show, but decided to start a new tradition of also going to the Browns home opener, weather permitting.
Perhaps after worshiping the Prince of Peace a few hours earlier in a church, a man heading to the stadium said to me, “I’m for peace too but we’ve gotta bomb the fuck out of those people.”
Ohhhhhkay, I thought to myself….How did that work in Iraq?
The man’s comment brought to mind the classic definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
One woman asked if there would be a “fly-over” before the game, referring to military jets sometimes flying over stadiums.
I said, “I don’t know, but this (my peace flag) is a response to it.” She smiled as she walked away.
To others I said, in explaining my presence, “There needs to be a voice for peace here to serve as a counterweight to all the macho, militaristic swagger you’ll see in the pre-game ceremonies, with a color guard. This is a pre-emptive strike for peace.”
As was the case last year, many many people reached out to shake my hand and thank me for my service, including many people wearing New Orleans Saints jerseys with the names of “Brees” and “Graham” on the back. Others flashed peace signs or gave me a thumbs-up, with the cutest thumbs-up from a little girl riding on her father’s shoulders.
One young woman asked if she could take a “selfie” with me and I said, “Yes.” I asked if she got the peace flag in the photo and she said she did.
An older gentleman with a few companions who was tickled with my presence and message, said, “Most of the war mongers have never been in a war.”
I said, “Yeah, Cheney had five deferments. What a brave American!!!”
Those who didn’t like what they saw either looked away or would simply nod to me after I nodded and smiled at them.
During the course of my stay I mentioned to several people that our air strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia make martyrs out of terrorists and simply encourage recruitment of new terrorists–especially since we have killed hundreds of civilians with our missile-wielding drones.
A young Marine veteran who did two tours of duty in Iraq loading weapons on Cobra helicopters asked me how we should deal with terrorists and I said the only effective approach is sophisticated plainclothes undercover work, but that requires time and patience. I provided two examples that were news to him. I told him that several years ago plainclothes state and local police in New Jersey had collaborated with the FBI and CIA to foil plots to kill as many soldiers as possible at Ft. Dix, NJ, and to blow up JFK airport. The military had no role in those successes. It is absolutely impossible for a uniformed military to prevail over adversaries wearing civilian clothes and living among civilians, as was the case with the Viet Cong in Vietnam and with al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I told several people my story about losing a lieutenant in the Tet Offensive three days after his 23rd birthday; the husband of a cousin killed in an ambush in Vietnam and a Miami University classmate killed when his Navy jet went down over North Vietnam.
“More than 58,000 American lives wasted and 3.4 million Vietnamese lives wasted,” I said. “Now Vietnam–a communist country–is our ally against China. Such a waste.”
“War is the most insane invention of man,” I said to a few people.
One young woman, who introduced herself as Megan, walked with me for a few minutes as I headed toward Public Square and she said, “It’s not the people who want war. It’s the leaders.”
I said, “That’s exactly right. Fear-mongering, power abusing politicians are the problem.”
Such politicians prompt millions of naive, gullible and fearful Americans to embrace without question their pernicious propaganda, with the only beneficiaries being said politicians and war profiteers such as Boeing, Martin Marietta, Halliburton, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, KBR and General Dynamics, to name just a few. Undertakers are unwitting beneficiaries of war also, although as far as I know none lobby for government contracts.
Sticking my pro-peace neck out at
the Cleveland National Air Show
From: Louis Pumphrey
Date: Sun, Aug 31, 2014 8:37 pm
I have to admit that the prospect of stepping into the public eye wearing my U.S. Army dress greens uniform and displaying my peace flag is always a bit unsettling, especially when a majority of observers tends to rubber stamp whatever the Pentagon wants to do. As usual, anxiety reared its ugly head Saturday morning as I got dressed in my rather snug 46-year-old uniform. The thought occurred that it might be a good idea before leaving the house to have a meal of Xanax—Xanax on the half-shell, Xanax alfredo and for dessert, a scoop of–no, make that two scoops–of mint-flavored Xanax.
Alas, I was chemical free when I left the house with my furled flag, and walked toward the Shaker Rapid Transit stop at Avalon Road and Van Aken Boulevard in Shaker Heights. I arrived at the site of the air show, Burke Lakefront Airport in downtown Cleveland, about 10:30 a.m. posting myself in the best spot for visibility by attendees on foot and in vehicles. I unfurled my peace flag and in short order
a woman with a pink tee shirt reading “Military Mom” walked up to me and said rather testily, “Why are you here if you don’t support the military?”
I said, “I support the military. The best way to support our troops is to bring them home. Get them out of harm’s way, out of these unwinnable wars that will never end. It is impossible for a uniformed military to defeat terrorists wearing civilian clothes and living among civilians. It didn’t work in Vietnam or Iraq nor in Afghanistan. The only way to defeat such terrorists is patient undercover, plainclothes work.”
The mom, who has a young son in the Navy Sea Cadets, didn’t say anything, but when she walked away, I know I gave her something to think about. Her son and another sea cadet, dressed in the classic Navy “whites” uniform with their white circular caps, were selling ear plugs and souvenir medallions with proceeds going to the sea cadet program. Another member of the sea cadets, a young man of Asian descent who lives in Independence and plans to join the Navy looked at the two rows of six ribbons on my left chest, pointed to one asked, “Is that a Bronze Star?”
I said, “Yes.”
Another sea cadet walked up and said, “You’ve been here every year.” I said, “Well, last year’s show was cancelled for federal budget reasons, but I have been here a couple of other years.”
His memory validated my suspicion that when people see someone in a dress military uniform carrying a peace flag, it is an image that they will not soon–if ever–forget. Some are happy to see it, others not so much.
To illustrate: Later in the day, a man and woman walked up to me and the man, coincidentally, also had been a member of the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division (“Big Red One”). He had not experienced war, however, having been stationed at the division’s headquarters in Fort Riley, Kansas, and in Germany. He became rather exercised at the sight of my peace flag, but his companion said she appreciated my message of peace. He clearly made his displeasure known and his woman friend tugged at his left arm a few times, trying to pull him away, perhaps fearing the disagreement might escalate. I forcefully countered with my earlier point that it is impossible for a uniformed military to prevail over “bad guys” wearing street clothes and living among civilians.
Others who did not like what they saw kept their, well, peace, as there were no more confrontations the rest of the day. I often would nod and say, “Hi” to people and most would respond likewise, but I knew they were not comfortable with what they saw.
A middle-aged couple approached me and asked my rationale for being there and I said, “There needs to be a voice for peace to serve as a counterweight to all the macho military swagger we see here.” They smiled at what they heard. I went on to say, “I lost a lieutenant in the Tet Offensive three days after his 23rd birthday. His whole life ahead of him blown away. More than 58,000 American lives lost and 3.4 million Vietnamese wasted, and for what? Now Vietnam, a communist country, is our ally against China.”
A young couple chatted me up while waiting to cross North Marginal Road. The man had been a medic in the Air Force and I said, “Good for you. Better to save lives than take lives.” His companion, a Vietnamese woman who came to the U.S. as a child in an airlift operation, was supportive of my endeavor. I said, “The Vietnam War was a civil war between the North and the South. There was no reason for our involvement. No country stuck its nose into our civil war.”
“I agree,” she said.
She mentioned our Agent Orange legacy in Vietnam with the effects of the carcinogenic defoliant on the populace and causing severe birth defects. “And the chemical has killed American veterans.” she said. I said, “Yes. An American-made chemical killing Americans.”
Some time later a Cleveland policeman directing traffic on the hot, humid day walked up to me and feeling the sleeve of my uniform said, “You must be smokin’ in that.” I said, “Yeah, wool and polyester does not go well with days like today,” referring to the uniform’s fabric. I told the officer my presence and message is “a labor of love.”
He agreed with me about our foreign entanglements, saying, “Obama is sticking his nose into other countries’ business. Let those people deal with their problems themselves.”
A number of air show attendees asked to have their picture taken with me. When one young man with his lady friend asked if she could take our picture, I said, “Sure, as long as you’re not with the NSA.” They laughed.
A mom with her cellphone camera said, “I love your flag. Can I take your picture?” I said, sure, and her three young daughters stood next to me for the photo. I asked her if she got the peace flag in the photo and she said, “yes” and I said, please circulate it. She said she would.
I stayed until the end of the air show, after about a 45-minute segment by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels aerobatic team of six jets. I have to admire the intelligence, skill and courage of pilots flying the jets, but ultimately their appearance is simply a public relations and recruiting endeavor.
The Cleveland policeman I talked with earlier noted one jet climbing straight up into the air and we both agreed about how impressive that performance was. It said something about the jet’s enormous power.
As in past air shows, there was good reason for the sea cadets to sell earplugs. The high-pitched screeching of the low-flying jets’ engines gave me goosebumps. I said to the policeman, “I think those planes need new mufflers.”
He said, “Oh, I don’t know.”
I said, “I suppose the sound adds to the drama.” He agreed.
Remembering–and mourning–Mike Ludwig
From: Louis Pumphrey
Date: Tue, Jul 8, 2014 5:55 pm
Yesterday evening at a Lyndhurst, Ohio funeral home, while expressing my sympathy to the family of Mike Ludwig, a fellow Vietnam veteran and member of Chapter 39 of Veterans for Peace who died July 1st at the age of 70 from brain cancer, I mentioned to a couple of his children that when I think of Mike, the words “Mister Personality” come to mind. With his strong, pleasing-to-the-ear voice and friendly, likable and modest manner, Mike always was a welcome presence at peace gatherings and chapter meetings. He walked with me most recently in the 2013 Memorial Day Parade in Shaker Heights, along with a few other members of Veterans for Peace, as he had done once before several years ago.
Mike, who introduced me to Veterans for Peace about eight years ago, was an infantryman–a “grunt”–with the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam, 1969-1970. His traumatic experiences in our ill-conceived, ignoble and unconscionable interference in the Civil War between the North and the South of Vietnam was the opposite of my own. Mike saw violence, wounding, blood and death while the only blood I saw during my one-year tour was my own if I nicked myself shaving. I was extremely fortunate, serving as a reporter, then editor, for the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division newspaper, 1967-68.
I have no doubt that the emotional pain Mike suffered during his year in the jungles of Vietnam contributed to his choice to self-medicate with alcohol. Mike had become terribly, terribly lost in the pitch-black, triple-canopied jungle of alcoholism but eventually–with the help of a strong character, will power, spiritual help and assistance from Alcoholics Anonymous–Mike struggled his way out of that very dark place, stepping into the bright, warm sunshine of sobriety, never to return to that frightening, overwhelming and tangled jungle.
Today, while sitting in a pew in St. Ann Catholic Church in Cleveland Heights waiting for Mike’s funeral Mass to begin, a little girl–I think one of Mike’s and Ann’s granddaughters–walked up and gave me a booklet detailing the various parts of the Mass. On the cover of the program is a color photo of Mike. While standing early in the Mass, I pressed the photo of Mike against my chest, over my heart, and patted the back of the program a few of times, as if comforting my lost friend. Some time later, while standing in line to receive communion, the thought came to mind that while next to Mike’s casket I would reach over the coffin with my left arm and kiss the pall. However, the communion line moved quickly and I simply patted the pall-covered casket with my left hand as I walked up to the priest to receive communion.
It is interesting that Mike’s death notice in The Plain Dealer, along with listing loving family members as survivors, said Mike was a “friend of Dr. Bob and Bill W,” who recovering alcoholics and others will recognize as founders of Alcoholics Anonymous in Akron, OH, several decades ago. Indeed, Mike’s holy card I picked up at the funeral home the evening before included these words from the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can and Wisdom to know the difference.”
Lou Walks for Peace On Memorial Day
From: Louis Pumphrey
Subject: Memorial Day weekend
Date: Mon, May 26, 2014 6:22 pm
Yet again I was out there “promoting” and “selling” peace today (Memorial Day), stepping into the annual Shaker Heights parade this morning, wearing my–ahem–rather snug 48-year-old U.S. Army “dress greens” Class A uniform the army gave me at the Oakland, California army depot upon my discharge after returning to the states in July, 1969, from a year in Vietnam as a reporter, then editor, for the First Infantry Division (“Big Red One”) newspaper. I had my peace flag, of course, and walked in front of a vehicle with a banner on the front that said, “Plymouth Church”. That Shaker Heights church is affiliated with the liberal United Church of Christ, so I knew the people in the truck and on its flatbed would be comfortable with my peace flag. Sadly, that cannot be said for some other “Christian” churches.
Before the parade began, the Shaker Heights High School band played the National Anthem, then there were speeches, a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps, which was the prettiest, most beautiful and moving rendition of that melody I have ever heard. Two trumpets played, with the second immediately echoing the first instrument’s notes. As usual, my eyes welled up and I got goosebumps listening to the mournful sounds.
Before the ceremony, a writer for cleveland.com, which is affiliated with The Plain Dealer newspaper, the sole daily serving metropolitan Cleveland, interviewed me and took photos of me with my peace flag.
He asked me how as a war veteran and member of Veterans for Peace that I would wish for people to think of Memorial Day and I said, “Well, it’s not pleasant, but I would want them to realize that our military dead and wounded are the result of deceitful, fear-mongering politicians who have betrayed our young. “We call ourselves a Christian nation, followers of the Prince of Peace. What a sick joke that is.”
I said to the reporter, “I lost a lieutenant (Billie Joe Blacksten) during the Tet Offensive, three days after his 23rd birthday–his whole life ahead of him blown away, along with the wasting of more than 58,000 other young American servicemen who died–not serving their country but serving war-mongering politicians and war profiteers.” I added that “we killed 3.4 million Vietnamese with our bombs, bullets and napalm. We went there to kill communists and now Vietnam, a communist nation, is our ally against China. War is the most insane invention of man.”
Several people along the parade route wished me a “Happy Memorial Day.” I said “thank you” and wished them the same, but “happy” is not the operative word for this day. It is a day of renewed sorrow, grief and sadness for three friends I lost in Vietnam, for the tens of thousands of other young, unfulfilled lives lost and for the legacy of thousands of physically and mentally wounded veterans as a result not only of the Vietnam War, but also from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bright spot of the day was the very impressive outpouring of affection for my presence in the parade, with waves of hearty applause and thank you’s from many, many spectators as I walked along Van Aken Boulevard toward Warrensville Center Road. That was very gratifying, being the warmest reception of all of the Shaker Memorial Day parades I have walked in since 2009.
One middle-aged man, however, had his right hand raised and flashed me part of the peace sign. It was not his index finger. Oh, well. I’m sure he will not soon forget what he saw today. I hope I gave him something to think about. (I waved at him and said, “Thank you.”)
It was a grueling weekend, as yesterday I walked in the annual Blossom Festival Parade down East Washington Street in quaint, picturesque Chagrin Falls. There was a huge, huge turnout of people in that Republican stronghold, but as you might expect, very little appreciation for my presence. But, again, I presented an image few people will soon forget and perhaps prompted some thought and reflection among spectators.
I have to admit to more than a little anxiety and fear when stepping into the Chagrin Falls parade, although I am friends with the village’s police chief–a Vietnam veteran of service in the Air Force–who I met last summer. Still, a couple of grade school and high school classmates–who sometimes are at odds with my pro-peace rants–have nevertheless expressed fears for my safety. I don’t think I have to worry about guns or knives, since there would be plenty of witnesses to a fatal attack, but I admit being concerned about someone with beer-fueled anger charging into the parade and beating me. Yesterday, I heard a loud “BOOOO” from a middle-aged man standing among the horde of spectators on the south side of East Washington Street. When he angrily pointed at me, I simply waved and said “Thank you.”
After the parade, when walking back up East Washington Street to my car, a young man driving a golf cart on the street, ferrying a few other guys, shouted at me, “Hey, buddy. You like that flag?”
“Sure do,” I said.
“I bet you do,” he said,
I shouted back, “I’m a Christian.”
He said nothing, making me think he also had been raised in a Christian religion and supposedly was a follower of the Prince of Peace who admonished His followers to “love thy enemy.” I’m sure my statement gave the young man something to think about.
Lou on Cleveland Rally for the Troops (Support troops by bringing them home Now!!)
From: Louis Pumphrey
Date: Sun, Apr 27, 2014 4:42 pm
Some old sayings came to mind while attending the 12th annual Rally for Troops today on Cleveland’s Public Square, my first appearance at the annual event, since this year the weather was more hospitable than in past years.
I wore my 1966-vintage U.S. Army field jacket given to me before I left Fort Bragg, NC, replete with a peace button pinned to the jacket pocket on my right chest and my Veterans for Peace logo button pinned on my left chest pocket. I also carried my peace flag–but furled, so that only its red and white stripes were visible. Not visible was the white peace symbol on a blue field, in lieu of stars, as on the American flag.
The first old saying that popped into my head was “timing is everything.” I mused about when would be a good time to unfurl my peace flag, but ultimately decided it would not be in my best interest to do so at ANY time, in light of the tsunami of “patriotic” jingoistic rhetoric I was forced to listen to from otherwise intelligent people who simply march in lockstep to whatever manipulative fear-mongering, war-mongering politicians of both major political parties proclaim. I decided—and here is the second old saying, from a Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, Part I–that “discretion is the better part of valor.” I feared boos, name-calling and perhaps even physical assault from the sea of black-leather-jacket-adorned bikers comprising most of the audience if I unfurled my peace flag. I wanted to experience at least one more sunrise in my lifetime. Some of the militarists in the crowd noticed my peace buttons as I walked around the southwest quadrant of Public Square, but said nothing. At least I gave them something to think about. Mission accomplished. (Where have I heard that before?)
The third old saying has to do with “choosing your battles.” i did not want blood–specifically, mine–spilled on Cleveland’s Public Square.
The reason for my caution in keeping my peace flag furled was because John “KIKS” Kikols, organizer of the event since its inception, indicated early in the program that he is very hostile to peace messages. He said that when he learned anti-war demonstrators were on the same southwest quadrant of Public Square more than a dozen years ago shortly after the Iraq war began that he wanted to drive downtown and run over the protesters, but that it would be an “accident.” The comment was met with approval by many in the crowd. That was enough for me to keep my peace flag furled.
Kikols, a graduate of the Cleveland Marshall Law School, is therefore an attorney who I assume, is quite familiar with the United States Constitution. Maybe he skipped law school classes focusing on the Second Amendment and its “freedom of speech” clause which protects, of course, peaceful public protest.
Before the program began, a veteran walked up to me–Tom, a biker from North Olmsted on the west side of Cleveland but a graduate of Brush High School in Lyndhurst on Cleveland’s east side–and we started chatting. He served during the Vietnam War but was stateside during his entire tour of duty. He was very simpatico with my comments during our conversation, perhaps because he had noticed the peace messages on my chest. He nodded in agreement when I mentioned “I support the troops and the best way to support them is to bring them home alive and not dead in aluminum coffins, or wounded or mentally ill.”
My new friend and fellow veteran, Tom, got me on a roll.
“More than 58,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam and for what? Such a waste. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army posed absolutely no threat to United States security. Now Vietnam is our ally against China.”
Tom mentioned that several U.S. firms are doing business in Vietnam, shaking his head at the tragic irony of us being relatively friendly with a communist nation where more than 58,000 young American lives were squandered.
“We were told if we didn’t defeat the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese we would be fighting them on the stretts of San Francisco,” I said, “Well, that didn’t happen.”
Tom mentioned the “domino theory,” which postulated that if South Vietnam fell to the communists–now our friends–neighboring countries would also go communist. “That didn’t happen,” I said. “Cambodia went communist independeint of any invasion from the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army.”
Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and had no weapons of mass destruction, resulting in George W. Bush and Barack Obama dispatching hundreds of young Americans to early graves, not to mention tens of thousdands of Iraqi men, women and children, with this enormously wasteful, bloody, unjustified history being replicated in Afghanistan.
It is impossible for a uniformed military to defeat adversaries wearing civilian clothes and living among civilians, which was the Viet Cong’s very strategy in Vietnam, adopted by al Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The only way to deal successfully with such a strategy is to gain terrorists’ confidence, infiltrate their cells, discover their plans, then arrest, indict and put them on trial.
Oh, did I mention Kikosl NEVER served in the military nor did his fellow flag-waving non-thinking puppet Monica Robins, who emceed the event? It is likely, therefore, they do not have a memory, as I do, of a fellow solider in Vietnam having his head blown off by mortar shrapnel, nor another friend who lost his life when his Navy jet went down over North Vietnam, nor another friend–the husband of cousin–killed in an ambush in South Vietnam.
All of these lives were wasted, as were those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Drone Teach-In at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church
focuses on killing people in Pakistan and Yemen without trials
From: Louis Pumphrey – [email protected]
Date: Wed, Apr 23, 2014 10:10 am
In a video I watched at the church on April 5th of a speech given by investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill entitled “How do you surrender to a drone?”, he said Obama, “the constitutional law professor and Nobel Peace Prize winner is continuing many policies that liberals found offensive during the Bush/Cheney administration.” He added the president has ordered “drone strikes targeted at American citizens without a trial” and during the administration of President Gerald Ford, the United States agreed with other nations that we will not carry out assassinations. However, the Obama administration skirts that ban by never using the word “assassination” when commenting on politically-related killings by drones.
“Why not seek an indictment (of suspected terrorists), and demand their extradition?” to the United States, Scahill asked rhetorically. “How do our actions present our self to the rest of the world? Society is not judged by how we treat the powerful but how we treat the least among us. Everyone deserves the same human rights. Our standards for killing non-Americans are low.
“If McCain had been elected (and done the same things as Obama), liberals would call for his impeachment.”
Scahill said Obama “authorized expanded drone strikes in Yemen” but the Yemeni government claimed it’s own air force had conducted strikes. Scahill said “babies, women and children were killed by our bombs.”
“It was the U.S.’s iron fist in the background,” said Scahill.
Scahill told of a journalist in Yemen who reported about killings being arrested, beaten and imprisoned for “crimes against the state” after dozens of women and children in a Bedouin village had been killed. Scahill noted one of the killer missiles had the logo of General Dynamics, a U.S. company, imprinted on it.
Such killings are not isolated, as Scahill noted another drone strike killed 14 women and 21 children. He reported a Yemeni man said to him, about the United States, “To us, you are the terrorists.”
Scahill said the Obama administration has this position: “All military age males (in target areas) are considered terrorists.”
“We don’t even know their identity or if they are involved with terrorists,” said Scahill, and that our actions would “make Dick Cheney smile.”
Scahill went on to say Obama conducts “Terror Tuesday” meetings on that day of the week to decide “who should live and who should die” by our drone strikes.
Scahill said we are “One party when it comes to foreign policy, no matter who is elected.”
* * * * * * *
The second event I attended featured keynote speaker Medea Benjamin, a longtime activist for social justice and human rights who in earlier years worked as a nutritionist and economist for the World Health Organization and United Nations. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Benjamin’s most recent of eight books is “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.” She co-founded Global Exchange, an international human rights organization, and CODEPINK, a grassroots social justice movement.
Benjamin said, “Drones are big business,” noting drone makers include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.
“At an Air Force base in the U.S. someone tells you to press a button” and a drone will “kill people thousands of miles away.” She said such killing causes PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) to the same degree as jet fighter pilots who unleash their missiles on people in war zones.
“We are not programmed to be killers by day and lovers at night,” said Benjamin.
Benjamin said one good thing President George W. Bush did was to close military bases in Saudi Arabia, but that Obama reopened them as drone bases, resulting so far in 2,500-3,500 people being killed in Pakistan, including 200-400 children, along with a handful of al Qaeda operatives. “They were low-level Taliban with no possibility of harming the United States,” said Benjamin.
“In 350 drone strikes in Pakistan, the vast majority of victims were civilians.”
Benjamin noted that in the tribal culture in Yemen, when a tribe member makes a mistake, “he acknowledges the mistake, apologizes, and offers compensation.
“Is it possible that the tribal culture is more advanced than that of the United States?” said Benjamin.
She said drones “hover over villages weeks at a time, terrorizing residents, disintegrating the social fabric of the community because people are afraid.” She said the situation “pits family against family,” with one family fearing another will turn it in for being “terrorists.”
She reported a drone operator in the U.S. had been told that al Qaeda was operating in a particular area and ordered a drone attack on a convoy assumed to be al Qaeda personnel when it was subsequently discovered that the 12 people killed were part of a wedding party.
“Drones make enemies,” said Benjamin. “Everyone killed by drones could have been captured but no effort is made to do so. Drones have done more than persuasion by the Taliban to turn entire villages against the U.S. When we kill a member of al Qaeda we turn him into a martyr, which results in new recruits” for al Qaeda.
She said Americans have “given Obama a free pass” on his drone policy and that we ignore the “ethical and moral issues about killing people without a trial. She said faith-based leaders are finally coming our with declarations that the use of killer drones is immoral, with one of the killer drone opponents being Martin Luther King III.
“We are part of the problem in Afghanistan, not part of the solution,” said Benjamin. “Invasion and occupation of other countries has not benefited them.” She wondered aloud how we would feel “if some country wanted to set up a (military) base in this country.”
She also discussed the growing militarization of police forces in the United States, although “there are all kinds of restrictions on drones,” but added there is a “drone lobby and that dozens of police stations have drones for ‘search and rescue’ operations but the drones “are designed to be weaponized.” She noted one member of the Tea Party said if he sees “a drone over his house he would shoot it down.”
On a brighter note, Benjamin said that in a year-and-a-half, support among the U.S. population for killing suspects overseas by drone attacks has dropped from 82% to 60%.
“I think we are in a good place for peace,” said Benjamin. “American people are tired of war.” She cited the importance of “spreading love and compassion, embracing positive solutions, diplomacy, negotiation and conflict resolution.”
She said her “heart goes out to the people in Syria, but U.S. military involvement is not the answer.”
“We spend so much money on war that there is no free college education like other nations have, no single-payer health care and no high-speed rail system,” said Benjamin.
When asked a question about the United States “imposing democracy” on other countries, Benjamin said “We should clean up our own democracy before getting involved in other nations.”
Selling Peace at the Cleveland Browns home opener
From: Louis Pumphrey
Subject: Selling Peace at the Cleveland Browns home opener…
Date: Tue, Sep 10, 2013 10:21 am
As many of you know, pre-game ceremonies on the first day of regular-season NFL games typically involve a military color guard with all branches of the armed services represented. Also, a huge U.S. flag typically is unfurled and of course the national anthem is sung. The not-so-subtle militarism and nationalism–which passes as “patriotism” in our society–is vaguely reminiscent of some of the images and martial music in Leni Riefenstahl’s film “Triumph of the Will,” produced by the late photographer and cinematographer in 1935 in Germany. (You can watch it on YouTube.)
The thought occurred to me one June evening while mowing my lawn that there really ought to be a calm, subdued voice for peace–especially from someone who has experienced the bitter taste of war–to be present before the first game of the Browns’ regular football season, which was Sunday.
As I have done many times in the past, I wore my 45-year-old U.S. Army Class A (“dress greens”) uniform and left my home with my red-and-white-striped furled peace flag, which those who don’t know me assume is an American flag. On my uniform’s left shoulder is a patch indicating I served with the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division, nicknamed the “Big Red One.” The Army gave me the uniform in July, 1968, upon my honorable discharge after serving a year in Vietnam as a reporter, then editor, of the First Infantry Division newspaper.
I have to admit to more than the usual anxiety when venturing into the public on Sunday to carry my peace message, as some Browns fans, especially tailgaters, have been known to imbibe a little too much before games. I feared if at least one of the inebriated did not like what he saw, things could get ugly, with me winding up in a horizontal position on the plaza in front of the stadium. Fortunately, that was not to be.
Since this was my first visit to the Browns’ stadium in more than 10 years, I was not sure where to position myself, so I set out on a one-man “recon patrol”, walking to the stadium’s southeast gate, then it’s southwest gate, to determine where the maximum foot traffic would be. It was, by far, the southwest gate.
I unfurled my flag and smiled at people as hundreds walked by. So many people reached to shake my hand and thank me that you would think I was running for public office.
One friendly middle-aged man, imagining my age, said, “I’m guessing 60-something.” I said, “Actually, I turned 71 yesterday. (Sept. 7)”
“You look terrific,” he said.
I said, “I’m sucking in my gut was we speak. I really don’t need a belt to hold these pants up.” (I didn’t tell him there was a bald head under my army garrison cap.)
One Browns fan, a veteran who did not serve in Vietnam, asked why I was there and I said, “I’m launching a preemptive strike for peace to serve as a counterweight to the macho, militaristic swagger you’ll see in pre-game ceremonies.
“One of my lieutenants was killed during the Tet Offensive three days after his 23rd birthday. His whole life ahead of him blown away. And now Vietnam is our ally against China. What a waste. What was accomplished in Vietnam? What was accomplished in Iraq?” He said, “I agree,” as he walked away.
One man noticing my “Big Red One” shoulder patch gently patted it and said, “The best division in the army.” I said, “Thanks.”
One young man, noticing my “Pumphrey” name tag on the uniform, said, “I enjoy all your letters to the editor.” I said, “Thank you.”
Another young man said, “Thank you for your service.” I said, “You’re welcome. I appreciate that.” He said, “I appreciate you.”
An unusually pretty middle-aged woman–a real cutie-pie–took my hand and, with her face just inches from mine, thanked me effusively for my service and message of peace. As she walked away, I said, “You’re welcome. You’re a sweetheart.”
Most of the fans who did not like what they saw looked away, saying nothing. However, one man walking by with his young son razzed me and my peace flag, but I honestly could not understand a single word he said. I’m simply going by the tone of his voice and gestures.
C’mon, folks, gimme a break. These ears are 71 years old.
Feast of the Assumption procession in Cleveland’s Little Italy
|Subject:||Feast of the Assumption procession in Cleveland’s Little Italy|
|Date:||Thu, Aug 15, 2013 4:24 pm|
The VFW and VFP: A conversation
Sent: Thu, Aug 8, 2013 12:00 pm