On Sunday, November 6, two days before the general election, I wanted to promote peace yet again to the hundreds of football fans walking toward the southwest gate of FirstEnergy Stadium to see the Cleveland Browns play the Dallas Cowboys. The day had an extra dimension, as a man holding a Trump-Pence sign and handing out political leaflets stood nearby hawking his wares, much like the “carnival barker” characterization sometimes ascribed to Donald Trump.
So many people, men and women of all ages, reached out to shake my hand that you would think I was running for office. Still, many, many more ignored my friendly greetings, acting as if I were not even there. Oh, well. I gave them an image they will not soon forget, and gave them something to think about.
There were a couple of unnerving moments. A man wearing baseball cap with huge gold letters “NRA” embroidered above the bill walked over toward me and I feared he was going to give me hell for wearing my army dress uniform and carrying a peace flag.
That was not the case. Turns out he also is a Vietnam veteran, from Dayton, and he had basic training at Fort Benning, as did I, then went on to Fort Polk, Louisiana for advanced individual training as an infantryman. He subsequently received orders to join the Americal Division in Vietnam where he was a “grunt.” He said he was involved in only one firefight. Upon seeing some rustling of jungle foliage, he and his squad members opened fire into the leaves, only to discover “we had killed a bunch of apes.”
Toward the end of his tour of duty, the veteran contracted jungle rot–skin ulcers, on his face and feet–and was flown into Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, then received successful treatment at a nearby military hospital.
I surmise the man enlisted in the army when he said, “I was 20 and didn’t know any better.” I said, “I was an ‘old man’ of 24, drafted in 1966 . I bought into the government’s rationale for being there, that South Vietnam was our ally, North Vietnam was trying to take over South Vietnam, and therefore we had a moral obligation to defend South Vietnam. Then I found out years later that (President Lyndon) Johnson lied about one of our ships being attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin.
“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 Americans sent to early graves. Wasted lives.”
The fellow Vietnam veteran and I were “on the same page,” and I was pleasantly surprised to hear him tell me had had taken part in anti-war demonstrations after he was discharged from the army. My fears about the NRA supporter were unfounded.
The second somewhat unnerving event was noticing a young man to my left, who, without saying a word, extended his right hand to me that held about an eight-inch hunting knife in its leather sheath. He wanted to give it to me. I assume he had tried to get into the stadium with the knife but was turned away by security personnel after a metal detector discovered the weapon. I politely declined his offer. He thanked me for my service and walked away. Then a horrific thought came to mind: that the young man might want to use the knife to field dress me on the spot. Another unfounded fear.
A few people asked to have their photos taken with me, including a young woman from Indiana who works with veterans at a soldiers’ home. She called me “sweetheart” a few times during our conversation, which brought more sunshine into my sunny day.
Another woman went out of her way to shake my hand and thank me for my service, adding “I have a son in the Navy.” At first I thought I did not hear her correctly since she looked way too young to have a grown son. I said, “Pardon me?” She again said, “I have a son in the Navy.” Amazed, I said, “Did you get married when you were five years old?” She said, “About that.”
A smiling middle-aged man walked over to me and when he began talking, I detected what I thought was a brogue in his speech pattern. Turns out he was not from Ireland but from northern Scotland, now living in Toronto, so his accent was a “burr.” He appreciated my message and suggested that we all get along with one another. I said, “We’re all children of the same Creator.”
I told one woman that I also have a peace flag flying from my house and that mine is the only one on the street. I said, “I wish every house flew the peace flag–including the White House.”
Now, back to the man trumpeting the Trump-Pence storyline. As the number of fans dwindled after the 1 p.m. start time for the game, I walked over to the man and said, “Trump said he ‘loves war.’ If he loves war so much, why did he get five deferments during the Vietnam war?” The man denied the Trump quote and I said, “I saw the tape on TV of Trump saying that.” The Trump supporter then pointed out World War II General George S. Patton said the same thing about war and I said, “Patton didn’t get five deferments.”
The Trump supporter said nothing and I left for Tower City to catch the rapid for my ride home.