Fortunately, the first Indians game of the 2017 season to be played at Progressive Field against that other Chicago team, the White Sox, was today–a Tuesday–when I was off work. Still, I wasn’t sure I would be able to promote peace before the game since it was raining when I awoke. However, the rain stopped by mid-morning so I decided to head downtown via the Blue Line Rapid Transit, wearing my embroidered black baseball cap indicating I am a Vietnam veteran who served with the First Infantry Division, complemented by my 50-year-0ld U.S. Army field jacket with my six medals pinned to the left breast pocket flap. On the right breast pocket is a black and white Veterans for Peace button. My constant companion in such initiatives, of course, was my peace flag–a white peace symbol on a navy blue field, with the rest of the flag composed of horizontal red and white stripes, similar to the U.S. flag.
I positioned myself about 2 p.m. at the northwest corner of East Ninth Street and Carnegie Avenue to catch the eyes of pedestrians as well as people driving vehicles, which was around two hours before game time. I was pleasantly surprised to have one elderly man walking by say he was happy to see me and my message again, apparently remembering similar appearances last year at the same location.
Two young sailors wearing their blue uniforms with the blue and white flap at the top of the back of the uniform, topped off with their white caps, approached me. They were not smiling and I was afraid they would take issue with my peace message. As it turned out, both men gave me hearty handshakes and thanked me for my service, apparently comfortable with my “peaceful” presence.
About a half dozen young people asked me to be part of a group picture that a passing stranger took with a cell phone belonging to a woman member of the group. I asked the sweet young thing who owned the phone how the photo turned out and if my peace flag was in it. She showed me the photo and the flag looked terrific, thanks to a breeze that kept it horizontal and easily recognizable.
Two young men, from Minerva, Ohio, south of Canton, stopped to thank me for my service and chat. One asked me what I thought about our air strikes in the Middle East and I said those attacks have killed a lot of civilians and all they do is generate fresh hatred of the U.S. among survivors of the strikes. I said, “What we’re doing in the Middle East is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline,” a point I made to veteran reporter and author Katie Couric on East Fourth Street last July during the Republican National Convention. https://www.instagram.com/p/BIDSuBgg4Yg/
One middle-aged man bent down to take a close look at my six medals and said, “You must have seen a lot of action.” I said, “Well, you get a lot of medals when you’re in a war zone.” (One of the medals is a Good Conduct Medal. Only the military would give you a medal for behaving yourself.)
A number of people were annoyed by my presence, not acknowledging my cheerful greeting: “Hi!! Beautiful day, eh?” Two words popped into my head after their lack of response: Trump voters!!
Around 5 p.m. I headed back toward the Terminal Tower to catch the rapid home. While passing fans standing in a fenced area on a sidewalk in front of a Prospect Street restaurant, three middle-aged folks–two men and a woman–reached out to shake my hand and thank me for my service.
I said, “Some people have asked me, ‘Where are the stars for your flag?’ And I said, ‘They’re in hiding. They are ashamed, embarrassed and disgusted by all the death, destruction, instability and chaos we have caused in the Middle East. If I had my way I would make the peace flag the American flag. We need much, much more peace, civility, tolerance and mutual respect in our society.”
None the three replied. I think they were a bit taken aback by the passion in my voice during my commentary, and perhaps even disagreed with replacing the stars and stripes with a peace flag. Oh well.
A few minutes after I left the trio I was walking down a narrow street on my way to the Terminal Tower when I noticed a woman at the end of the street look at me and stop in her tracks. As I approached her, the very cute middle-aged woman said, “I took your picture with a Sikh during the convention last summer.”
I was quite surprised she made the connection, since I was wearing my Class A dress greens army uniform during the hot weather rather than my field jacket, but I think my peace flag reminded her.
I said the Sikh gentleman, who lives in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, and I, “were promoting peace and tolerance.”
It is a message even more urgent today.