Memorial Day weekend off to a contentious start…

As is my normal routine on Saturday mornings, I stood behind the West Side Market promoting peace, dressed in my 49-year-old U.S. Army uniform and carrying my peace flag. I want to get the idea across to shoppers that some–but not nearly enough–war veterans are pro-peace. (Drafted in 1966, I was a reporter, then editor for the army’s First Infantry Division newspaper in Vietnam from July, 1967 to July, 1968.)

The morning was rather uneventful until toward the end of my one-hour gig when a man “of a certain age” walked up to me and said he was a veteran. I’m guessing a Vietnam vet. He said, “You wouldn’t be able to stand here if we hadn’t gone to Vietnam,” implying that if our military did not go to that Southeast Asian nation our enemies would take away our freedom of expression.

To his comment I strongly replied, “Sure I’d be able to be here. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army had absolutely no intention of taking away our freedoms.” He said nothing and walked away before I had a chance to complete this thought to him: If the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army wanted to rob us of our freedoms, why didn’t they invade the United States after we left South Vietnam in 1973?

Yesterday (Sunday), I walked in the annual Blossom Time Festival parade in picturesque, quaint Chagrin Falls, with the parade traveling down East Washington Street from the village’s high school to the police station. There was a smattering of applause along the way and those who did not like what they saw were polite enough not to hurl insults. I took one spectator by surprise when he shouted at me, “What did you do to your flag!?” I waved at him and said, “Thank you.” On my way back up the street after the parade, I suspect it was the same guy who shouted at me from across the street, “You have to put some stars on that flag!”

On my way up the East Washington Street hill I cheerily said “Hi!” to many people who then responded in kind but there were a few unsmiling folks who rudely ignored my greeting. (Under my breath I muttered an epithet beginning with the letter “a”.) But at least I left an image in their memory they are not likely to forget soon.

As I neared the end of my walk to my car, four women sitting around a card table on a lawn complimented me on my presence and message. I took a few minutes to chat with them, saying it is absolutely impossible for a uniformed military to defeat adversaries wearing civilian clothes and living among civilians, which was the Viet Cong’s winning strategy in South Vietnam, copied successfully by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, et al. Only sophisticated espionage and undercover work can stymie terrorists. I cited two examples, the first being several years ago when a terrorist cell planned to kill as many soldiers as possible at Fort Dix, New Jersey. An informant within the cell tipped off New Jersey law enforcement authorities and state and local police thwarted the plot, aided by the FBI. I mentioned a second example familiar to one of the women in the group, which was a plot to blow up jet fuel pipelines running to JFK airport in New York City, under densely-populated neighborhoods. That plot also was thwarted by undercover work–not by our military.

It was gratifying to get such a heartfelt endorsement of my message from the four women. As I started to leave I said, “You made my day!” One of the women said, “You made MY day!” I said, “I guess that’s called a win-win situation.”

Today, Memorial Day, I again walked in the Shaker Heights Parade, for the 11th year in a row. I was hoping to walk in front of a church group as I have done in the past, but neither Christ Episcopal Church nor Plymouth Church, both in Shaker Heights, were represented in the parade. So I became the “rear echelon,” being the last person in the long-line of parade participants.

Shortly after crossing Lee Road on Van Aken Boulevard, a man walked up to me and, seeing my “Pumphrey” name tag on my uniform said, “Louis Pumphrey, you’re desecrating the American flag.” (That he knew my first name tells me he remembered my name from various very aggravating–from his perspective–pro-peace letters to the editor over the years.)

I calmly and politely responded, “Thank you! You’re very kind! You must be a Christian–a follower of the Prince of Peace!” He did not reply to my comment, simply shouting repeatedly, “He’s desecrating the American flag!” Much to the dismay of my antagonist, I’m sure, enthusiastic applause from spectators pleased with my presence and message drowned him out.

It was very heartwarming to experience such strong applause from many people along the parade route, especially from people of a certain age who remember the Vietnam War. However, toward the end of the parade a man holding an American flag shouted at me, “You’re a bum!”

Well, it could have been worse. He could have shouted an epithet beginning with the letter “a”.