Lou and an adversary find common ground: Tail gunners on B-24 Liberator bombers

There was plenty of fertile ground last evening, (Wednesday, June 7) for planting seeds of peace, as an event at Cleveland State University linked to Ken Burns’s upcoming 10-part PBS series about the Vietnam War coincided with the third game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena (the “Q”). Thousands of Cavs fans and some Warriors fans converged downtown to watch the game.

As usual, I had shoe-horned myself into my 49-year-old dress uniform and carried my peace flag near the Q prior to the game, which was to begin at 9 p.m. Several restaurants near the arena have outdoor patios that were jammed with fans. A few seconds after walking past one of the people-filled patios a pretty young woman caught up to me and said, “I’m Jessica, from England.” I said, “I never would have guessed,” having noticed her soft, genteel English accent. She laughed and said, “May I have my picture taken with you?” I obliged of course, as she snuggled up next to my right side. I mentioned that a reporter from The Guardian, a British publication, had interviewed me during the Republican National Convention last summer. Jessica’s father-in-law took the photo and after taking the picture shook my hand and thanked me for my service. I encouraged Jessica to circulate the photo as much as she could and she said she would. A few minutes later another attractive young woman impressed by my peace promotion asked if she could take my picture. Of course there was only one answer to that question. I also encouraged her to circulate the photo.

The event at Cleveland State was to begin at 7:30, so prior to walking near the Q I positioned myself outside the Euclid Avenue entrance to the CSU building where discussion about the Vietnam War was to begin. A few people of a certain age (okay, “elderly”, like myself) stopped to commiserate with my peace message and take photos. Others who perhaps were taken aback by my presence did not stop to talk, but nevertheless were polite when I greeted them. I gave them something to think about if they were uncomfortable with my presence.

The most interesting time that evening occurred earlier when I stood outside a back entrance to the CSU building. A woman standing on a landing at the top of a flight of stairs yelled at me, saying, “Are you anti-American!!??” I shouted back, “No, I’m pro-peace!!” I ignored subsequent comments since by the tone of her voice, I knew they were very negative.

A few minutes later the woman came down the steps to “chat” some more and I braced for a harangue, which was forthcoming. She angrily said, “Are you a student here!?” I answered in the negative and she said, “Then you’re trespassing!” I said, “This is public property.” The confrontation and woman’s body language prompted a nearby CSU policewoman to approach and ask if there was a problem. I said, “No, we just agree to disagree” and the officer walked away.

My adversary said, “I hate what you did to our flag!!” I said, “Some people have asked me what happened to the stars and I say, ‘They’re in hiding. They’re ashamed, embarrassed and disgusted with all the death, destruction, instability and chaos we have caused in the Middle East.'”

She said, “What about what terrorists do?” I said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

I said, “I’m a Christian…a follower of the Prince of Peace.” She said, “Do you go to church?” I said, “St. Dominic’s in Shaker Heights.” (I left out the part that I haven’t been to Mass there since an ex-girlfriend’s eldest child was married in St. Dominic’s in the early ’90s.)

The woman started to soften her tone and said she goes to two churches, St. Mary Catholic Church in Collinwood and a Baptist church. She then started to talk about her family, saying she was born in 1951 and is the only girl in a family that includes four brothers. She indicated she is still grieving for her mom who died two months ago from Alzheimers Disease that she had lost her father to the same illness seven years ago. The woman lifted her sweatshirt to show me a large black-and-white photo of her parents that she had had printed on a white tee shirt. The picture appeared to have been taken in the late 1940s. I complimented the woman on how pretty her mom was and how handsome was her father.

She said her dad was a tail gunner in the Army Air Force during World War II and I said one of my uncles was a tail gunner on a B-24 Liberator. The woman’s face brightened considerably at our “common ground” as she said, “My dad was, too!”

During the now-friendly conversation the woman mentioned her dad had become an alcoholic. I asked if he got into AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and she said he did but dropped out because he didn’t have a sponsor. He returned to AA meetings some time later when he had a sponsor.

She said she visited her dad as well as her mom every day when they were in nursing homes. One of her friends suggested she was wasting her time since her parents wouldn’t recognize her. I said, “Sometimes Alzheimers patients have periods of lucidity when they do recognize visitors,” and she agreed.

One quirk I discovered in our conversation was that the woman absolutely hates communists. She said we recently finished eight years of communist rule under President Barack Obama, who she said was a “Democrat in name only.” I said, “Well, communists have the same Creator we have.” She didn’t know what to say. She indicated she is a devout literal believer in the Bible, and though critical of the homosexual lifestyle, nevertheless has gay friends.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear her say “Women are more for peace than men are because of their nurturing.” I said, “Yes, they bring new life into the world.”

The woman asked me the time and discovered more time had passed during our now-friendly conversation than she realized. We shook hands and she told me her name is Linda. Looking at my uniform she said smiled appreciatively saying, “You’re a veteran.”

After she had walked about 30 feet away from me she turned and shouted, “You’re a peaceful man!” I shouted back, “Thank you. We’re still friends.” It was a very pleasant ending to what had begun as an unpleasant confrontation.