Parade the Circle: An extra dollop of the peace message

As has been my routine for around a decade now, I attended the annual Parade the Circle behind the Cleveland Museum of Art yesterday (Saturday June 10th). Since I am not an official participant in the parade, I simply walk my own “parade” alone, wearing my 49-year-old Army uniform complemented by my peace flag, taking the route around Wade Oval about 15 minutes before the beginning of the official parade. My intent, of course, is to promote peace and the idea that some war veterans are pro-peace, although I wish all were.

I anticipated being hassled by one of the parade marshals as I was last year who heatedly tried to oust me off the Wade Oval street. I stood my ground of course, pointing out to the highly-annoyed marshal that the street was public property and I had the backing of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech. He walked away, head down, and I proceeded to do my walk for peace.

On my way to the art museum yesterday a woman asked if she could take my picture and of course I agreed. She and the young woman with her–I presume her daughter–said they had seen me in previous parades and the daughter said she had painted a picture of me for her high school art class. I asked what school and she said North Olmsted.

I did my latest walk without incident, much to my relief. Toward the end of my solo journey a woman approached me, smiling, and said her time watching the parade would not be complete if she didn’t see me. (Insert “awwwww” here.) It was sweet of her to say that.

The woman went on to say that shortly after the end of World War II she lived with her family in a portion of Germany that was Soviet-occupied. Other zones of Germany were occupied individually by U.S., British, and French forces. People living in those zones, under an agreement by the aforementioned nations, were to be allowed to travel freely. However, the woman told me Russian soldiers did not adhere to that agreement and shot at people trying to leave the Soviet zone.

“I love the U.S. Army,” she said. As her family fled the Soviet zone, “One of the American soldiers, fearing for my life, picked me up and ran with me to safety as Russian soldiers shot at us.” (Presumably the three-and-a-half-year-old’s parents also made it out of the Soviet zone to safety. The woman did not say they had been shot.)

After I finished my walk a young woman who had seen me said one of the groups officially allowed to take part in the parade was “Vets Drumming for Peace.” It was news to me and I was interested in joining the group.

I walked up to a woman on high stilts and asked where the vets unit might be and she pointed to one of the staging areas for the participating groups. I asked what her first name was and she said, “Robin” and I said, “One of my volleyball buddies, Tom Barnard knows you”. She has been friends with Tom, who works for the Cleveland Museum of Art, for several years. The woman, Robin VanLear, is the director of Parade the Circle.

I found the veterans group and walked in front of them in the parade, as requested by Craig Woodson, who organized the group. He told me this is the fifth year “Vets Drumming for Peace” has been in the parade. The event’s program said this of Woodson’s group: “Representing all branches of military service, veterans drum for international peace.”

After about 15 minutes into the walk, one of the parade officials approached me–not the same guy as last year–and said, referring to my peace flag, that “There aren’t supposed to be political messages in the parade.” I said, “I am part of Vets Drumming for Peace.” He accepted my response and moved on. If he did try to kick me out of the parade there would be another response: I would have reached into the pocket of my decades-old Army dress shirt and pulled out a copy of the First Amendment. In the copy I had capitalized the words FREEDOM OF SPEECH, and then I would have pointed out to the aggrieved parade official–who I found out later is Robin VanLear’s husband–that I was on public–not private–property.