As has been my wont for the past few years, I greeted people with my peace flag and army dress uniform outside the southwest gate of FirstEnergy Stadium today to watch the Cleveland Browns play the Tennessee Titans. And as usual, I cheerily said “Hi,”to people, often followed up with “It’s a beautiful day!” or “It’s a gorgeous day!’ Many agreed, but others simply ignored me. No surprise there, as some folks absolutely hate the peace symbol on the navy blue field of my red-and-white striped flag, in lieu of stars. I’m pretty sure none of the disaffected were ever in a war.
One man was already past me when he turned and said, “Were you really in the army?” I said, “I’ll show you a copy of my DD214, if you want to see it.” He said nothing and walked away.
The DD214 is the military discharge paper that lists, among other things, “Decorations, medals, badges, commendations, citations and campaign ribbons awarded or authorized.” It also lists “Education and training completed.” In my case the document noted I had completed a 12-week Basic Russian Course at the U.S. Army Special Warfare School, which is part of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Within a few months after completing the language course, however, I found myself in Vietnam and during my year there, try as I might, I could find no one who spoke Russian. That’s the Army for ya.
Another man walked by who said he was a Marine and he testily criticized my carrying a peace flag. My knee-jerk reaction, as is sometimes the case, was to cheerily say, albeit sarcastically, “Thank you! You’re very kind! You must be a Christian–a follower of the Prince of Peace!” He said nothing and kept on walking, but he likely will not soon forget, if ever, my image.
One young woman gave me a firm handshake and said, “Were you on West 25th Street yesterday?” and I said “Yes.” (I was on my way to Koffie Cafe on Market Street after an hour-long peace vigil behind the West Side Market, attended by about eight other peaceniks.)
One young man came over to shake my hand and asked if I had been at the RNC (Republican National Convention). And I said, “On East Fourth Street?” And he said, “Yes. I took a video of you.” And I said, “Did you circulate it?” And he said he had posted it on YouTube.
A few other people asked me if they could take my picture and of course I said, ‘yes’ and I asked that they circulate it as much as possible. Among my “fans” was a young man from Brazil on a two-week assignment in Cleveland for General Electric. Two other young men were from Israel with one of them taking my photo. I said, “People don’t want war. It’s only the politicians. We should send the politicians to war, make them buy their own body armor and see how long the war lasts.” One of the young men smiled and said, “Netanyahu.” (He was referring, of course, to Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minster of Israel.)
One gentleman about my age said he had also been in the First Infantry Division, but assigned to Germany rather than Vietnam. We were “on the same page” regarding war, agreeing that there is a lot of money to be made by war profiteers, euphemistically called “defense contractors”.
A black man about my age walked by and noticing my shoulder patch said, “Big Red One,” (nickname for the First Infantry Division). I said, “Not my idea. I got drafted.” He smiled and said, “Me, too.”
One young man was very grateful for my message, saying we need much more peace in our lives. I said, “If I had my way I would make the peace flag the American flag. We need much more peace, civility, tolerance, mutual respect and compassion in our society.”
One attractive middle-age woman walked over to thank me for my service and I said, as I have done with others, “I’m just trying to get across the idea that some war veterans are pro-peace. Some people have said to me, ‘Where are the stars on your flag?’ and I have said, ‘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 acknowledged during our conversation that she had voted for Donald Trump and I asked her if she had any regrets, considering how he had talked about women, but she hemmed and hawed, apparently not regretting her vote.
Toward the end of my nearly three-hour gig outside the stadium, another woman walked over and asked me about my peace flag. Again I offered my opening statement that I’m conveying the idea some war veterans are pro-peace. She then asked me what the ribbons on the left side of my chest represented and I noted those on the top row indicated a Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal and Good Conduct Medal. Before I could tell her about the other three ribbons representing the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal, she asked if I liked Trump.
I said, “Oh my God, no!”
She said, “We’re done” and abruptly walked away.