With the weather being agreeable–chilly but no rain–I took the RTA rapid downtown with the idea of greeting folks streaming toward FirstEnergy Stadium for the Cleveland Browns-Kansas City Chiefs game last Sunday, November 4th. Complementing my peace flag was my 52-year-old U.S. Army field jacket decorated with the six medals pinned to the left breast pocket that the army had awarded me upon my honorable discharge in July, 1968, after serving for a year in Vietnam as a reporter, then editor for the First Infantry Division (“Big Red One” ) newspaper.
As I arrived at my post about 100 yards from the southwest gate of the stadium, I was pleasantly surprised to see gubernatorial candidate Mike Dewine and his wife, Fran, greeting people going to the game, two days before the election. I walked up to Mike to shake his hand and mentioned I’m also a Miami University alumnus. (Mike graduated in 1969 while I am a member of the class of ’64.)
I said to him, “Are you going to Oxford next summer for your 50-year class reunion?” He said, “I hadn’t thought about that.”
I then said, “P.J. O’Rourke was in your class.” Mike said, “I heard that, but I didn’t know him.”
Several minutes later I was again pleasantly surprised when Browns quarterback legend Bernie Kosar walked up to Mike and they warmly greeted each other. Browns fans were excited to see Bernie and several photos were taken with him and Mike. After about 20 minutes Bernie left, perhaps headed to the stadium for the game.
One man who approached me to shake my hand and thank me for my service had also warmly greeted Mike and he told me he was a long-time friend of the gubernatorial candidate. I told the gentleman that Mike and I were Miami alumni but that I was five years older than him. The man said, “You look better than him.” I thanked him, smiling, and we both laughed when I said, “”I won’t tell him you said that. That’s our little secret.”
To be honest, I was disappointed to receive so many “cold shoulders” from Browns and Chiefs fans walking by me on their way to the stadium. I am unfailingly polite and apolitical in what I say, greeting fans with such comments, as “Great football weather!!” or “Gorgeous day for football!!” Some smiled and agreed but many ignored me. I guess they didn’t like the visual of a veteran carrying a peace flag. Still, many people, mostly men, reached out to shake my hand and thank me for my service, which was gratifying.
One woman who patted me on the shoulder as she walked by said she had remembered me from the Blossom Time Parade in Chagrin Falls on Memorial Day weekend. I was flattered she recognized me since I had worn my uniform in the parade, rather than my field jacket.
One young man walking by shouted at me, “USA!!” I shouted back, “PEACE ON EARTH!!” He said nothing and kept walking.
The exchange reminded me of an encounter during the summer near the intersection of East Ninth Street and Carnegie Avenue, where I stood greeting people going to an Indians game, wearing my uniform and holding my peace flag. One couple walked by and then the woman doubled back and asked me why I was there. I said, “I’m promoting peace, trying to get the idea across that some war veterans are pro-peace. We need much more peace, civility, tolerance, mutual respect and compassion in our society.” She smiled and nodded in agreement, but then said, “My brother said we have to have war before we have peace.” I smiled and said, “Well, if we never had war, wouldn’t we always have peace?” She said nothing and walked away. I like to think I gave her something to think about–and maybe her brother.
As the starting time for the Browns-Chiefs game approached, I occasionally glanced over my right shoulder to see if Dewine & Co. were still in their spot about 20 feet from me. I had wanted to catch them before they left to offer a couple of parting comments. When I noticed they were gone, I asked Mike’s long-time friend where they were and he pointed to people getting into an SUV about 30 yards away. He said, “You better hurry.”
I ran to the car. Everyone was in the vehicle except Mike’s wife, Fran, who was just about to step in. Mike was in the front passenger seat. Knowing of his anti-abortion position, I said loud enough for everyone to hear, “Keep fighting for unborn babies, Mike!! They can’t defend their own lives.”
Fran smiled at my comment, but I believe my final observation resonated profoundly with her. Smiling, the mother of eight reached to shake my hand as I said, “I’m for peace in the womb and for peace outside the womb.”