Here’s a bit of World War II military history in the European Theater, specifically, the U.S. Army’s “Big Red One” (First Infantry Division) in France, along with a friendly correction of a mom who credited me for preserving the freedom she enjoys today as a result of my service in Vietnam.
Friday evening’s promotion of peace at the corner of East Ninth Street and Carnegie Avenue, as usual, in uniform and carrying a peace flag, saw a couple of interesting conversations that were out of the norm.
While most people I cheerily greeted heading to the Cleveland Indians-Los Angeles Angels game at Progressive Field simply ignored my friendly “Hi!”, one gentleman stopped to talk for a few minutes. He said his father, 94, is a World War II veteran who served in France. He noted that his dad’s uniform, like mine, is complemented by a fourragère, a a red and green braided cord worn around the left shoulder. The French government awarded the fourragère to several American military units for their sacrifices in saving France from Germany during the war, including the First Infantry Division, which stormed Omaha Beach at Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. I was not quite two years old at the time, but everyone who has served in the division is subsequently authorized to wear the fourragère, whose colors mimic that of the red and green ribbon from which the French military medal Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) is suspended. (The French government initially awarded the medal in World War I and again in World War II.) The gentleman said he visited Paris in recent years and toured the war museum there. I asked if the museum gave us a pat on the back for saving France from Germany during World War II and he said the U.S. military’s sacrifice and contribution to the war effort was essentially ignored in the French museum, except for some mention in a film. I said, with a bit of exasperation, “We saved their ass!! Well, that’s the French for ya.” He smiled and walked away. One woman stopped to thank me for what I was doing and I said, “I’m promoting peace. We need much more peace, civility, tolerance, mutual respect and compassion in our society. Those qualities have eroded over the past few years.” She smiled in agreement. The woman then echoed a sentiment I heard from another woman a few years ago when she said, “You saved my freedom and my daughter’s freedom.” I politely disagreed, saying, “Well, neither the Viet Cong nor the North Vietnamese Army had any interest in taking away our freedom. We stuck our nose into Vietnam’s civil war.” She changed her mind, saying she agreed with what I said. As I had done with the mom, a couple of weeks ago I mentioned five of the qualities of a sophisticated, civilized society–peace, civility, tolerance, mutual respect and compassion–to a young black woman waiting to cross East Ninth Street. She had a rather cynical perspective, saying those qualities “have evaporated”.