As usual I got a mixed and–one emotionally-charged negative response–to my peace initiative during the three-day Labor Day weekend. It was a busy time for this peace proponent, greeting people driving to and walking to Burke Lakefront airport for the annual Cleveland National Air Show, which my fellow peacenik Don Bryant has dubbed the Cleveland National War Show, and on Labor Day, greeting folks after I left the air show who were on their way to Progressive Field for the Indians-White Sox game, the first of a four-game set.
On Labor Day, while walking past the Hyatt Hotel which originally was Cleveland’s historic, iconic Old Arcade, an Asian woman and I presume her daughter were standing by the curb, perhaps awaiting a ride to the airport. Shortly after I passed the woman while wearing my ultra-tight 51-year-old U.S. Army dress uniform and carrying my unfurled peace flag, she asked if I was going to a parade.
I said I was heading to the air show, adding “There needs to be a voice for peace, especially from someone who has experienced the bitter taste of war, to serve as a counterweight to the militaristic, nationalistic star-spangled red-white-and-blue dog-and-pony show, which essentially is a recruiting tool.” She smiled during my explanation and when I was done with my rationale, said, “I admire your advocacy.” I said, “Thank you. I wish everyone felt the same way.”
I took my post at the northeast corner of East Ninth Street and North Marginal Drive to greet attendees and as is my wont, offered cheery greetings, such as “Hi…it’s a gorgeous day…I love this temperature!” as it was an unseasonably cool, but comfortable temperature on Saturday–perfect for a wool and polyester blend uniform. Most people responded in kind, perhaps because of my friendly tone of voice, even though they might not have liked my peace flag. Several, however, pretended they were deaf.
I cheerily said “Hi” to an airman walking by in his one-piece flight suit and he, smiling, returned the greeting. Then I said, “I like your onesie. It’s a lot bigger than your first onesie.” He laughed, as did his woman companion.
In conversations with a few like-minded people during my time at the air show, I mentioned that some critics have told me my flag disrespects or desecrates the American flag because the navy blue field adjacent to the alternating red and white stripes has a peace symbol instead of 50 stars. My response has always been, “I have a different perspective. I was in Vietnam for a year and from my perspective, the flag doesn’t disrespect the American flag. It respects peace. People who have not been in a war can never NEVER ever respect peace to the same degree I do . It just can’t happen. It’s impossible.”
I said to a Lakewood resident holding a large sign promoting autism awareness, “Millions of Americans believe our military is keeping us safe when the opposite is true. What we are doing in the Middle East is infinitely counterproductive…an infinite exercise in futility. I told Katie Couric during the Republican National Convention that what we are doing in the Middle East is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. When we kill people and destroy property with our weapons of mass destruction, we generate more hatred toward the United States among survivors of our attacks and make it easier for terrorist leaders to recruit new terrorists. We don’t have to worry about terrorists half-way around the world. We have to focus on terrorists in this country.” He agreed completely.
When I noticed a passerby carrying a small American flag on a wooden stick look at me I said, “At least the stripes match.” He said, “Yeah, it’s good to look at what we have in common.” I said, “That’s a good philosophy.” I’m guessing he was uncomfortable with my peace symbol.
Toward the end of my air show gig on Labor Day, a middle-age woman upset with my presence said, “You’re wearing that uniform and carrying that flag.” I said, “It’s a labor of love. We need more peace.” She said nothing and continued walking.
One man in a group of three wanted to have his photo taken with me. He had an accent and I asked where he was from and he said, “Albania,” as were his two companions, including a nephew. I said, “Mother Teresa was Albanian.” (Although she was born in what was then Yugoslavia).
As I walked up East Ninth Street toward Progressive Field I was stopped by a man I had met earlier in the day who was talking with a Cleveland traffic policeman. The first gentleman said, “I see you everywhere. Indians games. Browns games. You going to the Browns game Sunday?” I said, “yes,” as Sunday is the first game of the regular NFL season, with the Tennessee Titans in town to battle the Browns.
In a discussion about our wars in the Middle East, the policeman said, “When we leave our equipment (war materiel) there, they use it against us.” I said, “It wouldn’t happen if we weren’t there in the first place.”He said, as if a light bulb went on in his head, “That’s right!”
The “highlight”, if you want to call it that, of my peace initiative outside Progressive Field was a conversation with a man walking toward me with his adult son. The elder gentleman was very agitated at the sight of my flag, saying I was knocking, or perhaps he said mocking, the American flag, since it lacked 50 stars and had a peace symbol.
I said rather heatedly as the temperature of my half-Irish blood quickly rose, “The stars are in hiding! They are ashamed, embarrassed, and disgusted with all the death, destruction, instability and chaos we have caused in the Middle East!”
The “gentleman” continued to voice his strong objection but his son quickly said, “Dad! Dad!” And the father ceased his rant and joined his son, who had walked several feet ahead on Carnegie Avenue. Dad got the last word in, however, loudly saying as he walked away a word that rhymes with “brass pole.”