For the first time ever, my Peace Flag suffered an f-bomb prior to the nationally-televised NBC Sunday Night Football game between the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams while I stood outside the southwest gate of FirstEnergy Stadium. Later on, however, there was moral support from a caped “superhero.”
On the other hand, it was a mostly positive afternoon/evening, promoting peace for a few hours to hundreds of Browns fans as well as an impressive number of Rams fans while wearing my 51-year-old U.S. Army uniform and carrying my controversial flag. As has always been the case with crowds of people, whether it’s fans going to Indians games or Browns games, many seemed deaf to my greetings. I was my usual cheery self, letting my veteran uniform and peace flag do my proselytizing.
Several people, mostly men, reached out to shake my hand and thank me for my service. Many who kept walking by expressed their appreciation for my army service, even if they did not like my flag, with one woman thanking me for my “sacrifice.” That’s a bit much, I thought, as I hadn’t lost an arm or a leg in Vietnam. I said to one woman while we shook hands–who was very grateful for my message–“Isn’t it funny that those who shout the loudest for war have never been in one? What a funny coincidence.” She smiled in agreement.
Another woman with a soft, charming southern accent asked if her friend could take a picture of me with her. You already know the answer to that question. I asked the southern belle where she was from and she said, Dallas. I asked her to circulate the photo as much as possible and gave her a card that encouraged her to google Pumphrey RNC to see photos and interviews of yours truly from when the Republican National Convention was in Cleveland in July, 2016.
A man pushing another man in a wheelchair angrily said, while looking at me, “Fucking flag!!” As I have done in the past in response to other insults, I cheerily said, “Thank you!!”
One man stopped to chat, wearing a tee shirt with a red-white-and-blue 6 on the front that replicated the American flag. At the top of the 6–which is the uniform number of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield–were several stars on a blue field. I told him some people have questioned me about the absence of stars on my flag and I have said, “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 Browns fan thought our military was necessary to defeat terrorism in the Middle East and I said, “We have been fighting in Afghanistan for almost 18 years and in Iraq for more than 16 years! It should be clear by now that there is no military solution to defeating terrorist groups wearing civilian clothes and living among civilians, which was the same winning strategy for the Viet Cong in Vietnam.” He said nothing and walked away, but I gave him something to think about.
I had an interesting conversation with a man I have seen several times near the West Side Market. We commiserated about the reality that fear is a powerful human emotion and politicians capitalize on fear when beating the drums for war, with people buying into their fear-laden rhetoric. I noted there is lots of money in war for profiteers. The man, who dresses as a superhero replete with a blue cape and a small blue mask while carrying a guitar, said he used to be a drug addict and he knew other addicts who were war veterans. I said, they were “medicating their emotional pain with the drugs.”
I told him we need much more “peace, civility, tolerance, mutual respect, compassion and empathy in our society–qualities that have eroded in the past few years.” He said, “the most important quality is empathy. If you have that, the other qualities will follow.” As my “superhero” friend walked away, he encouraged me to keep doing what I do.