Well, that was a pleasant, unexpected surprise. I refer to an exchange this evening between yours truly and five young men heading to FirstEnergy Stadium for the contest between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Cleveland Browns. As I stood about the length of a football field from the southwest gate of the stadium on West Third Street wearing my 55-year-old U.S. Army field jacket, my U.S. Army Vietnam Veterans First Infantry Division baseball cap and holding my peace flag, the young men shouted “USA!! USA!! USA!!”–the classic mantra of flag-waving jingoes. I “returned fire,” shouting “PEACE ON EARTH!! PEACE ON EARTH!!” Much to my surprise, the young men then shouted back, “PEACE ON EARTH!! PEACE ON EARTH!! PEACE ON EARTH!!” Very impressive. That was a first.
In other news…Another small group of young men stopped to thank me for my service. Noticing the half-dozen medals pinned on the left breast pocket of the field jacket, they asked about the “hardware.” Pointing to the first medal in the top row, I said, “This one is called a Bronze Star. Next is the Army Commendation Medal. The crimson-and-white-ribboned medal is called a Good Conduct medal.” I paused a second and said, “Only the Army would give me a medal for behaving myself.” They laughed. I noted the three medals on the second row are the National Defense Service medal, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal. The young men, apparently from out of town, asked for directions to the Flats, which I provided.
Speaking of out-of-town, I greeted many folks wearing Raiders gear, saying “Welcome to Cleveland!!” Some were pleasantly surprised by the friendly greeting, saying “thank you”. Others ignored me. When I said that to one man he said, “We’re from Toledo.” I said, “Oh, okay.” The gentleman probably thought I assumed he was from Las Vegas. When I welcomed a middle-age man to Cleveland wearing a silver and black Raiders sweatshirt, he said, “I’m from Akron. But when I was in the Marines stationed in California, I became a Raiders fan.” (I’m guessing that was back when the team was the Oakland Raiders.) I said, “You’re continuing the tradition.” He smiled and nodded.
As on past similar occasions, many people shook my hand, gave me fist bumps or patted my arm or shoulder when thanking me for my service. A few said, “God bless you” and I replied, “You, too.” I had a pleasant, albeit brief chat with a Raiders fan and veteran of the Army’s storied 82nd Airborne Division, nicknamed the All-American division in 1917 since soldiers from all 48 states were members of the division. We had something in common as I also was stationed at Fort Bragg, headquarters for the 82nd. My unit was the 13th Psychological Operations Battalion, attached to the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, home of the famed Green Berets (Special Forces.) The veteran had no quarrel with my peace flag, saying when he was in the army, he was “young and dumb,” which makes me think he volunteered i.e. it was his idea to join the Army. Not so in my case, as I had been drafted in the spring of 1966. Anyway, at the end of our conversation, I said, “Welcome to Cleveland” and he said, “I feel welcomed.”
A young man wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses stopped and mentioned he also had been in “The Big Red One” (First Infantry Division).I said, “Fort Riley?”, which is the division’s headquarters. He said that initially he was stationed in Germany, then served two tours in Iraq, then to Fort Riley. As daylight dwindled with the approach of the five o’clock start of the game, one gentleman of a certain age said he didn’t like my flag. I said, “I’m a follower of the Prince of Peace.” He then quoted a passage from the Bible where he claimed Jesus admonished people “not to follow the government.” I said, “I don’t like our government sending guys into war.” You would think, In light of the gentleman’s biblical reference, that he therefore would appreciate my peace flag since it has not exactly won our government’s endorsement. The gentleman’s thinking was a bit muddled, making no sense. I’m still scratching my head.