Here is Lou’s dispatch from a busy Memorial Day Weekend: two rather different parades in Shaker Hts and Chagrin Falls -Ed.
Well, I’m “back in the saddle again,” as the saying goes, as far as parades are concerned. Since COVID-19 has been largely held at bay, at least in our area, I was happy to be able to once again promote peace to hundreds of spectators at the Blossom Time Festival Parade yesterday in Chagrin Falls (Sunday, May 28th) and the Shaker Heights Memorial Day Parade today, both for the first time since 2019, although Shaker did have a parade on Labor Day last September, in which I walked. The parade experiences this weekend were enjoyable, albeit a bit grueling because of all the walking and high temperatures involved.
Before heading out to Chagrin Falls yesterday, I stood at the corner of Van Aken Boulevard and Norwood Road, directly in front of the Church of St. Dominic, promoting peace to drivers and folks heading to the 11 a.m. Mass. A woman said, “Thank you for serving our country.” And I said, “Well, I have a different perspective. I didn’t serve my country. I served deceitful, lying, fear-mongering, war-mongering politicians and their war-profiteering bed partners. Those truly serving our country are medics, nurses, doctors and mental health professionals who work very very hard to mend–as best they can–the psyches and bodies of those savaged and ravaged by war. They are the real war heroes, not those who kill and destroy. That’s not heroic. It’sbarbaric.” She said, “But you DID serve our country.” I said, “Well, when I was drafted (in 1966) and for many years later, I thought I had served my country, but later I realized that was not the case.” As she walked away, she said, “God bless you” and I said, “You too.”
A short while later, I recognized the countenance of one gentleman crossing Norwood with his family on their way to St. Dominic’s. I said, “Are you Dan Moulthorp, of the City Club?” He acknowledged same. (Dan is chief executive officer of The City Club of Cleveland). We chatted briefly about both living in the same Fernway neighborhood, anchored by Fernway elementary school. (I’m on Avalon Road.) I asked what street he lived on in Fernway and he said Grenway and I said, “One of my volleyball buddies, Sara Joyce, lives on Grenway.” Dan asked if I would be walking in the city’s Memorial Day parade the next day, indicating he remembered my presence from past years. Of course I answered in the affirmative. As he walked away to join his waiting family, I turned and said, “Dan, do you think the Prince of Peace would like my flag?” He said, “Yes”—of course.
In Chagrin Falls, for about an hour before the parade started, I stood near a sidewalk along East Washington Street greeting people, but with my flag furled, revealing only red and white stripes. A woman of a certain age asked about my service and I said I was in Vietnam for a year. She revealed her antipathy for anti-Vietnam war activist Jane Fonda, saying that the actress did a disservice to our military. I commiserated, saying that back in the late ’60s, I thought Fonda “Was playing right into the hands of the North Vietnamese. “But in retrospect, she was simply trying to stop the killing on both sides.” The woman paused for a few seconds, thinking about my observation, then tapped my left forearm and said as she walked away, “I’m still not going to watch any of her movies.”
The staging area for parade participants is the driveway in front of the high school, so I looked to see where I might want to step into the parade. I decided a good spot would be to walk in front of a retrofitted RV operated by Homeless Hookup CLE, the brainchild of Dean (I didn’t ask for his surname. For details, check out this link: Homeless Hookup CLE – Non Profit Organizations, Homelessness, Charity). The non-profit provides a variety of services for veterans, ranging from hygiene products and clothing, to haircuts and an opportunity to take a shower. It serves mostly Cuyahoga County, but also homeless outside the county, such as Youngstown. Dean said donations support his endeavor, along with a grant, adding that he has won yearly grants for two years and needs to apply for a third in August. I said to Dean, “So many veterans are homeless.” And he said, “I was one,” which surprised me. He was in the military as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the name given to the global war on terrorism shortly after 9/11 in the early 2000s.
As I walked down East Washington Street in the parade, there were pockets of applause for my peace message. I detected a decidedly churlish tone of voice from a man standing several feet from the street, but I couldn’t understand a word he said because of young children screaming in excitement about all the pieces of candy being tossed to them. I simply waved at the “gentleman”. On the other hand, a real gentleman stepped into the street to shake my hand and said. “Thank you for your service. I’m sure you lost some buddies.” I said, “Yeah I did.” Another person who stepped into the street was Melissa, a dentist who lives in Chagrin Falls and works for my primary dentist Dr. Megan Shiga. When we hugged I kissed Melissa on the cheek and told her “You brought more sunshine into my day.” She said I looked good in my uniform and I complimented her stylish off-white pantsuit.
At the end of the parade, I sat and rested for several minutes on shaded steps of a church near the village’s fire station, with the flagpole resting on my knees, The unfurled flag meant the peace symbol was visible to passersby who I greeted with a friendly “Hi. Thank God for shade!” Most thanked me for my service, a few simply ignored me. After about 20 minutes I began the long trek up the sidewalk along the East Washington Street hill to my car, which I had left in Dr. Shiga’s parking lot, just outside Chagrin Falls. The advantage is that people who had seen me in the parade got a second dollop of my peace message–at no extra charge. As I crossed Main Street near Triangle Park, one young woman said, “I like your flag.” I said, Thanks. I wish everyone did.” She said, “Me too!” Nearly all of the homeowners along the route were hosting parties on their front lawns. Several people applauded and thanked me for my service. One non-partier standing on the tree lawn, stopped me to chat 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 agreed. During our conversation, the woman, who is a guidance counselor at Orange High School, said her young son complained about a classmate being mean to him and she admonished her boy to be kind to his nemesis. I said, ironically, “Yep..,kill him with kindness.”
Further up the road a man said, “I have seen you here for years and years and years.” I said, “It’s a labor of love.” Today, at the Shaker Heights parade, I was joined by long-time television journalist Leon Bibb, who was drafted into the army in the fall of ’66 while I was drafted in the spring of that year. We were both in Vietnam for the Tet Offensive, which began at the end of January, 1968. Leon served with the Fourth Infantry Division, assigned to an artillery unit. Dressed in gear indicating his veteran status, Leon bemoaned the fact he forgot his flag that he had left in his car parked at the Heinen’s grocery store parking lot. I teasingly said, “A peace flag?”, knowing otherwise. He smiled and shook his head, saying, “No, not a peace flag.” While walking in the middle of west-bound Van Aken Boulevard, fellow volleyballer Emily Shrestha stepped out of the crowd to greet me and shake my hand. Like Sara Joyce, she teaches at Shaker Heights High School. It was a nice surprise to see Mary Reynolds Powell and her husband, Doug, both long-time members of Veterans for Peace, come out to greet me. Mary mentioned to Leon that they both had given speeches at the same event some time ago. There was considerably more applause at the Shaker parade than in Chagrin Falls, which is considerably conservative in its politics, although I did hear a rather half-hearted “boo” from one spectator. Oh, well. C’est la vie. Gotta keep the message alive.