Lou tests right to free speech in Chagrin Falls, and prevails

CHAGRIN FALLS, Sunday, May 28th–Such DRAMA!! Jeepers! This was the 15th straight year of taking part in the Blossom Time Parade on the eve of Memorial Day, wearing my embarrassingly tight U.S. Army dress uniform and carrying my peace flag on a pole. To say that the event was an “adventure” would be a pretty big understatement. All went well for the first few minutes after unfurling my peace flag near East Washington Street, walking in front of a converted RV used by Homeless Hookup CLE, a non-profit that provides various services and goods for troubled veterans. Driving the RV was Dean, once a homeless veteran himself. I had walked in front of his vehicle at last year’s Blossom Time Parade. Today’s parade had a decidedly different narrative.  As I stepped onto East Washington Street from the Chagrin Falls High School driveway, the staging area for parade vehicles, things went south pretty quickly.  All of a sudden, a young parade official stepped in front of me and with his arms stretched straight out from his sides, blocked me, telling me to step out of the parade. I refused his command, noting I was within my First Amendment right of “freedom of speech” which was my “permit” to walk in the parade. I added there is precedent as I had walked in the parade for several years without incident. When he persisted in telling me to step to the side of the road, my half-Irish blood began to boil and I bluntly told him, “That’s not gonna happen!! Leave me alone!!” An exasperated woman behind me, witnessing the confrontation and greatly offended by the brutish, thuggish behavior of the parade official, shouted at him. “You can’t touch him!!” So he backed away from me slightly and said he was holding up the parade.  I told the offensive official to go find a policeman so we can discuss my First Amendment right of freedom of speech. He quickly walked away. I never saw him again–and Chagrin Falls police along the parade route were respectful, with one thanking me for my service.  BUT, my “excellent adventure” was not quite finished.

About half-way down the parade route, a young man wearing an olive drab, but non-military uniform, approached me and asked me to step to the side of the parade. I knew if I did that I wouldn’t be allowed to get back in the parade. I said to the polite, respectful young man, “We can talk while we walk.” He was amenable to that. He had a walkie-talkie so I suspect that the obnoxious parade official who tried to block me several minutes earlier tipped him off and told him to be on the lookout for me.  The friendly young man in olive drab told me there was concern among some people that I might “cause a disturbance.” I assured him that would not happen, although I may have disturbed sensibilities among many spectators.   I said, “I’m just trying to give people something to think about.” I reached to shake his hand.  He switched the walkie talkie from his right hand to his left, and I said, as we shook hands, “It was nice talking with you.”      And HE stepped out of the parade to the side of the road. I told a woman walking with a float in front of me about the dust-up and she suggested I register to be on next year’s parade roster. That’s not gonna happen. I already have a permit–and you know what it is.     

Before heading out to Chagrin Falls from home, I stood at the corner of Van Aken Boulevard and Norwood Road in Shaker Heights, waving to folks driving to nearby St. Dominic Catholic Church for Sunday mass. There were several friendly toots of horns for my peace message, and waves. I had done that in previous years on Memorial Day eve.  An elderly couple (well, okay, they may have actually been younger than me) walked by on their way to mass and the gentleman cheerily said, “Happy Memorial Day!!”   I tersely said, “Happy is not the right word for Memorial Day. I know three names on that Wall.”   The gentleman was a bit stunned by my remark but quickly recovered, saying, “Ohhhh…well, how about Happy Special Day.” I said, “Okay. That’s good.”  The idea came to mind before mass to walk through the church’s side door on the Norwood side of the church (remove my army garrison cap, of course) and walk down the main aisle of the church, stopping every few pews and say to people, “Do you think the Prince of Peace would like my flag?” Everyone smiled and answered in the affirmative. 

When I got to the back of the church, near its front door, the long-time and highly-respected–if not revered–pastor, Father Tom Fanta, was prepared to walk down the aisle toward the altar to begin mass, accompanied by two altar boys. The priest reached to shake my hand, saying “Thank you for your service.” I said, “Wasn’t my idea. I got drafted.” He said his father served in  the Korean War. I asked Father Tom if he thought the Prince of Peace would like my flag and he firmly said, “He would LOVE your flag!!”  With that I walked out the front door of the church to my car for the trip to Chagrin Falls.   On my way to my favorite place to leave my car–the parking lot of my favorite dentist of all time and very talented volleyball player, Dr. Megan Shiga–I noticed the parking lot was full at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, indicating mass was still in progress.  The idea came to mind–since I had a lot of time on my hands before the parade started–to ask people leaving the church if they thought the Prince of Peace would like my flag. They all agreed he would, and one man echoed Father Fanta’s sentiment, saying Christ would “love” my flag.  One elderly man leaving church using a walker (I’m pretty sure he was older than me) asked about my years of service and I told him my active duty ended in 1968. He said, “In 1968 the army wouldn’t let you have that flag.” Got that right.

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Memorial Day, May 29th–I walked in the Memorial Day Parade for the 15th straight year. The difference between Shaker and Chagrin Falls folks is like night and day. There were loads of appreciative applause for my peace message from Shaker spectators lining Van Aken Boulevard, the parade route, in sharp contrast to Chagrin Falls the day before. A couple of women said they remembered me from past years and were happy to see me. One woman said she took a photo of me each year, adding “I could make a collage of the pictures.”  A couple of well-meaning gentlemen wished me a “Happy Memorial Day,” and I quickly set them straight.  A young mom, a native of India, walked with me for a few minutes with her two children. We were “on the same page”.   I said to her, “When people thank me for serving my country, I sometimes say, ‘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’s barbaric.”  Did you ever notice that those who shout the loudest for war have never been in one?  I talked for a few minutes with a young father of three who grew up on Winthrop Road in Shaker, but now lives on Scottsdale Boulevard. He  graduated from an Army ROTC program in college and trained to be a helicopter pilot at Fort Rucker, Alabama. He flew MEDEVAC Blackhawk helicopters in Iraq, summing up his service as “helping people rather than hurting people.”       Before the parade began there was a ceremony in front of the Shaker Heights City Hall, with various people giving speeches. Closing the event was a trumpeter playing “Taps”. As the mournful strains wafted through the air, I teared up and thought to myself: “All those lives wasted.”

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