Promoting peace at St. Patrick’s Day Parade was challenging, yet satisfying

March 17, 2024–Deep down inside, my gut told me it was going to be a tough, unpleasant outing promoting peace at Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.  But I also told myself, “Everything will be fine. There won’t be any problems.” My gut instinct was correct however, perhaps because I and my peace flag have been booted out of two previous St. Patrick’s Day Parades because I was not on the parade roster–my First Amendment right of “freedom of speech” be damned.

I wore my vintage field jacket the army issued to me at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in the fall of 1966 and carried my furled peace flag on a pole. The reason I thought the parade would be smooth sailing is because I spent several minutes chatting up a few members of the Cleveland Police Color Guard as I held my furled red-and-white striped peace flag which they no doubt assumed was a U.S. flag. They thanked me for my service, and I said, “Wasn’t my idea. I got drafted.” They smiled. One member of the color guard served in the Marine Corps providing security at the U.S. embassy in Kenya. Sounds like pretty easy duty since there was no war in that country.      Because I had established a friendly rapport with some of the gentlemen, I thought the color guard contingent would at least tolerate my peace flag after I unfurled it shortly after the start of the parade.

Well, that was not the case. Not by a long shot. Immediately after I unfurled my flag, a policeman and policewoman not part of the color guard–who I had thanked a few minutes earlier for “keeping us safe”–pushed me to the side of the road, as did a parade marshal who had kicked me out of two previous St. Patrick Day parades. I of course protested, saying I am using my First Amendment right of “freedom of speech.” The policewoman said, “Not today. Go onto the sidewalk.”  What exacerbated the situation was that the color guard contingent behind me acted as if I was not even there and continued marching. A couple of “gentlemen” in the front row also bumped and pushed me. I thought that was rather rude and disrespectful, considering my life was on the line 24/7 during my year in Vietnam  (July 1967-July 1968) as a member of the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division (“Big Red One”). Maybe the “gentlemen” were Marines.  Well, I decided not to go onto the sidewalk. If I had done that, I would be walking behind parade watchers who of course would not see my peace flag. I walked along the curb, between those who were on the parade roster and spectators, getting several high fives, thank yous and applause along the way. I stopped a few times to say to people, “We need more peace in the world, don’t we?” All agreed, of course.  I greeted policemen along the Superior Avenue route, and they responded in kind, in sharp contrast to the color guard whose obvious deeply visceral negative reaction to the peace symbol on the blue field of my flag was akin to Dracula’s reaction when exposed to a crucifix. 

Earlier that afternoon before the parade began, I thanked a policewoman in Tower City for “keeping us safe”. I said, “Men and women in blue are keeping us safe. Not soldiers thousands of miles away overseas.” She politely disagreed, saying troops overseas are important “to keep them (adversaries) from coming here.” I thought, “Oh my God. She has bought into the fearmongering,” as have millions of other Americans today and those Americans during the Vietnam war who were fearful–thanks to government propaganda–that if we did not defeat the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army in Vietnam we’d be fighting them here.

Did that happen?

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