Cleveland’s historic weekend means daily travels for the peace flag

With the NCAA Women’s Final Four games beginning in Rocket Mortgage in Cleveland on Friday April 5th, then my Saturday peace vigil behind the West Side Market, then the women’s NCAA championship on Sunday, then the total solar eclipse followed by the Guardians home opener on Monday, this peace activist had wonderful opportunities to promote peace to hundreds of locals and out-of-towners. But it began with disappointment at the “Party in the Plaza” on Friday. Shortly after walking through one of the many metal detectors, a Cleveland policeman stopped me, saying I couldn’t go any further because the pole holding my peace flag “could be used as a weapon.” (That’s rather ironic, isn’t it? Using the pole holding my peace flag to clobber some guy.) I said to the policeman, “My life was on the line 24/7 for a year in Vietnam and I can’t take my peace flag into the party?” He repeated that “it could be used as a weapon.”             I just shook my head and said, “That’s terrible.” He said nothing, but his partner was faintly apologetic, saying, “That’s the rule.”                

I found a spot where there were many fans heading to the fieldhouse, cheerfully saying to people, “Welcome to Cleveland!”.  Several thanked me for my service, gave me fist bumps and shook my hand.  A young couple stopped to thank me effusively, with the gentleman saying something to the effect that “because of you, I have my freedoms.” I said, “You’re giving me too much credit.” Then he offered to give me money. I said, “I don’t take money” but he insisted and shoved a $20 bill into my hand. I said he “should use it to buy more beer.” Yep, it was pretty clear to me they both were “under the weather”, as their speech was somewhat slurred. Both hugged me and when the woman–I’m guessing she was about  25–said to me “I love you,” that was proof positive she had way WAY too much to drink. 

On Sunday, April 7th, the date of the NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and South Carolina Gamecocks, I got on the Blue Line RTA train near my Avalon Road home wearing my vintage (1966) U.S. Army field jacket. No sooner had I sat down when a woman sat behind me and said she noticed the Airborne patch on my left shoulder, above the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center patch. Her name was Cindy and she lives on a farm in Iowa but was staying with a friend living on Lomond Boulevard, in the south end of Shaker.  I told Cindy that since I was assigned to an Airborne unit (the JFK Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina) I was required to wear the Airborne patch as a part of my uniform, quickly adding that “I never jumped out of a perfectly good airplane.” Since Cindy could see only the red and white stripes of my furled peace flag, I mentioned to her I am a member of Veterans for Peace and that I would be promoting peace to people heading to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse as I have done at many other venues over the years. I told Cindy, “The only blood I saw in Vietnam was my own if I nicked myself shaving. But I lost a lieutenant during the Tet Offensive three days after his 23rd birthday. His whole life ahead of him was blown away. We were sent to Vietnam to kill communists and now, Vietnam, a communist country, is our ally against China. All those lives wasted.” Cindy was locked into my message and rationale for promoting peace. I was turned sideways on my seat while talking with her and she noticed the six medals on the left breast pocket of my field jacket.  I told her that when you live and work in a war zone for a year, the army is rather generous with the hardware it gives out. I told her the crimson and white ribbon holds a Good Conduct Medal–“Only the army would give me a medal for behaving myself.” (I suppose that was to distinguish me from GIs found guilty in a court martial who of course would be disqualified from receiving the decoration.) 

While standing across from the fieldhouse, a gentleman approached me and we talked for quite a while. His name is David and he is the head coach for the women’s basketball team at the University of Rio Grande in the “rolling hills of southeastern Ohio,” as he put it. It is a small school with only about 2,500 students, yet his teams have enjoyed considerable success, winning a championship in its division.  David and his wife, Margaret Evans, a member of the “Bob Evans down on the farm family,” have one daughter  who, coincidentally, was a psychology major at Miami University as was yours truly. She works in cybersecurity, monitoring “dark web” activities of organizations that plot to do harm.
I said to David, “That means if she told you details about her job, she would have to kill you.” He laughed and said, “That’s right.” David has always made it clear to his players that if any of the women went down on one knee during the national anthem before games (as did former San Francisco Forty Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick to protest police brutality) the girl would no longer be a member of the team. His comment prompted me to recount a conversation I had with a young man in line for a game at Progressive Field a few years ago who was unhappy with my peace message while in uniform and said, “Do you love our country?” I told David that I said to the young man, “Of course I love my country. You need to make a distinction between our country and our government. I’m not too crazy about some of the things our government has done.” David understood.

Monday, April 8th, was a historic day in Cleveland as it was the first time since 1806 that the city would be in the path for a total solar eclipse. The next time will be 420 years from now–2444–which I likely will miss, especially if I don’t stick to my plant-based diet.  I witnessed the eclipse while standing in Willard Park, where the large FREE stamp rests. Then I headed up East Ninth Street to greet people heading to the home opening game between the Guardians and Chicago White Sox. (The good guys won 4-0.)

One gentleman stopped to chat for a few minutes, shaking my hand the whole time. He is a fan of former president Trump, saying “he did a lot of good things” during his presidency.  I said the one thing I liked about Trump is he wanted to get us out of Afghanistan, seeing that conflict as a wasteful, unwinnable war. (He didn’t end our presence there, as that was accomplished by President Joe Biden.)  As I headed to Tower City to catch the Blue Line rapid home, a woman waiting in line to enter Progressive Field stepped out of line to thank me for my service and said her first husband  served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam.  I said, “Is he okay? “He killed himself,” she said. “Ohhh No!!”, I said.
She again thanked me for my service, getting back in line.

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