Even though it was pretty chilly on Saturday, Christmas Eve, I decided to once again promote peace to folks heading to First Energy Stadium for the final home game of the Cleveland Browns. The team hosted the San Diego Chargers.
As usual I took the Blue Line Rapid Transit downtown and after leaving Tower City I unfurled my peace flag, which I’m sure gave pause to motorists and pedestrians who noticed my aging field jacket with the six medals the Army presented to me upon my honorable discharge at the Oakland Army Depot in California in July, 1968. I also wore my embroidered military cap indicating Vietnam service with the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division (“Bid Red One.”). My intent was to get across the idea that some war veterans are pro-peace. Not all of us are cold-blooded killers at heart.
While walking down West Third Street toward the stadium, a vendor manning a hot dog/snacks cart at one of the corners said, “I like your flag.” I said, “Thanks. I wish everyone did.”
Some time later, one of the fans going to the game also said he liked my flag and I gave the same response, adding that “I wish it flew over the White House.” (Makes sense to me, since the current president won the Nobel Peace Prize. Try to stifle an ironic smile here. Ah, I knew you couldn’t!)
It was not an impressive crowd going to the game in terms of numbers, perhaps because the Browns were 0-14 for the season. One disheartened fan going to the Christmas Eve game carried large white sign with black lettering that read, “Instead of coal, I got Browns tickets.” (No doubt his heart was gladdened at the end of the game, since the Browns beat the Chargers 20-17.)
As had been the case in previous peace promotion initiatives, several people shook my hand and thanked me for my service, supplemented with mutual “Merry Christmas” greetings. A few people said, “God bless you!!”
For the first time ever, a young man shaking my hand said, “Thank you for your sacrifice.” That seemed a bit odd, as I hadn’t lost an arm or a leg in Vietnam. Maybe he meant that I had “sacrificed” two years of my civilian life to be a soldier.
It was gratifying that many of those who liked my presence are veterans and that a few of the young men who shook my hand are on active duty in the army. One served with the Big Red One in Germany. A young woman veteran said she had served in First Infantry Division at its stateside headquarters at Fort Riley, Kansas.
One smiling big middle-age black man came over and gave me a bear hug, saying he had been in the Marines. As an Army veteran, I said as he walked away, “We were on the same team. We just played different positions.” He smiled,
One attractive middle-age woman was effusive in her appreciation as she shook my hand. After a few seconds of talking we instinctively embraced and as I kissed her right cheek I said about my effort, “I call this a labor of love.” She again squeezed my hand as she walked away.
In the interest of full disclosure, several people again ignored my greetings, as if they were deaf. Oh, well. At least no one said anything rude or critical. The medals, including a Bronze Star, on my left breast pocket might have discouraged voicing of unpleasant comments.
Before the game began, one middle-age man standing about 15 feet away asked why I was there. I said it was to “promote peace to people going to the game.
“We were sent to Vietnam to kill communists and now Vietnam, a communist country, is our ally against China. Bottom line, more than 58,000 perfectly healthy young American lives were wasted.”
The gentleman offered me a ticket to a club seat in the stadium, but I politely declined, as I would rather watch the game in the comfort of my home.
I was a bit taken aback when the man said he had twin sons in the army who recently graduated from the U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point, New York.
I asked if his sons were assigned overseas and he said they would soon be deployed to a U.S. Army base in Korea.
I said, “That’s good. There’s no war there…not yet.”
The dad smiled and softly said, “Yeah, not yet.”