I often take my four year old grand niece to her preschool at St. Mary’s here in Port Huron. C.C. is part African-American, sharp as a tack, cute as a button, and lives with her mom in apartments near the junction of I-94 with Pine Grove. It’s a low to mid income area, and one day last early November in our routine travels, I noted a new sign that had popped up on the south bound grassy shoulder, right where people from C.C.’s neighborhood would stop, before entering or crossing I-94.
Often such printed quickie signs with metal stick legs appear at these busy intersections advertising “we’ll buy your property now” or “make easy $ from your home”. But this was different, much more professional looking, and fatally misinforming. The Army would do the hiring; you could be required to do the firing—automatic weapons. This is not just a job, it’s the armed services. Basic training for the job requires proficiency in lethal force. In such a poor economy, and with an apparent appeal to minorities, the sign needed a clarification.
My wife and I have gone to both local high schools numerous times in the last nine years, acting as non paid concerned parents, recruiting students for AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, just giving contact information and encouragement. There are alternative nonviolent ways to serve your country, receive valuable training, experience, and financial support for further educational opportunities. [A statement on one of our brochures, “You need not learn to kill, before you’re taught a skill.”]
Going home I created a companion sign [appears below] to provide truth in advertising, and placed it alongside Sergeant Melvin Lunkins’ sign the evening of the next day. Two days later his was gone, and mine was still standing. It was decent and fair that he’d retreated at that point, but left my sign intact. By itself it didn’t mean anything, so I took mine down also, but started looking for his in front of the armed services recruiting office near the Krafft Rd. shopping center.
On my next bike shopping trip to Kroger’s a day later, there it was, where I thought it would be. It was late evening, the sun was going down, but I’d brought my camera so I could take a picture, and have the number to talk with the sergeant later if necessary. As I took a couple shots [concentrating on a new digital camera’s technology] I felt a presence by my side. Sure enough, in spotless fatigues, looking just like his picture, stood Sergeant Lunkins. “You’re quite interested in this sign,” he deadpanned. “Yes, I’m your competition,” I responded, glad to have the chance for dialogue.
He seemed most willing to talk. There followed a 15 minute discussion of the personal aspects of war & peace, with some disagreement on whether soldiers were required to be capable of firing a gun aimed at people. He said he’d never had to in 14 years. I thought it was still certainly a large part of the general purpose. When I mentioned Martin Luther King was against war, he appeared moved for a few minutes. The conversation was concerned and considerate, on both sides I believe. In the end, I thanked him for taking the time to talk, and said I would feel it necessary to bring back my sign and place it next to his again. We left it at that, and the back of the mind knowledge that any signs on the roadside boulevards of Port Huron are technically against the rules. The next morning on the way up to work at the Lexington clinic, I replanted my message next to his, and took this picture.
[Date incorrect-new camera. Actual date 11-11-09, Veterans Day—didn’t dawn on me till later that day.]
My sign was gone two days later [remarkable duration], and his, by two weeks later. On the far right corner of my sign you’ll see an envelope that was addressed to him, in which I requested he save the sign for me, even if his office decided they had to remove it. Later he told me he’d been out of the office when my sign disappeared, not returning until the next week. He’d found the envelope then on his desk, read it, but knew nothing more about the sign. He would look into it. Talking with him today months later, he still can’t say what happened to it, but with both signs gone, the conversation continues.
May we all work, and speak the truth, taking up the recruiting challenge of Jesus to true service, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Martin Luther King was following this mandate when he set up his first principle of organizing for civil rights and peacemaking: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
Michael McCarthy, Faith Perspective on War & Peace, Port Huron, MI