By Brandon HENSLEY
Every Friday evening for an hour and a half, on the northwest corner of Ocean View Boulevard and Honolulu Avenue, stands Roberta Medford and her group, the Montrose Peace Vigil. They hold signs calling for peace, enduring the insults flung their way – gestures or verbal barbs – from drivers.
“I can’t be angry,” said Medford. “I figure we’re here. We’re doing what we want.”
Medford, a retired UCLA librarian, is from Cincinnati and on this day she gets into a discussion with another vigil member over the Dodgers rivalry with the Reds in the 1970s.
“We’re like a family here. Beside politics, we talk baseball, movies,” she said.
But if everything seems fine, everything is not. There is an issue over the territory the vigil occupies. Their corner is where the Vietnam memorial is, as well as a flagpole, and every Friday before the vigil folks gets there, retired firefighter and World War II veteran Bill Dodson comes and takes down the American flag. After the vigil leaves, he returns to put it back up.
The peace vigil doesn’t think he has a right to do this.
“We’ve talked to him. We’ve waited here for him, asked him not to take it down,” said Medford. “He said, ‘Yep, as long as you’re here I’m going to take it down.’”
Across the street on the southeast corner, U.S. war veterans have taken up their spot. On this day, there are only two people present, Mike Baldwin and Warren Spayth, both Vietnam veterans who belong to the American Legion. They have miniature American flags planted in a semicircle on the grass. Spayth sits in a folding chair and acknowledges drivers that honk their horn in appreciation.
Their purpose for coming every Friday is to simply support the troops, they said, not to oppose the peace vigil. But Spayth said Dodson takes down the flag because the vigil stands where the memorial is.
“If they stood on the other corner that flag would be flying over there. I haven’t spoken to them but I think the flag would be there,” he said. “The memorial means something to us for vets.”
“They feel we’re desecrating the memorial by holding peace vigils,” said member Jeanne Levaieri. “Of course we’re not.”
“That’s not constitutional,” said Dick Seeley, a volunteer for the ACLU and a Korean War veteran. “That’s an issue I think that the ACLU would look at.”
John Drayman was mayor of Glendale in 2008 when the flag controversy started. He said the flagpole and the memorial – built in 1968 – were privately funded, even though they are on Glendale property.
The Montrose Shopping Park Assn. was given the right by Glendale City Council to make calls on issues like this, and they have given permission to Dodson to do what he pleases with the flag.
“It really isn’t a constitutional issue, it’s a jurisdictional one,” Drayman said.
Dodson declined to be interviewed for this story.
“They can’t give permission to take the flag down,” said Seeley. “That’s the basic issue here, is that they’re discriminating against people that are protesting the wars … and it’s not constitutional. The ACLU is looking at it. Whether we take it or not I don’t know.”
Any legal action the vigil would take is not immediate, according to vigil members. Besides, Seeley said, “If we had to take all the cases we get, we’d have to get about 3,000 attorneys.”
Since September, the peace vigil has hoisted a telescoping auxiliary flagpole that displays a flag at half-staff. On it they post the official Department of Defense announcements from the past week of those who have died in service, mostly in Afghanistan. But they’d still like to see the original flag back.
This conflict is not fueled by hatred. Medford laughed when talking about it and said she sees the “other side” in the grocery store often. Spayth said vigil members are nice people, but maybe just naïve.
“They don’t have to be there but they want to be there because it’s a memorial and we take exception,” Spayth said.
Baldwin said he and Spayth do not talk to Dodson, and that what he does has no relation to why they are there every Friday.
“I think the shopping center can fly the flag when they wish or wish not to,” Baldwin said.
Medford said it’s important for her group to protest anyway.
“To exercise that right is more important than their silly theory about us disgracing this site, which of course we’re not,” she said. “It couldn’t be more American.”
All of this ‘couldn’t’ is an example of what makes America great, said Drayman.
“A perfect demonstration that our constitution is alive and well, that our democracy is vibrant and it plays out in our little town every Friday,” he said.