John Coleman, the former drum major for the Cleveland Firefighters Memorial Pipes & Drums,was captured on news cameras as he acknowledged President Barack Obama’s friendly wave during the inaugural parade on January 20 in Washington, DC.
Coleman and the pipe and drum corps started receiving flack about his acknowledging the president almost immediately after the parade had ended. As reported by Michael K. McIntyre in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Drum Major John Coleman, suspended last week for six months for nodding and waving to President Barack Obama, said Tuesday that he will not return to the Cleveland Firefighters Memorial Pipes and Drums band.
“There are too many bridges burned with the pipe band, too many hurt feelings on both sides,” said Coleman, 53, fire inspector for Cleveland Heights and a 17-year veteran of the band.
The band marched in the inaugural parade, and as Coleman led the band past the president, he nodded his head and waved at Obama. He said the president waved first, and he was acknowledging the commander-in-chief.
But band members had been warned not to make any gestures, so he was suspended from the band, which is made up of about four dozen firefighters from several local departments as well as civilians.
The story gained national attention Monday and became the subject of hot debate. The band removed its roster from its Web site Tuesday and deleted its phone number.
“There are some of the members of the band who wouldn’t want me back,” said Coleman, who as the drum major was the face of the organization and was often interviewed by the media.
“I figure it’s best for the band if I leave,” he said.
Band leader Mike Engle, the pipe major, was out of town Tuesday and unavailable to comment. A statement issued by the band read: “We’re sorry to see him leave. We are greatly disappointed that this issue has caused so much heartache. It’s been a disheartening few days.”
Coleman will not be leading the band in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Cleveland for the first time in 17 years. “But I could still march in the parade with the firefighters or the Ancient Order of the Hibernians,” he said.
He will then have a knee replacement operation he had been putting off until after the parade.
What? A patriotic American, joyfully and respectfully acknowledges the new president, during a national celebration of our democracy is condemned for his small bit of humanity? The president of the United States is not a king, not a potentate, not a diety, not a dictator, the presidential inauguration is not a military ceremony as some incorrectly assume, as reported by Toby Harnden in his story in the Telegraph:
But there were complaints from other bands and his band leader Pipe Major Mike Engle was not amused. “We had gone over and over time and again with everyone in the band that this was a military parade,” Mr Engle told the “Cleveland Plain Dealer”.
“Protocol and proper decorum had to be followed at all times,” said [Engle].
“Unfortunately, John chose to ignore that.”
Mr Coleman insisted that he didn’t do anything wrong. “I looked over, and he smiled and waved. I was just acknowledging the president, who was acknowledging our band.”
Mr. Engle owes John Coleman an apology and he needs to assess his own values. If nothing else, the campaign, election and inauguration of Barack Obama has been a unifying, healing of the wounds done to our country, both at home and abroad during the past eight years. It has been a reminder that liberty, freedom of men and freedom of expression still exist in the world’s greatest democracy. This is something John Coleman completely understands, and Mr. Engle would be well advised to go to John Coleman with humility and an openness to Coleman’s counsel as a person who knows what the meaning of respect and fellowship.
Mr. Engle, and anyone else condemning Mr. Coleman need only go to his organization’s own web site, and view this video that is posted there, footage of the pipe and drum corps and the Cleveland Fire Department, marching, waving, “mugging” for the folks back home in the 2008 New York St. Patrick’s Day parade. A clear demonstration of the strength, unity warmth and humanity that is the essence of life in the United States of America.