Hey, man! Guess what we did with a couple of flags while Burzenski was still here!” This is probably a fair paraphrase of what Cole (Ode to Robert W. Cole [May, 2012) and I told Adling (Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling [May, 2012]) as soon as we knew that both flags had definitely disappeared (The Flag Escapade — Phase I [August, 2013]). We may have even added “Chalk up another one for the M-4!” or something like that, though technically it was “pulled off” by three war gamers — two of the M-4 and one “wanna be” M-4 member with whom Adling could not get along.
As a M-4 member, Adling, who had drifted away from the war game tables in our early years of high school, was duly impressed and congratulatory, but I feel strongly that before he went on talking about what we had done, he made sure Burzenski was actually gone. Assured of this fact, the three of us (Berry (Ode to Bob B. Berry [May, 2012]) was still on “perpetual summer family vacation.”) put two general facts together: With or without the public’s knowledge of Phase I and any connections the two politically incorrect flags had with the M-4, the fame of our quartet was to us far outweighing our infamy in the wake of our graduation the previous May, especially since we had not become bitter about our “punishment phase” over the chair/desk escapade and we had clearly never been “brought down” by any disciplinary procedure against us, as shown by our being the big reason the dam got painted for our graduating class and by the “M-4 commercial” I gave in my speech at graduation (That Damn Dam Painting! [April, 2013]).
The second fact was that we had begun, emboldened by the support we recently had been receiving from both our peers and many adults in the community, making tangible our legacy as a group (Adling’s design of a M-4 symbol transferred to four “calling cards” he made for our billfolds, Adling and I writing up a summary of the chair/desk escapade and submitting it for publication in Reader’s Digest, and our retrieving, before we graduated, an “artifact” of Adling’s supper Berry had brought to him beneath the gym floor the night of February 11, 1964 — a paper cup that remained in a dresser drawer in my room at my house for years after I had left for college).
Coupling these two facts together amidst our three-way conversations and laugh-fests, lubricated with plenty of Dad’s root beer, it seemed only “natural” to think that if we put up more flags, this time M-4 flags brandishing Adling’s design, that they would also mysteriously come down with nothing being said as had the flags of Phase I. It was beneath our “dignity” to not only put up the very same flags, but also to display them in the very same places, so two other sites were thought of for our new flags. When the M-4 was “clicking” in the planning stage, we were wont to sew perplexity and confusion, given our record of successes and the reactions to those successes. Predictably, our eighteen-year-old brains spent little time contemplating what we might reap! The new sites decided upon were 1) the relatively short and unused flagpole atop Cisco’s City Hall, right above the roof-high facade with “City Hall” and “1915” on it, and 2) the flagpole in front of the administration building of CJC (Cisco College).
Thus began the planning of Phase II. The three of us, sometimes two at a time, experienced the fun and euphoria of planning that reminded us of our planning sessions of the chair/desk escapade back in late 1963 and early 1964. Early on, we knew how we could get to the roof of the City Hall from street level. We set the date for Phase II on the “5-month anniversary” of the chair/desk escapade, July 11, 1964. It seemed only “appropriate.” Much of the details stemmed from the success of Phase I, like meeting in the darkness of the condemned high school building; Cole would be out after midnight anyway, so we would use his car; both Adling and I were within easy walking distance of the condemned building, so we would sneak out of our houses and arrive on foot to rendezvous with Cole. A slight difference with Phase I would be doing Phase II after midnight, when all our parents would be fast asleep.
As execution day approached, old white half-sheets and black enamel paint were used to paint on the same site behind my garage in the alley where we had painted the two, more colorful Phase I flags, two M-4 flags with only Adling’s stylistic symbol, using one of the “calling cards” as a guide. This was the work of Adling, his younger brother John, and me. Of course, once they were dry, they were stored in Cole’s car trunk, and I got rid of signs of paint on grass blades in the alley.
But, as in Phase I, we needed some baling wire to attach the flag on the City Hall flagpole (The wire used in Phase I from Cole’s dad’s ranch had all been used.), a fact that did not occur to us until the night of the 10th. To go out to my dad’s farms and ranches or to Cole’s dad’s ranch was a waste of gas for a little bit of wire, so we decided to raid the pile of discarded baling wire alongside Thornton’s Feed Mill in the back along Avenue E. Though he was to deny it years later, Lee (Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee [April, 2012]) was riding around with Adling and me on this wire raid, and, we invited him, having no problems telling Lee everything, as he had never “squealed” on us, to join us the next night, to become an “honorary” M-4 member, as Burzenski had become in Phase I. Not surprisingly, Lee declined because he thought he could not get out of his house like Adling and I could and because he could not morally bring himself to participate. (This led us later to joke that Lee was the “conscience” of the M-4; we always checked with him before we did anything, but we never followed his cautionary advice! It just made us feel better that we had checked with him.)
Nonetheless, the four of us “cased” the block on which Thornton’s is located, and, with a “cleared” casing, I slipped from the back seat of Adling’s slow-moving car onto the street running, much as Berry had done from Cole’s car during the chair/desk escapade, with car interior lighting squelched. In the time Adling “made the block again” I ran and grabbed a couple of strands of wire from the pile and was in place to slip back into the back door of the car when Adling stopped for the intersection at the corner of Avenue E and W 13th St. All this time our “conscience” in the car was telling us how wrong this was!
By the time the evening of the 11th rolled around, the wire was added to the trunk of Cole’s car and there was no fourth in the M-4 that night, neither Berry nor Lee. It is somewhat embarrassing to say, even fifty years later, but I had the art of sneaking out of my house, despite dogs inside the house and despite large coon hounds in the backyard, after my parents had fallen asleep, pretty much perfected. The route was out my bedroom window under a raised screen and onto the driveway on the “west” (SW) side of the house. I could do it without stirring a single bark or growl. I could return the reverse route back to my bed equally well.
In the dark shadow of the tall condemned auditorium less than a block from my escape window and just about a block or so from Adling’s escape spot from his house, two pedestrians met at Cole’s blue and white Chevy, which had goods-in-trunk. We were ready; it seemed like Phase I all over again to Cole and me. The three of us had not felt this exhilarated since the night we painted the dam back in late May! Endorphins and adrenaline of pranking surged through us as we decided I would be the driver, Adling, Cole, the flags, and the wire would all be in the back seat, and the first flag to be put up would be the one at City Hall.
So, with me driving Cole’s car, we did a couple of “casing” loops around the City Hall located at the corner of W 7th St. and Avenue E. The downtown area seemed deserted; we saw no other moving cars, not even police cars. Similar to the slow-down-and-slide-out-technique used in procuring the wire, Adling and Cole slid out an opened back door with one of the flags and the wire as I crept along the dark section of Avenue E between W 6th and W 7th Streets. I circled around in the downtown area to the obscure parking lot on E 7th St, a little less than two blocks away from the City Hall, across from Jake Morgan’s Feed Store and next to Mr. Donovan’s (Butch Donovan’s dad’s) garage. After parking with no lights on, I got out of the car to peek around the corner of the brick garage in a westerly direction along 7th St across Avenue D (now Conrad Hilton), and got a perfect view of the flagpole area atop City Hall, illuminated by street lights.
Meanwhile, Adling and Cole made their way to the shadows of the side of the building away from Ave. E. They negotiated and made their way up the old fire escape structure on that side of the building, as planned. They had to be extra careful not to make any significant noise, as across the alley at the back of the building was the city’s fire station, where, of course, someone was on duty. On top of the roof finally, they quickly determined the only way to get the flag at a decent height on the pole was to have Adling stand upon Cole’s shoulders. (I think to this day Adling, Berry, and I agree that Cole was clearly the stoutest [not in a “fat” way] of our quartet; he probably did more grueling ranch work than even I.)
From my vantage point about a block and a half away I could make out the surreal sight of two figures atop the front of the City Hall (We were so audacious and confident — some would say careless — that we all generally wore white tee-shirts, even for our “night work.”). Two figures all right, one standing atop the other! Adling climbed upon Cole’s shoulders with flag and part of the wire in hand. Cole held the rest of the wire, the pole for balance, and Adling’s ankles; he needed at least three hands! All this perilously close to the edge of the roof of the extra-tall storied (two of them) brick building! Adling made sure the flag was right-side-up, wired the top of the flag near the top of the pole with a few twists, reached down to get the rest of the wire from Cole, and then wired the bottom of the flag to the pole. As the flag unfurled, I could from my distance make out the whiteness of the flag-that-used-to-be-a-sheet in addition to the whiteness of two tee-shirts.
That sight was my cue to return for the pick-up of my compadres. I wanted to try to be as “on time” as Cole was for we other three at the end of the dam painting (That Damn Dam Painting! [April, 2013]). I was pleased with my effort, as when I pulled up slowly with opened back door to the place where they had slid out, the successful duo, with some spare remaining wire, had just reached the shadows of the pick-up site from off the fire escape, and in the back seat they both slid to join the remaining flag. Somehow, as I was driving away as inconspicuously as possible, we all managed to do the traditional M-4 handshake of success — this time a 3-way shake, two hands at a time.
Still no moving cars could be seen, so, feeling so good about what had just transpired, we circled back for a drive-by down 7th St in front of the City Hall to take a look at our handiwork. It was a most gratifying site, and that is an understatement!
I drove on out to the top of the hill at CJC, a summer campus as deserted as downtown Cisco that night, and in but a couple of minutes, it seemed, using the remaining wire and the flagpole chain, we had the second M-4 flag flying from atop the administration flagpole — our second, understated “gratifying” site!
Cole resumed his proper place as driver, we drove back to the shadows of the condemned high school auditorium and I got out of the car to return back to my bedroom less than a block away. Cole drove Adling to a similar distance from his house, and Adling soon was back in his bed successfully. Finally, Cole, as usual, returned home in the very wee hours of the morning. The deed was done; the M-4 had “struck” again!
As expected, the M-4 flag at CJC was gone the next morning, gone forever just like the two flags of Phase I. But, curiously, the flag atop the City Hall was still in place even after several days. All three of us had summer jobs in town (Cole at the Premier station on W 8th St. and at his dad’s ranch, Adling at Westfall’s service station across the intersection of Avenue N from Cole’s work site, also on W 8th St., and I at Austin’s Furniture and on my dad’s farms and ranches), and it seemed all three of us individually drove by City Hall each day after work to see if the flag was gone; it wasn’t.
More than a week passed; as in the case of the chair/desk escapade, we scrutinized our options when we gathered together at night. Nothing was being said, as Lee and John Adling were the only ones besides ourselves who knew how the flag got there, and in this long period of nothing being said we had told Berry about our latest “M-4 coup” as soon as he got back into town from vacation. More and more people noted the flag, many of whom recognized our symbol and knew exactly who had to be responsible, but few, if any, approached us because, as time went on, they were fearful their just talking to us about it would get us into trouble. We thought maybe the city was waiting for someone to try to take it down, for we were pondering the possibility of taking it down (We knew how exactly to do that!) to force the flag to “disappear” as planned, but wondered if that was what the city was anticipating. That thought was giving the city officials, as it turned out, too much credit.
The number of students and adults who figured out who had done it increased as the flag remained in place, and more inquiries started coming our way; we “played dumb” about the whole matter, just as we had done during the week after the night of the chair/desk escapade and the day of our “confession” back in February — neither confirming or denying our involvement, a sort-of M-4 version of taking the 5th Amendment.
Then, right after my parents and I returned from a family vacation, the following appeared as a caption under a front-page picture of two men holding the M-4 flag from atop City Hall stretched out between them in the July 21, 1964 (10 days after the “flag raising”) edition of The Cisco Press:
“MYSTERY FLAG — Justice of the Peace W.L. Lewis, left, and Fire Marshall C.R. Hightower are shown above holding a white flag that was taken down Monday night after flying several days on the pole atop City Hall. The strange looking insignia was painted on a bed sheet in black ink. City officials were at a loss to explain the flag or its markings or how it got on the flag pole. Mayor John H. Webb said ‘we would like to have any information that anyone might have about the mystery flag.'”
In the same edition, in the editor’s column, appeared:
“The Mystery of the City Hall Flag was being pondered at City Hall this week. A white flag made its appearance on the City Hall flag pole several days ago. Inquiries around the City Hall failed to find anyone with any information.
So Monday night, city police went up on top of the building and brought down the flag. It is a bed sheet with strange markings on it. Black muslins (sic), maybe, suggested Police Chief S.E. Parkinson.
We’ll be glad to hear from anybody who has information about the unusual flag.”
We could hardly believe our eyes! By now half the town could give the city all the information it wanted, and it was a tribute to M-4 sympathy that after 10 days the city admitted it was clueless. But clueless in more ways than one, for to call the Black Muslims “muslins” suggested embarrassing myopia and possibly racism (Apparently, they had figured out the “M” but not the “4” in Adling’s design.). Little wonder teenagers had cruelly and disrespectfully nicknamed Chief Parkinson “Porky.” (Recall, at this time nationwide the Civil Rights Movement had gotten underway, and we were on our way to years of demonstrations, marches, and riots before arriving at long-needed civil rights legislation.)
Adling’s mom, Lois “Mable” Adling (Mrs. Lois Adling, Mrs. Edward Lee, and the Big Afternoon [June 2012]) was now an employee of the City of Cisco, working at City Hall! She had seen the flag from its unfurling, and at that moment had the sinking feeling of thinking of her son, saying to herself “Surely not!!” Purposely, she did not ask Adling about it, so that when she was asked by the mayor if she knew anything about, she could truthfully answer she did not and not jeopardize her job. But, of course, deep down, she knew us and she knew the origin of the flag.
Hopes that things might “cool down” and “fade away” were dashed by another report in the local newspaper, dated July 26, 1964:
“There’s no late news on the unusual flag that was found atop City Hall the other day except that there were two of them. The second was found on the flag pole at Cisco Junior College.
Mayor John Webb reports that no acceptable explanation has come to him. Police Chief S.E. Parkinson said that an FBI agent looked at the flag and promised to see what he could make of the ensignia (sic). And we heard rumors that ‘They’ — the black muslums (sic) — planned to stage a demonstration in Cisco July 27th.
And some think the flags were the work of pranksters.”
This was getting out-of-hand! Had logical police work been at work here, we might have been forced to “fess up” at that point, but, now a whole new spin was emerging. Not only were the city officials overlooking the obvious, despite every reason to think it was the work of pranksters, they were fancifully and paranoically piling more and more “egg on their faces.” Whatever the outcome, it was looking more and more like the city was going to be more embarrassed than we. This was going far beyond our expectations, and if we ignored such words as “FBI,” our M-4 delight soared (How funny was it to think people might actually believe the Black Muslims would demonstrate in Cisco, Texas?); but it was a delight with a price — what was going to happen if we were “fingered?” Yet, the silliness of the town’s paranoia was apparently spreading as far as The Cisco Press could take it!
Accordingly, Cole and I both spent more and more time out on the farms and ranches, as much as our jobs in town would allow; poor Adling was stuck full-time in town working at Westfall’s. Adling had made it clear to Cole and me that it was imperative we deny everything now, for, given the public embarrassment the city stood to experience over their “coverage,” revenge would be saught against us, and the whole thing would treated as vandalous and criminal, despite the evidence to the contrary. It was deja vu for us; as in the chair/desk escapade, the spirit of the prank was probably not going to be taken into consideration (Would we ever learn that lesson?).
One hot afternoon two Cisco policemen pulled up at Westfall’s and asked to speak to Adling. Mr. Westfall, Billy Westfall’s dad, who probably had a good idea what was going on with the flag business and who had done what, refused, as Adling’s employer, to let them take up his work time. After the police had left, Adling dodged Mr. Westfall’s questions. About the same time attempts were made to talk to Cole and me, but we were out in our rural “hideaways” laboring. But not for long. One morning the police in the form of Chief Parkinson alone caught me at home alone after my parents had gone to work. I invited him in, and his nervousness helped to calm mine. He assured me he thought there was no criminality, but that he needed me to confess, stating there was reason to suspect me and some of “my friends” in regard to the “mystery flags.” Reminding me of the “confession scene” in the chair/desk escapade, I eschewed lying and told him I knew that it was a prank and that all the surmising about Black Muslims and demonstrations was both amazing and absurd. He asked me more than once for names and I told him I could not incriminate anyone. He left probably thinking they had “nailed” the perpetrators; the city had finally seen the “obvious.” Cole and Adling were similarly interviewed at their homes, both not giving out any names. We were separately told that we would have to appear before city court to sort out what should be done about this matter.
After the three separate interviews, the three of us “huddled” quite quickly. The investigation and impending court appearance now was publicly discussed. We three had to inform our parents, and they all experienced deja vu too, as it looked like the chair/desk escapade all over again. My girlfriend Sylvia, was, understandably none-too-pleased; I thought once more I was going to lose her. Mrs. Berry expressed a qualified relief she was glad Berry had been out-of-town at the time, as she knew he would have been there right with us. Our close social relationships with our loved ones was again at an all-time low. Those in town who would talk about it were torn between how absurd the city had looked in the whole affair and how we had this time “gone too far” with the “M-4 thing.”
On July 28, 1964, the Press reported:
“SOLUTION REPORTED TO ‘FLAG INCIDENT’ — The ‘flag incident’ in Cisco last week (!) was the work of three teenaged youths who raised the flags at City Hall and College Hill as a prank, Police Chief S.E. Parkinson reported today.
The chief indicated that the trio would be taken before Mayor John H. Webb in city court for a review of the case.”
And on Sunday, August 2, 1964:
“The Local Youths who put up the flags must appear before Mayor John Webb in city court on August 11th.”
On the evening of our city court appearance in the mayor’s office, my dad was with me at the insistence of my mother, and Adling and Cole appeared “without counsel” (My dad was not happy he was going, but he was, as were all the M-4 dads, not as “put out” with us as our mothers were; reaction to the actions of the M-4 was always gender-specific. Also, Mrs. Adling had to remain far away from this meeting, as, remember, she worked for the city.). Representing the city commission were three officials: Mayor Webb, City Secretary Hal Lavery, and Chief Parkinson. The strategy of the court had apparently been decided before the meeting and was two-fold: 1) make us “sweat it out” and consider our case as the last item of business, forcing us to sit through all their “official” proceedings, and 2) scare, threaten, embarrass, and corner us into some kind of emotional apology in order to minimize the embarrassment they had brought upon themselves in the matter.
1) was a very bad strategy, as it backfired on them, exposing under our gaze a general incompetency that accounted in our minds for how silly they had been in jumping to conclusions with no evidence, thereby rousing unnecessary fears and concerns in the citizens of Cisco. My dad, who had our backyard full of coon hounds, got to contribute his input as a dog owner — apparently the only serious dog owner in the room — on the growing problem of dog poisoning in the city limits. Adling, Cole, and I did all we could to keep from bursting out laughing at Chief Parkinson when he asked a question that had previously been answered, for anyone listening, concerning the incompetency of an elderly doctor having to draw patients’ blood in town.
By the time we came up on the agenda, therefore, it was hard for us to be respectful, but, under the circumstances, I thought we did a pretty good job listening; acting was a side skill if you were in the M-4. 2) was equally ineffective. They tried to scare us with references to the FBI and with a “whitecapping law,” which defined as a felony the public display of an insignia or symbol accompanied by a threat. Apparently lawyers had pointed out that since there was no threat involved, the law could not be cited in our case (Incidentally, the M-4 never, ever threatened anyone.). Instead of being scared, we thought it was “cool” our names had been turned over to the FBI, and, since we knew there was never a threat in anything we did, we thought all this talk about “whitecapping” was a waste of everyone’s time (We could never express these thoughts to our parents, only to each other and our peers.).
My favorite time of the city court session came when Secretary Lavery asked what the symbol stood for. I spoke up for the group and instead of saying something like “Where have you been the last few months?” I calmly related to him about how the M-4 came about from the chair/desk escapade. He then expressed his consternation that we should be so proud of such a legacy, a legacy he thought “scandalous and vandalous.” I wanted to state how indeed proud we were of our group, and then go into my diatribe that we definitely were not vandalous and that scandal on the part of the M-4 is merely a matter of opinion. I later thought how odd it was to be accused of scandal from someone compliant with the spread of stupid rumors about Black Muslims coming to Cisco; I think the City of Cisco in the summer of 1964 acted scandalously, not we.
In the end, we were dismissed with warnings not to do such things again. We left with handshakes, thanks, and relief. We had our “day in court” and emerged not charged, not scared, and non-repentant. Truly, the two phases of the flag escapade in the summer of 1964 were probably the most controversial of the M-4’s escapades, but something emerged unplanned and unintended; if we were guilty of anything, it was too much hubris. It took a long time for our relations with our loved ones to heal, true, but without Phase I and Phase II, the incompetent provincialism and myopic lack of information, insight, and rational judgement of Cisco city officials back then would not have been exposed; it had not been worth all we put our love ones through, but, with the passing of time, unintended results eventually made it well worth it. If the reader would allow some brief unnecessary hyperbole, I like to think the small-scale expose of the City of Cisco in the summer of 1964 was the precursor of the larger-scale student protests, demonstrations, and take-overs on college campuses during the late 1960’s, which were, in a way, exposes of the social hypocrisies and foibles commensurate with the anti-war, civil rights, and women’s movements that made up the social revolutions of the 60’s, the collective “brainchildren” of we “baby-boomers.”
I can say without hyperbole Adling and I looked forward to escaping the “heat” from Phase II hopefully dissipating in Cisco as we left for college in the fall of 1964 to Lubbock and College Station, respectively. Poor Cole, he had to stay near the “heat” as he entered CJC that fall. No one should be surprised when I say confidently that any “heat” sent his way never bothered him — all part of being an M-4 member.