is the title of this must-read column by Frank Bruni in today's New York Times
It is about Hal Faulkner, a 79 year old who is dying of cancer.
Faulkner enlisted in the Marines in 1952 and was discharged in 1965, having served more than 3 years and risen from private to sergeant, showing how highly he was regarded.
There were no real blots on his record. No complaints of incompetence or laziness or insubordination. There was only this: A man with whom Hal had spent some off-duty time informed Hal’s commanding officer that Hal was gay. The commanding officer suspected that this was true and, on that basis, determined that Hal had to go. The discharge was classified as “other than honorable.”Bruni visited Faulkner in his home on Friday, where the old man said the hischarged had wrecked him.
Although more than half a century has passed since that harsh judgment — he’s 79 now — it has always stayed with him, a tight, stubborn knot of sadness and anger.Please keep reading.
“They gave up on me,” he said, referring to the Marines. “I never forget it.” He was haunted in particular by those three words — “other than honorable” — and wanted more than anything to have them excised from his epitaph. That became his dying wish: that those words not outlive him.
Before the current administration finally made it possible for gays to serve openly, Bruni tells us, more than 110,000 were discharged from military service for being gay, or being presumed to be gay. Before Don't Ask Don't Tell many of those discharges were dishonorable, which could permanently prevent someone from any kind of real life in the civilian world. Even just "other than honorable" were a smear that could have long-term consequences.
Faulkner experienced some of that - he lost one treasured job because of his sexual orientation, so despite a civilian record of success, including economic success, and for years he remained closeted because he feared for his economic future. He did not even bring his long-term companion to family gatherings until 2005, only a few years before that man died.
He his lived since with full-time assistance.
Since DADT was repealed, Bruni writes,
a process that permits those who were dishonorably discharged to appeal for reclassifications of those dismissals as honorable. A military spokesman said last week that he didn’t know how many veterans had sought to take advantage of it, or with what success. But Hal caught wind of it, and knew that he had to try.I am not going to go through the rest of the article in detail for one simple reason - you should read it. I did tell you it is a must read, and it is.
My wife read it last night and immediately texted me, because I had served in the Marines and she knew I would appreciate the piece. I did.
As I read it I wondered if were a right-wing bigot to get elected President s/he would direct the military NOT to grant any upgrading of discharges such as what Faulkner sought? After all, we still have a segment of this country unwilling to accept gays as full members of our society, including four members of the Supreme Court of the United States - it would take replacement of only one of the other five to see a reversal of some of the key decisions that have empowered gays to be more open and to be able to participate more fully and equally in American society.
If one goes to Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC one will encounter an important gravestone relevant to this story.
Loenard Matlovich died before DADT. The medal to which he referred was the Bronze Star.
I think of Matlovich and wonder why we do not admit we were wrong in our treatment of gay servicemen, and not require them to apply to have their less than full honorable discharges upgraded to recognize the quality of their service.
I am a Marine.
I served with gay Marines, both in bootcamp and later.
One of the most distinguished Marines of all-time, Commandant Al Gray, was gay, although many of his close friends did not know. When I heard Jim Webb at his first event after declaring for the United States Senate almost 7 years ago in February of 2006. someone asked him what he thought of DADT, and he said he supported it because these changes take time. I followed him as he was leaving and introduced myself as a former Marine. We exchanged the obligatory greetings. I explained that I had once asked his former fellow high Reagan Defense Department Official Larry Korb about a reference to a gay member of the Joint Chiefs and that Korb had said it was Gray. Webb stared at me for 30 seconds and then told me that there was blood on the floor to get him confirmed but he was the best man for the job. Webb had fought for Gray in his capacity as Secretary of the Navy. I asked if Gray was qualified to serve as Commandant, why couldn't a gay serve as an ordinary Marine?
It is past time for this nation to heal the wounds we have inflicted upon honorable men - and women - who chose to serve this nation in uniform, but whom we treated in a fashion that was less than honorable.
Read the entire Bruni column.
You will be glad that you did.
And you will understand why this was so important to Hal Faulkner.