Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gays in the Military

I once met one of the most famous gays in the United States Navy. I am referring, of course, to Lieutenant George Gay, the hero of the Battle of Midway. During the first stage of the battle, 47 American torpedo planes attacked the Japanese aircraft carriers. All but seven were shot down. In Gay’s outfit, all 15 planes were shot down and 29 out of 30 airmen were killed. Then-Ensign Gay was the only survivor of the torpedo squadron of the U.S.S. Hornet. He spent a couple of hours floating on the water until he had the extraordinary good fortune of being picked up by a PB-Y, an American flying boat. If the Japanese had found him, his story would have ended right there. The Japanese were not taking prisoners.

Gay had a ringside seat to a spectacular display when, just after his plane hit the water, American dive-bombers showed up and repeatedly hit three Japanese carriers whose decks were covered with fueled plane, bombs and torpedoes. That was arguably the decisive day of the war.

Surprisingly enough, although Gay was the only survivor of the squadron, he later returned to the theater and served a second term of duty. I met Lieutenant Gay in Dayton, Ohio in 1992 and I’m glad I had the chance to shake his hand. Gay died a few years later, well into his seventies, asking that is ashes be scattered over the Pacific, where his friends in the torpedo squadron had died more than fifty years later.

Now, I’ll segue into a different topic. I have worked in an office where the next room over was gay. No problem. I worked in a government agency in which the boss’s boss was a gay woman, no problem at all. Having said that, I do not care to share a bed with a gay man, even if it is a bunk bed. I do not want a gay roommate and I do not want to shower with other men who I know are gay. If the guys I happen to shower with are gay, I do NOT want to hear about it. I really don’t want to hear about it. My collaborator is quite fond of bringing up the analogy that half a century ago, a great many white men did not like the idea of sharing living facilities with blacks. To which I reply, we don’t ask women to shower with men, now do we? I note that one woman I knew while I was in the Navy once mentioned that one of her roommates was gay and she didn’t have a problem with it. To which I say, to each their own. I’d also like to point out that, at least in my experience, there was an unofficial don’t ask, don’t tell policy and I never saw anything like a witch hunt. Indeed, I recall one young black woman named Jennifer Cunningham, who was unofficially regarded as being gay, but no one gave her a rough time about it. One day, I was sitting in the day room, watching the John Tate/Michael Dokes heavyweight title fight. Petty Officer Cunningham walked into the dayroom and proclaimed, “Oh, gross! Gross! Gross! Two guys saying, ‘I’m more butch than you.’” To which I replied, “Don’t worry about it, Jennifer, no one’s butcher than you.”

To people who point out that homosexuals who publicly proclaim their orientation are discharged, I note that some historical context may be useful. Back during WWII, homosexual conduct called for a general court martial. The usual penalty was 95 years in prison. It is possible that this new generation of American servicemen and women are comfortable with the idea of sharing close quarters with open homosexuals. All I can say is that the sailors and Marines with whom I served would have a major problem with the idea.

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