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Gays in the Military, a Wartime Remembrance

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  “Policies Concerning Homosexuals” have changed since I was an Army defense lawyer in the closing years of the Vietnam War. “Being boarded out” was a large part of my defense work.

I’d be interested to know how attitudes stand up to today versus how it was during that war. In 2010 homosexuality became totally legal in the US military, but I wonder if anything has changed.

For one, it never seemed to matter except in combat units and in barracks situations, such as basic training, where troops slept and showered together. I knew a few military who had strong moral opinions, wives more than their husbands, and a few Army Reg’s-sticklers, you know, like Maj O’Houlihan of MASH, but even she had to endure Corporal Klinger all those years….which reminds me, we could still poke fun in those days.

We can’t now.

Except in those two areas, it was de facto “don’t ask don’t tell” twenty years before Bill Clinton ever made it official policy. If people took it off post, no one bothered.

Still, we had two gay-dragnets in my three years in Japan. No one could ever tell me whose idea it was. I had friends in the CG’s office, and it didn’t come from him. Most believe it came through CID channels, perhaps through Pacific Command in Hawaii.

I learned it was a standard cop-tactic to roust gays for a couple of months, then street-corner dime-bag dealers another few months, then start the rotation all over again.

I think they got idea from the old Dragnet TV series in the 50s. According to one CW3, the theory was, it kept the cops from falling into a rut, since in most military commands, US or overseas, there wasn’t a lot of real crime going on, at least not like Brooklyn.

Anyway, the order comes down to our CID. They had an LTC in command, and he later came to hate me because I busted up their attempt to bust up the Class 6 (Liquor) Store racket, where soldiers would buy top brand scotch, bourbon and brandy at bargain basement prices, then re-sell to bar owners off-post at ten times the pice, who wou;ld then resell to customers at $20 a shot. I represented two-three of those kids, and called them in and gave a little seminar. “Look, this is illegal. All the bars want are the bottles and labels, so they can fill with Japanese rot gut. Their customers would never know. Instead of taking risks, just go around and start collecting empties, and then sell them. Then you’re not breaking the law.”

That shut that CID business line down and their boss hated me for it, for turning little bootleggers into choir boys.

Those were the types of crime waves we had. One attempted murder, Sgt Dan, who beat the rap because he stole a Silver Star, a stolen bicycle, not a lot there for our CID office. The Mayberry Sheriff’s Office was busier. At least the MP detachment, made up of ex-college football players, were off playing football half the year.

So in 1973 CID sent me the first wave of lesbians, seven WAC’s they’d nabbed for being gay with about 30 other WAC’s.

But wait, aren’t they all equally gay, and equally guilty? Well apparently not, and you’ll understand why when I tell you.

In our command we didn’t have any lower ranking female clerk-typists personnel working HQ offices. All that was taken by Japanese nationals (you’ve met Mrs Ogawa) or DAC employees, such as my Mrs Minami. There were no female Spec4 clerk-typist MOS slots. There were several E4-E5 specialists filling other MOS slots handled by males in those days, and, if unmarried, they lived in an apartment complex on the other side of the post.

For all anyone knows, they were in there doing carnal push-ups every night, only no one every got wind of it, so no one cared.

The object of these dragnets were aimed at all the young (and pretty) “dyke bait” as the CID called them, about 150, who were found in one spot, the top-secret STRATCOM (Strategic Communications Command) on the first floor of our Headquarters. They were only one of two areas that had coded entranceways in the entire command. Everything that went on in there was classified. They were a major communications center for the Far East,, and almost every girl in there was fresh out of signal school at Ft Huachuca.

Most of them had been in less than a year. And you knew them by their distinctive shoulder patch.

Off duty, they lived the life of EM’s on any post; an NCO club, theaters, great eateries within walking distance, and of course, dances and parties. And there were plenty of available guys.

Each barracks had a commanding CO and top sergeant.

The WAC’s had a senior captain named Campbell, a stern humorless woman, twice my age, and an E-8 master sergeant named Reams, who I swear, looked just like John Candy. Neither were popular with the troops.

CID goes to Cpt Campbell and asks for a list of troops she and her Top think may be sexual predators and a list of troops they think may be targets. Cpt Campbell said in a written statement “You can tell the vulnerable one just by looking at them”.

That’s how the Army seemed to view homosexuality in those days, as aggressors and victims, only one of them being gay, not both. The other, the kissee, if you will, was an innocent victim.

CID then does the shoe leather stuff. They interviewed all the girls who went to Tokyo the same nights the “predators” went, and then grilled the ones whose answers and body language tipped the CID off that they might be hiding something, just like Lenny Brisco (RIP) on “Law and Order” would do it.

Then they would interview the “predator”, with signed confessions in hand, and pass their recommendations on to the same Cpt Campbell who’d tipped them off, who would start the paperwork for board proceedings, that these seven women should be removed from the Army under US Army Regs.

Their STRATCOM chain of command was never even notified until they’d been flagged, which required them to be removed from classified material areas.

So if there was anything good to say about these seven ladies it was for me to dig it up from their on-the-job bosses.

In all seven cases the evidence was conclusive as all the young women-victims confessed that they had had sexual relations with my seven clients.

So, it was my job to sit those seven ladies down and explain what was about to happen to them, telling them up front that these board hearings were not about guilt or innocence, as the witnesses against them had already signed sworn statements, and would testify under oath if called, and that they would be discharged  The only purpose of the hearing was to determine the nature of their service, and that the possible discharges they might receive would be General (Good) or Undesirable (Bad) and that Honorable Discharge is not on the table.

The 25 “victims” would lose their clearance and be shipped out to a new commands, to fill out their enlistment. Since all but three of the “predators”, two Spec 5’s and one three-stripe sergeant, were on their first tour of duty, a General Discharge wasn’t so bad. My job was to get the same for the others.

I got six.

SGT Marty

Sergeant Marty was the one I never even got to try. She was the three-stripe sergeant who was nabbed in the dragnet.

And Marty was a butch Latina from Plano, Texas. There is no other way to say it. About 5’1, she didn’t have a CIB but could whip any five men, (except Paratroopers and Marines) and probably go bear-hunting with a switch. She carried herself like a general officer. Or drill instructor.

She had done two tours in Vietnam. She was closing out her second enlistment and preparing to move into her third.

Up and down the line her bosses said she was an exemplary “soldier”. Not a WAC, but a soldier.

And with those three stripes she was in charge of something more than just paper on the job.

I didn’t ask, but assumed she had tats, (soldiers couldn’t show those off in those days). Some of her barracks mates said she spiked her hair, wore leather necklaces and nail rings when she went to Tokyo on weekends. Cruising. And Tokyo had a district that was made to order for people who wanted to move at the speed of light.

There were three STRATCOM girls who would testify against Marty. All Spec4’s, each had been picked up by Marty at a bar, spent the night at a nearby room, on Marty’s dime, then returned to duty on Sunday.

Over the next few days I proceeded to interview these three “victims”, and no aggregation of more innocent choir girls you never saw. They were the original “snowflakes”; sheltered and un-worldly was putting it mildly. They were cherubs. I was afraid to say “shit” in front of them for fear they’d cry. They didn’t know each other, nor were they picked up at the same bar.

Something didn’t square up, that some cruising bull-dyke in spiked hair could successfully score with each of these three purer-than-driven snow angels.

I had to ask.

Well, it turned out that two of the girls had been assaulted as teenagers, one inside the family, an uncle I think, the other a school kid. The third had grown up inside a Pentecostal preacher’s home in central Tennessee. All three claimed to (still be) virgins but had never had any interest in boys.

You might say they were messed up, but I think Marty had little to do with that. Not with a one-night stand. Each said Marty was “cool” and was nice to them. That she was never rough, to the contrary was “nurturing” (my word, not theirs), which was important to them, and that she would romance them. More like holding hands at a movie than playing slap-and-tickle in the backseat of the car.

I always thought bull-dykes liked their sex rough. And after getting to know the girls at Manos, as I’ve been writing about here at Veteran’s Tales, I learned that most men were pigs and few actually did the little things to please a woman. Japanese men, Arab men, Russian men, all they wanted to do was grunt and rut. And usually in under 10 minutes. There were no sweet nothings involved.

I came in assuming that Marty was a predator, and a predator which had found a target-rich environment with these innocents, that she was like a grizzly during the annual salmon spawn run. Just reach out and grab one. Then another.

And that may in fact have been the way Marty saw it, as a predator. Only she wasn’t. No grizzly ever sweet-talked a salmon into her paw.

I came away liking Sgt Marty more. She was a good soldier, and in the grander scheme of things, harmless. Maybe even a refuge.

Still, she was dead meat with the Army.

She had to go. There was no way I could save her career. The only question was: would it be with a Good Conduct discharge so she could get on with her life, or with that UD having to spend the rest of her life trying to hide it?

But Marty insisted that she should be allowed to stay and finish her career. I said, no that can’t happen. At least ten times. So finally, she told me she’d gotten in touch with a gay rights group in California who would represent her, who would appeal her discharge to the federal courts.

I hated those stateside civilian lawyers, because they had a “cause” they regarded higher than their clients’ best interests. They were showboats who would throw people a rope, then walk away to find someone else to save. I warned her this guy would sell her out, We’d seen it before.

But she’d saved a couple of thou, so I got her case moved to the West Coast where the board proceeding would recommence.

About six months later I got a letter from Marty, saying “You were right.” The guy went on for two hours about the rights of gays, never once mentioning her service record or deserving of the highest possible discharge. The board liked her less, not more. She got a UD.

I sent a note back. Her last known address was Plano, Texas.

Oh, on a closing note, on that second gay-dragnet, in 1975, CID nabbed Cpt Campbell and MSG Reams /aka John Candy, Yecch, who seemed to believe that the regs didn’t apply to mature consenting adults. There was a small celebration in the WAC’s quarters. Both were shipped stateside and quietly retired.

I wish I could have told Marty.

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About the Author:

Vietnam era Army JAG, Asia, 17-yr Cold Warrior in Soviet-China Bloc green zone, Been shot at and hit, but in crime, not war; twice-broken nose for lying (same fellow) hence good law school candidate; Could have been Somebody in Corporate world and politics, but at every crossroad chose to be a man with a tawdry past instead. Gave up law and am now a redeemed American.
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Comments

  1. Allen  September 5, 2018

    By the time I retired in 2008 nobody really cared. Sure, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still the law of the land but Soldiers didn’t care. By that time all my Soldiers had been born well after I’d graduated from High School. How much society was affected by the gay rights movement I don’t know. How much of it was society itself I don’t know either. It’s a damn shame your Troopers were railroaded by a judgmental chain of command. They should have been hung for letting down the parents of the Soldiers they were charged with caring for.

    reply

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