America: August 2014

2006-2013  Gay Military Signal

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4th of July on
a Mountain Top
by
Steve Loomis
LTC, EN, U.S. Army (Retired)
National President
American Veterans for Equal Rights

As I enjoyed a long 4th of July weekend with family and friends, several of whom are veterans, I remembered a 4th of July that has an important meaning to me.  Do we really think about what Independence Day means in America? It of course included fireworks, but so much more.

One Independence Day at sunset, I stood on top a mountain in South Vietnam and looked at the South China Sea in the distance.  Few of us thought about the great claim of independence that founded our country.  Instead, we were thinking about the picnics, the fun and especially the fireworks celebrations we were missing back home.  Our battalion commander put out the word earlier that there would be no “wasting” of ammunition on a fireworks display for the 4th of July.   Missing out on our one chance to share a taste of home, we sat glumly on our cache of hand flares, machine gun tracers and mortar illumination rounds, when our sergeant major walked up. “The old man has me checking to make sure you guys don’t shoot off a bunch of rounds,” he said.   “Everything okay, LT?”

“It’d be a lot better, sergeant major, if we could light up the sky a little.”  Making matters worse, we could see other units shooting off illumination rounds from a couple of distant mountain tops.  In a particularly impressive display, a twin 40 millimeter gun, a "duster", trailed a spray of tracers high across the evening sky like a water hose snaking out of a kid’s hand.

“It probably would,” the sergeant major answered.  “I’m going to check on an illumination mission the mortar platoon has to fire, then I’m going to the old man’s bunker.  Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, Lieutenant.”

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Reflections on
Memorial Day
and Pride Month 2014

By Tony Smith

The time between Memorial Day and 4th of July holidays are major book-ends for what has become a full month of June many recognize as LGBT Pride Month.  This year, those two holidays for me personally, and for many other friends and loved ones, highlighted both how far we’ve come in this country for LGBT civil rights, the sacrifices made, and the work yet to be done.

It began on May 26, 2014 Memorial Day at Arlington Cemetery.  For many years the American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) has participated in the annual Memorial Day events in Arlington Cemetery with placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns alongside many other Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs).  During the days of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) the name of that sacred ground, Tomb of the Unknowns, took on another meaning for me.  I thought of the thousands of unknown LGBT service members across those rolling verdant Virginia hills of Arlington Cemetery who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to country but were really unknown in life because they couldn’t share their whole identity for fear of being discharged. I thought of my friend Major Alan Rogers, USA, buried in section 60 and his sacrifice on the battlefield in Iraq.

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Illegal Immigrant
by

former
SFC Denny Meyer

I was born in the USA; but my mother was an illegal immigrant.  She arrived by ship, in steerage, at Ellis Island within sight of the Statue of Liberty; presenting herself to American Immigration agents as WOP, without papers.  She was fleeing the Nazi genocide in the late 1930s, one of several hundred thousand refugees from the Holocaust and horror of WWII in Europe.  She was interned on Ellis Island, in the crowded open bay barracks of the era, for over a month while letters were written, her case was considered amongst so many others; until finally a distant relative paid a bond; and she was set free to begin a new life in New York City.  She lived another sixty years here, first earning her living cleaning other people's toilets; and decades later retiring as a shopkeeper and real estate broker.  We were never wealthy; but she earned every single cent she had in America, and taught me to do the same.

I look and speak like any other shlubby cranky old veteran shuffling around the VA hospital here, unshaven, thick in the waist, wobbling slowly on a cane, and being grumpy.  I speak Standard American with a touch of nasal Noo Yawk slang spicing it up a bit.  Having served as a sailor in the Navy and a Sergeant in the Army, I can curse like any other dysfunctional old Vietnam Era vet.

But, English wasn't my first language.  Through the late 1940s, as an infant and toddler during the dismal post war years, we were among hundreds of thousands of Jewish-German refugee families who had settled in Washington Heights, on New York City's Upper West Side.

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