A Singing Soldier
by Denny Meyer
This is the story of how a gay Army
brat grew up to become a reluctant lieutenant, an
operatic baritone, and the creator of his brilliant
performances of "Platoon Lieder;" based on the esoteric
art form of Deutsche Lieder, German poetry songs derived
from romantic mythology and folk stories. Hanko has taken the original lyrical lieder piano
accompaniments of classical composers and created new
English song lyrics telling the story of his travails
through life in the Army as a gay man, all done in the
style, tone, mood, and cadence of the original German
Simply put, this is all about a gay
guy's service as a US Army officer; which, as a veteran,
he is telling about in an arched-eyebrow highbrow song
cycle with a lot of tongue-in-cheek gay gesticulation
Michael Hanko had a typical 'military
family' childhood. His father was a career
officer. They moved more than twenty times during
his childhood, from assignment to assignment all over
the world. While the rest of America was beginning
to enter the era of awareness and acceptance of gay
folk, the armed forces family environment and school
system was an insular moveable world of on-base housing
and education where we did not exist in thought or word.
Survival meant suppressing any conscious awareness of
alternate sexual identity from an early age, and being
immersed in close family ties. And so it was not
until early adulthood, as a student in Princeton's ROTC
program in 1982, that he came to know who he really was.
By that time he was committed and trapped in an eight
year program of military scholarship education followed
by the payback of service.
Memorial Day 2013
Veterans For Equal Rights
Experiencing the Vietnam War
Memorial in Washington DC, you understand the profound
feeling of loss and pain that the monument creates for
those who see it. The memorial is a tear in the earth, a
black wall of name upon endless name disappearing into
the distance, reflecting back to you your own image as
the survivor, the perpetrator, and the mourner, with
incredibly powerful emotions all piled into a jumbled
mass of painful sadness. It is an invitation to grieve.
The perfect memorial to war. A bleak rip in the fabric
of the land. A thing that does not belong.
Imagine that black wall three times larger and expanding
continuously, correctly reflecting the number of Vietnam
War veterans who have taken their own lives since the
end of the war. You look at the bleak wall, and every
two hours a new name slowly emerges, beginning as a mere
shadow and materializing into the deeply etched carving
of yet another casualty of a war 50 years past. Why does
this happen? Why would someone who escaped the horror of
that terrible conflict and survived intact, many years
later allow a mostly forgotten tragedy to rob them of
their instinct to live?
Because they didn't forget. They didn't survive intact.
They never came home.
This Memorial Day, 2013, I have been invited to
participate in the Presidential Wreath Placing ceremony
at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington,
Virginia, the most sacred space in America. This is a
great honor for me, and for you, as I represent American
Veterans for Equal Rights, an acknowledged Veterans'
Service Organization. I was invited to attend the
Presidential ceremony by the VA,
Veterans For Equal Rights
A bottle of Jagermeister and a half empty
six-pack of beer lay against the bottom of a brilliant
white marble headstone in a bright green bed of
carefully groomed grass. A faded POW/MIA bracelet from a previous
war sits atop another. A group of adults laughs as a CNN camera crew interviews a
young boy about his meeting with the President of the
A group of Marines in uniform stand quiet vigil over the
gravesite of a fallen comrade.
Other soldiers, in shorts and t-shirts, stand silently
over another marker, their arms linked around each
others' shoulders. A young mother steadies her toddler as the child balances
against the headstone of a father she will never meet.
It is Memorial Day, 2013, in Arlington National
Cemetery's Section 60, the "new" section, where the most
recent casualties rest in consecrated honor.
All around the immense silence of Arlington the
rows upon endless rows of white markers stretch as far
as the eye can see into the distance, a quiet and solemn
green park of powerful, gentle stillness.
Not so in Section 60.
Children run in playful laughter in the bright sunshine,
and families spread out picnic blankets and folding
chairs to visit with the marble memories of loved ones.
They talk and share stories, some in Spanish, honoring
and remembering a loved one no longer living, but very
much present on this sacred day, in this sacred place.
An elderly woman strolls by herself with an umbrella to
protect herself from the bright sun overhead.
A story from a Memorial
Denny Meyer, Gay Military Signal
The young man had been
through a lot since he’d left home. It seemed
like it had been a long time ago; but it was
just two and a half years. It was over now, he
was on the way home; that was what mattered; he
had to keep reminding himself. On the transport
ship, sometimes, often, some of the other
fellows would wake up screaming. He understood,
he’d been there with them. He’d knock his
knuckles on the metal bunk bottom and mutter,
“hey, its ok, we’re on the way home; it’s over,
go back to sleep.” For some, it was hard to
remember that in the dark in the middle of the
Finally, the ship arrived;
there were bands and do-gooders greeting
everyone, and hordes of relatives. He hadn’t
announced his return in advance. They knew he’d
be coming home by and by, because he hadn’t
already arrived in a box. So, trying to smile
at all those greeters who meant well, he hustled
past and through all of that and found out what
bus to take to the train station. There was a
long wait for the next train to where he was
going. It didn’t matter, not at all; with all
the hustle and bustle, there were no mortars
roaring in, and no rooftops and doorways to
watch. That’s all that mattered, really. He was
still wearing his uniform. Once in a while
someone would come over, a total stranger, and
thank him. He found it kind of weird, but he’d
nod and even accept food and drink if they
offered it. It didn’t matter, he had to eat,
and he was used to eating whatever was handed to
him, for such a long time.