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Profiles in Patriotism:

Two Vets In Love;
38 years and Counting

How we lived our lives in the life
by Denny Meyer

Talk about enduring marriage!  Richard and Joe have been together for thirty eight years, through good times and tough, and are retired on the coast of Florida.  Richard served in the Korean War; Joe served during Vietnam.  Their early experiences were very different; yet they met and melded into a lifetime love.

Joe  was drafted into the Army in 1963, at age 24, when 'Nam' was not yet a 'war.' The US  was sending advisors who were nevertheless dying in combat.  Joe was put in medical corps as a medical specialist and spent most of his service in Washington State at a hospital adjacent to Ft Lewis.  As was common in those days, Joe was not Out; he was conscious of being gay but was trying to be straight.  Being gay just was unacceptable in his large extended Hispanic family.  "I came from an isolated world, the Army was my opening to America," Joe said,  "It gave order and direction to my life.  I got a worldview and exposure to American life, even though I was born and raised in America."  In the service and away from home he began to meet other gay people, experienced gay bars, and had his first two love affairs.  Life in the Army, oddly, was a turning point where he came to accept that he was gay.  The Army also gave him his life's career as a pharmacist.  And, as with all gay people in America's armed forces at all times, there were moments of fear based upon the presumption of discrimination.  When a scandal emerged about the lover of a gay officer, Joe and his peers went through weeks of anxiety about a supposed list of friends that fortunately never came to light.  Looking back on that an other experiences in his military life, Joe learned caution, gay codes of conduct for living in the life in those days, and how to laugh off situations that would terrify others.  Earning his honorable discharge, Joe never went back home.  Like so many others, his life having been expanded from being in the military and meeting all kinds of people, he began life on his own.

Within a year of leaving active duty, while still a reservist in the National Guard, Joe met Richard who would become the love for the rest of his life.

Richard grew up in the strict and rigid environment of a seminary where even a warm friendship was looked upon darkly.  Seeking a meaning in life less cloaked and cloistered, he followed his brother's example and  patriotically enlisted in the Air Force in 1952 at the age of 19, went to radio school, and was sent to Korea.  There he experienced friendship, nightly bombings, and sleeping in foxholes, and earned three medals.  Life in the Air Force, serving in Korea and Japan, opened the world for Richard just as he had hoped and dreamed.  In those days, coming out or even coming to realize he was gay simply had no opportunity however.  It was not until age 31, in college, that that world burst upon his consciousness and soul when he had his first love and saw true happiness at last.

In 2003, Rich came up from Florida to march with us in the New York City pride parade; he was 73 at the time.  The parade has one hundred thousand marchers and three million spectators.  Perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but its the biggest in the world.  As we gay vets, carrying the American and Rainbow flags, came into view on block after block for 70 blocks and into Greenwich Village, the crowds burst into thunderous applause, cheering and blowing whistles wildly, cops saluted our flags; it gave all of us goose bumps.  Halfway thru, Rich began to cry.  I asked him what was the matter.  He said, "No one ever thanked me for being a gay veteran before."  He served in Korea, he'd waited FIFTY YEARS!

Having met Joe, over coffee with friends, he never looked back.  Thirty eight years passed, "almost without notice," as he put it.  "We had a dream together and made it come true.  We bought our first house together, had friends who lived as we did, had our careers, more houses, gave a little took a little, we became one, and could not imagine life without each other.