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The Way It Was

Thomas F. Field
Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired

The following article reports on life in the military during the McCarthy period, when the services were actively attempting to ferret out and discharge "undesirables".

In 1956, I was a young officer serving on active duty with the U.S. Army. Witch hunts were underway throughout the military to ferret out "homosexuals," who were regarded as inherently unstable, subject to blackmail, and likely to be disloyal to the United States.

When I entered the military, I had been required to fill out a form which asked whether I had "homosexual tendencies". The choices were "yes" and "no". I checked "no" because I wasnít sure about myself. During college, I had felt somehow attracted to my roommate in a way I did not experience with others. But surely that did not mean I was a homosexual. So I checked "no".

Years passed. The Korean War ended. I was given steadily more responsible assignments. Commendations and awards followed. Eventually, I was called to a meeting at post headquarters at which I was urged to accept a regular commission and make the Army my career.

And then I fell in love with a fellow officer, and he with me.

I was in panic. It was no longer possible to deny the reality of my deepest fears about my sexuality. I was alone. If I spoke to anyone, immediate discharge would follow. I would simply "disappear" from duty within a few hours with a less-than-honorable discharge in my hands.

After a week, I decided to consult my Catholic chaplain about what to do. I had been an almost daily communicant when he said Mass at the post chapel. The look of disgust and hatred on his face when I told him my story is burned in my memory. "Should I resign my commission?" I asked him. "Perhaps you should," he answered. That ended the interview.

After that interview, my sturdy Catholic faith began to fracture, like a bone under stress. I could not square the hatred and lack of understanding I had encountered with the clarity of my love for my friend and the feeling of coherence and peace it gave me.

My friend and I remained attached to one another for 30 years, until he died in the mid-1980s. Twenty years further on, as I write this, I still miss him.

As the years unfolded, more questions arose about my faith, and I repeatedly encountered clerical faces filled with hatred, intolerance, or a simple lack of understanding. Today I am an agnostic.

I thought hard about my chaplainís advice that I should resign my commission. However, I knew I was mentally stable. I knew I was not a security risk or subject to blackmail, and that I was fully able to serve my country loyally. I knew that the military had invested a large amount of money training me for my job. And I knew that I was doing a good job, perhaps even an outstanding one.

So I decided to remain in the Army. Promotions followed. Eventually, I retired as a full Colonel after 32 years of military service. My separation certificate says that I served "honorably and well".  I think I did.