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Elmer and Gus

Since 1945

New York, July 2007, by Denny Meyer

Elmer Lokkins

Elmer Lokkins and Gus Archilla have been lovers for sixty-two years!  Shortly after the close of World War II when Elmer was discharged from the United States Army and made his way to New York City, they made eye contact in bustling midtown Manhattan in 1945 and have been together ever since.  When I went uptown to interview them in their home about Elmer's WWII service in the Pacific, I thought I'd spend an hour or so gently pulling a few forgotten memories from the foggy past of a man in his late 80s.  Well, both of these sweet and gentle men remember every single detail of every moment of their incredible lives together and congenially told me as much as possible in a few short hours.  
 I could have happily spent a week listening and writing.  Fortunately, a filmmaker is spending several years recording as much as possible for LGBT history; and much has already been written about their enduring triumph of love.  This brief story is about Elmer's courageous service as a young man in WWII, mostly.  But, it cannot be told without some bits about how it all came to be; after all everything is connected, one thing leads to another, and the kiss of true love that spans more than half a century does not just happen all by itself.  Elmer's war service led to his realization that he was gay and that New York City was the place to be, which led to him meeting Gus, and the story goes on and on from there.  Whew.

Gus Archilla

Both Elmer and Gus had unimaginably difficult childhoods.  Due to family financial hardships, Elmer spent most of his youth growing up amongst 800 youngsters in an orphanage near Chicago.  Gustavo's parents both tragically died in quick succession when he was still a young teenager and as the eldest of nine children he went to work to rear his sibling on his own, keeping them together as a family in New York City throughout the war years.  It seems a blessing that these two men were fated to meet and form such a lifelong stable bond with each other.  That was the first hour of the interview that brought me near tears and filled with awe.  The way they describe events, one lives every moment oneself, tasting a meal Gus served to his siblings, and sensing the sensuality as Elmer made the best of situations that would send others into despair.

At the age of 21, Elmer was drafted into the Army in 1941.  After the war began, he traveled on the troop ship SS Mt. Vernon to Sydney and by rail to Rockhampton in Queensland, Australia, where he served as a clerk in the Adjutant General's Office at HQ I Corps. After operations began in New Guinea, they moved to Goodenough Island, and onward to a jungle base in Hollandia.

Eager to be a part of an invasion force, rather than typing endless reports, he volunteered for a landing in the Philippines.  On January 9th, 1945, a D-day, he was aboard a forward echelon LST, under heavy Japanese shelling, landing on Lingayen Gulf.  Surrounding vessels were sunk with all aboard.  At the side of General Swift, they dug a trench on the beach using their helmets.  Surviving that, they moved onward to Dagupan, where they established a forward HQ camp that was under constant mortar shelling and gunfire day and night, from Japanese firing from the sugar cane fields.

For his WWII  service, advancing with HQ I Corps through the South Pacific islands, Tech Sgt Elmer Lokkins was awarded a Distinguished Unit Badge, an Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon with Two Bronze Battle Stars, a Philippine Liberation Ribbon with One Bronze Battle Star, and a Good Conduct Ribbon.

Photo: Australia 1943


Australia 1943

With a razor sharp memory of every moment of his war service over 60 years ago, Elmer described the daily details of his soldier's life, from sleeping in a hammock over the edge of a river to the lifelong friends he made in Australia.

In March of 1945  he began the long journey home from the Philippines on a victory ship that sailed for 40 days and nights to Seattle. During this time, President Roosevelt died at Warm Springs, GA, and the UN met for the first time in San Francisco.  After traveling by train around the country to visit relatives while on furlough, he wanted to return to his unit.  But he was given a choice of heading up a unit bound for the ongoing warfare in China or discharge.  He'd actually begun studying Chinese, but ultimately decided to fulfill his dream of attending college and living in New York City.  And so fate turned a page which led to the rest of his life.  He was honorably discharged  in the summer of 1945.
                  Photo, right, New Guinea -December 1944

Rockhampton Australia 1943

Hollandia New Guinea 1944

What happened next is a classic New York City story.  On Sunday, September 16, 1945, Gustavo Archilla was headed home from a music lesson at Carnegie Hall (honest, I'm not making this up) and the two strangers' eyes met at Columbus Circle where Elmer was watching soapbox speakers at the southwest corner of Central Park.  (Interestingly, that was the day that the Japanese Garrison in Hong Kong surrendered to the Allied forces in China --where Elmer would have been had he taken the other fork in the road).  Elmer was 26 and Gus was 29; they have been together ever since.  On their first date, they went to see a radio show.  Elmer ended up studying foreign trade and personnel management  at City College (the City College Business School later became Baruch College of the City University of New York).

Gus introduced Elmer to his siblings and he was invited to move into the Archilla family apartment; his army stipend helped with the rent, and he became a part of Gus' family.  Over time, the two men's families melded.  Times changed over the course of the next 58 years that they spent together.  In 2003 they got married in Niagara Falls, Canada; and only then was their relationship openly spoken about by their relatives.  At that time 19 Buffalo relatives gathered to celebrate their marriage.  Their documentary film is being edited and should be shown on TV or in theaters later this year.