home about media center archive history letters subscribe

Long Time Passing


Wes Davey, MSG, USAR (Ret.)

My military career began shortly after high school when some of my friends and I received draft notices. A few weeks later we said good-bye to our parents and boarded a bus to a military processing station in Minneapolis. My dad, a typically stoic Minnesotan, dropped me off at the bus station and waved good-bye as if I were just going to an afternoon Twins game.

At the processing station someone in uniform yelled at us to count off to 12. I was number "11", my friend sitting next to me - we had attended elementary through high school together - was number "12." The number 12’s were told to stand up and then welcomed into the Marine Corps. Numbers 1 through 11 were to become Soldiers in the United States Army. My military career had begun.

Basic training at Fort Campbell, KY was followed by orders to go to Fort Lewis, WA, a place where many draftees bided their time before being sent to Vietnam. By then my older brother was already in ‘Nam, and I volunteered to go there too. That transfer never happened, and after serving two years of uneventful stateside duty I received an honorable discharge, said good-bye to military life forever (I thought), and went home.

After a summer of working as a carpenter I took the tests required to become a police officer for my hometown PD. Somehow, between the oral interviews and written exams, I ended up being #1 on the hiring list. Four months after turning 21, I became the youngest person ever hired as a police officer for that police department.

I soon did what many other gays who are in deep denial did: I got married. Not only did I get married, but after just six years my wife and I were parents to three boys and two girls. To help support a growing family and bolster my police officer’s salary, I joined an infantry battalion in the Minnesota Army National Guard.

By then (1977) the Guard was slowly beginning to change – becoming more professional with the implementation of NCO development courses and shedding the remaining Vietnam era draft dodgers who only wanted to party during weekend drills. Soldiers were now starting to take pride in being a part of the National Guard. I certainly took pride in being an NCO, and with the exception of several breaks because of civilian job changes, I remained in the reserve components until retiring at the end of 2005.

So there I was - family man, NCO in the MNARNG, police officer, and in my free time doing all kinds of "macho" things because I loved doing them: skydiving, scuba diving, flying planes, hunting, competitive pistol shooting, backpacking in the Rocky Mountains, and canoeing in the wilderness area of northern Minnesota.

Yet hidden deep beneath that macho exterior were feelings - no, attractions – that weren’t going away and which I couldn’t deny any longer; they were attractions I had repressed since grade school.

I grew up in a small, southern Minnesota town during the "Leave It to Beaver" era of black and white television – not that I watched TV very much, my friends and I were almost always outside. In the summertime we did outside chores, played baseball, explored the nearby woods and ravines, swam in lakes almost as soon as the ice had melted, fished…and in the winter we ice skated on nearby outdoor rinks or on frozen lakes, and quit only when our feet were nearly frostbitten. I was a "normal" kid.

Just a normal kid alright, and I knew nothing about gays or what it meant to be gay. My friends and I had used the word "queer", but truthfully, we had no idea what that meant, not a clue. By 6th grade, though, I thought my friend Mike was awfully cute, and cute in a way that none of the girls in our class were.

During high school I began to know that my attraction to a wrestling teammate was different from how my friends felt, so I kept that attraction hidden. I didn’t understand what this "guys are cute, girls aren’t" going on in my mind all added up to, but I clearly realized these thoughts were something I couldn’t share with anyone.

I "knew" what queers were like by then, or at least the stereotypes society had instilled in me: they had limp wrists, walked with a swish, and dressed differently. Queers were like the boy in Mr. Larson’s homeroom who once wore a blue satin shirt to school ("yeah, he’s a queer", but still, kinda good looking…).

As an adult, those "guys are cute" thoughts not only remained, they were often agonizingly present. Reconciling my attractions and the ingrained stereotypes of queers I had with my "macho" lifestyle was difficult. Above all else, I knew that I was "normal" and no different than anyone I worked with in the military or in law enforcement.

Finally the light came on and I knew that there was only one possible answer: all of those stereotypes propagated by our society about queers and instilled in me since I was a kid were wrong, completely wrong. Gays (not "queers", now that I admitted being one to myself) were "normal": they could be great fathers, police officers, and NCO’s; they could have a strong religious faith….they can be whatever they want to be, just like straight people.

Having come to a resolution about being gay and being normal, I had to face the fact that I had a family and two careers going on. Telling my wife was the hardest; telling my children, well, that could wait. We, my wife and I, made a decision to stay married until our youngest son had graduated from high school. There was no way that I could not be an everyday part of my children’s lives; no way, absolutely no way.

I made the decision to set aside the gay part of my life, an active gay life anyway, and chose to continue being a closeted Soldier and police officer, and an out-of-the-closet husband and father. Some might think that was the wrong decision, but every gay or lesbian who is married has to make that decision on their own, doing what they think is best. Married life for my wife and I changed after that, but we were friends, and we did the best we could to raise our children and keep the family together.

The inevitable separation came the summer of our youngest son’s high school graduation; I moved out, and my ex-wife and I moved on with our separate lives. And we remained close friends.

My career as a police officer was over by then, but I continued on in the military – switching from the National Guard to the Army Reserve. Because of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, I kept my private life private while wearing a uniform.

My military career eventually spanned parts of five different decades, allowed me to travel around the world (and to Iraq in 2003), and ended in 2005 when I finished my career in the duty position of First Sergeant within a Psychological Operations Reserve unit of the Army’s Special Operations Command (USASOC). I took great pride in being a member of that unit and was grateful to be the leader of some extremely intelligent and great Soldiers.

It’s fair to say that being in the military requires personal sacrifices of all service members. For gay and lesbian service members, giving patriotic service to our country requires an additional and unfair sacrifice (staying in the closet) which clearly should not have to be made. Morale suffers needlessly, all too often really good service members are lost to homophobic witch hunts, lives are often irreparably harmed, and for what reason? For no good reason at all.

Now, out of that final closet in which I had kept hidden in far too long, I feel an obligation and duty to speak out to end discrimination against gays and lesbians in our military. I owe that to the gays and lesbians who have given honorable service to our country, to those who currently serve with honor, and to those who would like to serve in the military I love.

More important to me than the awards and medals given to me during my military career are first, the acceptance and love I’ve received from my family before and after coming out to them, and second, the comments I have received from fellow Soldiers after I came out of that final closet imposed by "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."

Some of those comments from fellow Soldiers: "You have always been a good person and that is what is most important in life. I have the highest respect for you and the many things you have done for our country, just be yourself and go on with life. There's room on earth for everyone... Thanks for all of your support and please stay in touch."

"First of all, thanks for telling me.  Of course it wouldn't change our friendship …Gregg and I both fully support you and understand all the reasons that you have had to keep it from people that would've accepted it a long time ago."

"... some people, in the military or not, are going to be ignorant or judgmental, but you'd get that in any society in the U.S. and that small percentage is not reason enough to not allow gays/lesbians in the military... because it hurts the military more than helps it." 

"You definitely were a great leader, you were an amazing friend to many, and followed Army values to a T.  And you're going to continue to do even better work, to make the military better and to help to ensure that all who want to serve in the military have the opportunity to do so.  I'm very proud of you, for who you are, for what you've done and what you're continuing to do."

Editors note:
MSG Wes Davy, ret., was awarded an Iraq Campaign Medal, an Army Commendation Medal and eleven other medals and ribbons during his many years of service.