home about media center archive history letters subscribe


Profiles in Patriotism


My Experiences at
Sheridan Kaserne in Germany




Spec 5 David Williams


Like most baby-boomers, I grew up with the understanding that at some point I was going to be drafted and called to serve the country.  It was something I was willing to do because both my parents were Navy veterans of World War II.  At any rate, it was something that was expected of every able-bodied American man.  If they drafted Elvis Presley, they’d surely draft the rest of us, too.


Of course, the only problem I had was my sexual attractions.  When I reached puberty, I suddenly realized I wasn’t like my classmates.  Later on I learned that the military didn’t want homosexuals in its midst.  I faced a classic dilemma:  serving an organization that didn’t want me, or declaring my homosexuality before the draft board and getting an easy out.  That latter choice was out of the question.  It was a year before Stonewall.  There were no such groups as Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.  But that’s beside the point.  I wanted to serve and didn’t see why I couldn’t.


When the draft notice came in September 1968, I accepted it.  Although, like a lot of us, we weren’t really military material, I didn’t see why the millions of heterosexual men being drafted were any better than me.  It made me mad.  The ban on gays in the military was a challenge I was determined to meet, even though I couldn’t talk about that personal struggle to anyone until I got out.


 I knew I didn’t want infantry.  I was uncoordinated and not very physical:  a skinny runt.  I would have been shot my first day in the war zone.  So I decided to enlist for a third year.  That way I could at least have a choice of jobs.  I chose 76Q20:  Special Purpose Repair Parts Equipment Specialist.  I was going to be a supply clerk.

After basic at Ft. Knox and AIT at Ft. Lee , Virginia , I got orders for ‘ Nam.  I reported to Oakland AFB on August 6, 1969 .  But after I got there, my orders were put on hold, as were hundreds of others’.  We’d dutifully report for call-up twice a day on the tarmac, but most of our names weren’t being called.  We didn’t know what was going on.

I can still remember those long lines of soldiers waiting to have their names called.  I remember one in particular.  Though he was barely 25, he already had a wife and kids.  One day as I was standing behind him, his name was called.  He hesitated a second, then stepped forward.  I’d made friends with him, and so I was stunned and I thought to myself, ‘Why him?  He’s got a family and I don’t.  Take me!  Take me!”  I learned later he survived the war in one piece, but that one incident gave me second thoughts about our whole involvement in ‘ Nam .  It still haunts me.

A couple of days later, I was on a plane to Germany .  As it turned out, I was part of Nixon’s first pull-out from the war.  I’d spend the rest of my career on Sheridan Kaserne in Augsburg , working my way up to Spec 5 in a year and serving as a clerk at 1st Infantry Division Forward headquarters.


People say I got off light.  Some think I have no right to call myself a Vietnam Era veteran (the technical term for all of us).  They forget what a threat the Russians still posed to Western Europe .  They’d just invaded Czechoslovakia the year before.  Their armies were only 100 miles from Munich .  We helped keep pressure off the troops in ‘ Nam .  We did our duty.


Of course, I knew I had to hide my homosexuality while in the service, but from time to time I had to talk about it with somebody.  After all, I was still in my early 20s.  It was frustrating, to say the least.


The first person I discussed it with was a priest at Ft. Lee .  He could offer me little except calm understanding.  In Germany , I talked about it with a psychiatrist.  Again, friendly advice and nothing else.


I had better luck with a couple of buddies, both of whom were fortunately accepting though they didn’t understand why I’d “decided” to be homosexual.  They’re the few buddies I still think about today.


I never had much of a problem, except for one incident of homophobia.


When it came time to leave, there was a lot of pressure to re-up.  Several of my superiors urged me to continue, but after three years I was ready to get on with my life.  But I did think it ironic.  Had they known I was gay, they might not have been so eager to keep me.  That was how it went back then, though.  I accepted the system with no hard feelings toward anyone.  It was only two years after Stonewall.  I was just one homosexual with no support system, not even any gay friends, to turn to.


During my time in Augsburg , the Stars and Stripes newspaper did have a feature article on another, unidentified gay soldier in Germany .  I must have read the article five times.  Talking to a reporter about being gay was something I would never have done, so I cringed a little.  I was in the army to serve and serve honorably.  I wasn’t going to jeopardize it simply by revealing my true identity.


Like most gay soldiers at the time, I passed through the system virtually unnoticed.  When my three years was up in January 1972, I was ready to get out.  Six months later I finally came out back here in Louisville and never looked back.  Ten years later I became an activist in Louisville ’s gay and lesbian community, eventually founding the Williams-Nichols Archive & Library for GLBT Studies at the University of Louisville and becoming editor of our newspaper, The Letter.  Ironically, some of the things I learned during my military career, like self-discipline, helped me in those later endeavors.


©  2008  Gay Military Signal