Memorial Day Memories
by Denny Meyer
nexus of Memorial Day and the start of Pride
month, I generally get a bunch of invitations to
participate in various events. First, I
was invited to participate in a 'gay military
pride' table in the main lobby hallway of a
local VA hospital. The idea was to
increase awareness (and acceptance if not
affirmation) and let our vets know that the VA
serves "all who served." Okay, so I
brought along brochures for the two LGBT
veterans groups I volunteer with, a flyer
promoting this website, I planted a desktop
rainbow flag on a little stand in the middle of
the table, and wore my gay veteran's garrison
cap with a big pink triangle on the front.
It couldn't have been more obvious what the
table display was all about. The old vets,
who spend at lest one or two days a week at the
VA, are used to hallway tables and displays on
things like Coronary Artery Disease awareness,
nutrition, and similar exciting topics.
First they scan the tables for freebees like
pens or candy. Then they briefly look at
the brochures and walk away in boredom. I
cynically expected nothing more than that.
hundred grumpy old straight vets paused at the
table over the course of 3 hours, looked over
the display, and crinkled their eyes in
confusion and lack of comprehension as they
tried to figure out what it was about.
Most didn't seem to have a clue what the rainbow
stuff symbolized, vaguely assuming it must be
some obscure military insignia. Giving up,
most shrugged, grunted, and walked away figuring
it must be about something like 'diabetes
awareness' or hemorrhoids, homosexuals, or
something like that. One guy got it right
away and walked away cursing and muttering
homophobic insults. One single old gay vet
in a motorized wheelchair scooter was glad to
see us and took one of each brochure. That
made it worth the whole effort of course.
Still, it was sort of like banging my head
against a wall, it was a relief when I could
pack up the display and leave.
was invited to come, as a vet, to a Memorial Day
civic ceremony at an old local cemetery with
graves dating back to the Civil War.
American flags were planted, by local scouts, on
the graves of WWI vets, there was a youth choir
singing God Bless America, and a few brief
speeches by local civic leaders. Again, I
wore my gay vets garrison cap with the big pink
triangle on the front flap. Well, there
were a lot of events this Memorial Day weekend,
so it turned out that I was the Only vet at this
event. All the civic leaders wanted their
photo taken with 'the old veteran.' No one
seemed to notice the pink triangle, assuming it
was some obscure military insignia. I
didn't want to spoil their somber civic
ebullience by announcing my rights orientation
issues; so I said nothing as they happily had
their photos taken with me, 'The Vet.'
that made me again think about my own personal
gay military heroes who inspired me and must be
remembered and not forgotten during this
Memorial Day and Pride month.
World War II
PFC Frank Kameny, USA
1925 - 2011
Franklin Kameny, PhD,
served in combat in Europe as a teenager
in WWII. He earned a doctorate
degree in astronomy at Harvard. In
1957 he was fired from a government job
when he was found to be homosexual.
He spent the next 50 years fighting for
LTJG Harvey Milk,
1930 - 1978
Milk served in the US Navy aboard a
submarine and in San Diego during the
Korean War Era. Later, in NYC he worked
on Wall St. He was assassinated
after having been the first openly gay
elected official in San Francisco and
CA, courageously leading the fight for our rights.
1943 - 1988
Matlovich served 12 sterling years in
the Air Force, earning a Purple Heart
and Bronze Star for his courage and
valor in Vietnam. He sacrificed
his career for our freedom when he came
out publicly in a letter to the
Secretary of the Air Force in 1974.
He was discharged, sued and
eventually won. He died of AIDS in
1988. His gravestone at the
Congressional Cemetery is inscribed, "A
Gay Vietnam Veteran. When I was in
the military they gave me a medal for
killing two men, and a discharge for
CPL Andrew Wilfahrt, USA
Wilfahrt sacrificed his freedom, and
ultimately his life, in order to give
meaning and purpose to his life as a gay
American. He never hide who he
was, not from his family, not from his
fellow troops. Killed while on
foot patrol outside Kandahar, he is the
first 'known' gay casualty of Operation
There are so many others,
known and unknown, for us to remember in this
Pride Month as we celebrate the freedom we have
gained and dedicate ourselves to demanding full
My first military hero
wasn't gay. He was my personal hero long
before I'd ever heard of those mentioned above.
His famous words inspired me to volunteer to
serve for a decade, despite being gay: "Ask not
what your country can do for you; ask what you
can do for your country." Those words
still inspire me today.
John F Kenndy, WWII
As Commander of
PT 109 in the South Pacific,
fought the pain of a back injury and exhaustion
to assure the rescue of his marooned crew.
35th President of the United States of America.
fmr SFC USAR