My father was a war veteran. During a debate on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with me years ago, he shared his thoughts on why straight men in the military were uncomfortable with gays serving.
It had nothing to do with sexuality, my dad explained, but instead came from an interpretation of weakness. He personally had no concern about someone hitting on him, but he was convinced a gay man would lose his nerve in battle and cause my father to die along with him.
That was based on the way my father grew up, thinking the only gay men he knew were the extremely effeminate men he saw around town and misinterpreted their character and womanly gait as frail.
My dad’s views changed as he grew older, and he came to appreciate anyone willing to sacrifice their lives in service to their country — soldiers like Cpl. Andrew Charles Wilfahrt of Minnesota.
Andrew was bullied at school after coming out at 16, once having to drive his car with “Go Home Fag” spray-painted on it, but continued to fight for his rights and the rights of others. He didn’t enter the Army until he was almost 30, and was inspired to do so after seeking advice from a retired gay soldier who lived in his hometown. That retired Marine says Andrew, who was single, told him he wanted to serve so a soldier with a wife and children wouldn’t have to go fight.
Last year, on Feb. 27, Andrew and his platoon were on foot patrol in a region west of Kandahar, crossing a bridge toward a police checkpoint. That’s when a massive bomb detonated beneath Andrew, killing him. Cpl. Wilfahrt was 31, and is believed to be the fi rst gay U.S. soldier to die in battle since President Obama signed the repeal of DADT.
Alan Rogers grew up in Florida, and was elected Most Intellectual by his high school classmates.
He became an ordained pastor shortly after high school, joined the ROTC at the University of Florida, and accepted a commission into the Army after graduating. He reached the rank of Major, and served as an Intelligence Officer.
In July 2007, Rogers was deployed to Iraq and killed six months later by an IED while on foot patrol in Baghdad. Controversy followed, after initial reports of his death omitted his sexuality.
It was later revealed that he was gay and worked to end the military’s DADT policy.
Then there are those whose names we don’t know. In February 2010, Congressman Jim Moran was on the floor of the House of Representatives and read a letter from a soldier in Afghanistan.
It stated that the soldier had “learned that a fellow soldier was also gay, only after he was killed by an IED in Iraq. The partner of the deceased soldier wrote the unit to say how much the victim had loved the military; how they were the only family he had ever known.”
It was the second publicly known case of a gay soldier killed in action during the recent wars in the Middle East. The first was Maj. Rogers.
Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, but exactly how many gay or lesbian soldiers that includes is lost in the forced lies given to recruiters.
On this first Memorial Day holiday since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” let us honor those who risked their lives both on the battlefield and in the barracks. Let us also be thankful that now all our soldiers can serve openly and honestly, gaining the respect of guys like my dad.
As one Sergeant said of Cpl. Wilfahrt, “I just trusted him and was proud to be serving next to him right there on the battlefield.”
Melissa Carter is also a writer for Huffington Post. She broke ground as the first out lesbian radio personality on a major station in Atlanta and was one of the few out morning show personalities in the country. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCarter