A reader writes:
I appreciate the comparison you highlighted between the gay vet who confronted Mitt Romney and the black veterans in history observed by Ta-Nehisi. I am a former soldier, having served in the US Army from 1985 until 1989 before being discharged after a witch hunt. My sister is a retired soldier and my son is currently serving. We have a tradition of military service going back to at least the Second World War. It is my father, who fought with the storied 761st Tank Battalion (the Black Panthers) and his generation for black soldiers and airmen that I want to talk about briefly.
On my mother’s side, there were three Tuskegee Airmen.
My father, as I said, was a tanker. Before WWII, both my father and my uncles had lived every day of their lives in either Louisiana or Alabama, respectively. My father joined the Army the week following the attack on Pearl Harbor because the Army would let him fight as either infantry or a tanker but the Navy would have had him shining shoes or being a cook. My father wanted to fight.
He spent four years in the Army, was decorated with the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. When he came home at the end of the war, he went to college where he met my mother, who had spent the war building airplanes as a ‘Rosie’. Because my father served, he and my uncles got the GI Bill that allowed them to go to college. World War II made my father who he was.
My parents stayed in Alabama, where I was born, until 1968 when they moved us to California. The 1968 election was the first time my father ever cast a vote in the nation he had fought and bled for. When I joined the Army my father was very opposed to it – partially because my sister had joined four years earlier, partly because of his memories of serving in a segregated military. To convince him that my reasons were good, I told him that it takes a special kind of man to go and fight for a country that does not consider him enough of a human being to go to school where he wishes, to vote in elections, to live where he can afford and to work in any job he is qualified for. That generation of black men who signed up and served knowing that they would return home and not be able to vote were very special men.
When I think of the generations of gays and lesbians who served in our military, I think that whether the likes of Romney (or a non-trivial swath of the GOP for that matter) realize it or not, they are in the debt of these folks and are in the presence of the very best of America.
I am not trying to blow my own horn. This is not about my service. I went in because I felt that I had grown up in a nation that did consider me an actual citizen and if my father could put on the uniform when he was, at best, a second-class citizen I could do no less. I just want us, as Americans, to acknowledge that gays and lesbians have served and continue to do so and that these are the very best of our nation. They get up and they do their duty knowing that the man or woman they love back home is not considered their actual, wedded spouse and yet they do it anyway. We should honor them as the exceptional Americans they are.