Sheridan Kaserne in Germany
Spec 5 David Williams
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
never had much of a problem,
except for one incident of homophobia.
it came time to leave, there was a lot of pressure to
re-up. Several of my
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.
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.
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