America: March 2009, Vol. VI, No. 3

© 2006-2009  Gay Military Signal



Nathaniel Frank, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow, Palm Center
University of California, Santa Barbara

I was not the only one of my friends who fought back tears last fall when I watched Colin Powell describe why he was endorsing Barack Obama for president.  Here was a man who was born in Harlem to Jamaican immigrants, grew up in the Bronx, and knew a thing or two about both racism in America and the power of the American dream to transcend it.  A direct beneficiary of the post World-War-II racial integration of the military, Powell became the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking officer in the country.  Once considered one of the most admired men in America for his military leadership during the first Gulf War, many thought he might become the first African American occupant of the White House.

He is also a Republican.  But he crossed party lines to back Obama and spoke for ten eloquent minutes without notes on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to explain why: He spoke of Obama and his generation as “transformational,” “aspirational” and “inclusive,” and of McCain’s campaign as becoming “narrower and narrower.” He said Obama is crossing ethnic, racial and generational lines to bring people together.  And in response to charges that Obama is a Muslim, Powel spoke out movingly not only against this false charge, but against the implication that somehow being Muslim was the worst thing in the world: “The really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America.”  In that statement, delivered with a no-nonsense force and passion that has made the General famous, Powell didn’t only defend Obama, he defended all of America, and what it stands for.

It was refreshing to see such strong leadership displayed even in the few minutes of Powell’s interview.  But despite his reputation as a great leader, Powell has not always led.  In 2003, he made a flawed case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Since then, the nation has learned that he had grave misgivings about going along with the invasion, yet he let himself serve as a chief spokesman for the Bush White House in making that case.  Speaking of the disastrous war in Iraq, former Secretary of State James Baker has said that Powell was “the one guy who could have perhaps prevented this from happening.”


Flag Memories

Denny Meyer

Several months ago our local chapter of LGBT vets (AVER) received an inquiry from an elderly member of the gay senior's group (SAGE); "Would you accept the funeral flag of a WWI veteran?" This, of course, is one of the most basic functions of any veterans' association, and we immediately agreed. The history of this flag is a long and convoluted story of a long forgotten proud and patriotic hero of The Great War, the passage of his family through time and the twentieth century, and the wish of a gay grandson to have his long departed grandfather somehow honored and remembered.

Much of the story has been lost in time. We can speculate that our WWI vet was born in the late 1800s and volunteered to serve his country. We know nothing of his life through the first half of the twentieth century, nor even the date of his death. Yet, we might imagine that he lived into the 1950s (the flag has 48 stars) and that his funeral flag, folded into a triangle by his honor guard, was presented to his widow.  In due course, the flag passed on to his son and then to his gay grandson. What little we do know is that when the grandson died in old age over a decade ago, the flag passed to his lover.  One of the grandson's last wishes was that the flag be given to a group of gay vets as there were no members of his family left to pass it on to.  His lover kept it and brought it along into a new relationship; and after he subsequently died, the flag passed to his partner who eventually got around to contacting us to ask that we please accept it.

What is the meaning of a veteran's coffin flag, kept neatly folded into a triangle, passed from one elderly American to another over at least more than half a century, from loving widow to son to grandson and to lovers and strangers? Some others might have thought of it as just an old musty piece of cloth, something to be sold at a flea market or tossed into a dumpster along with old sofas and other tattered flotsam and junk of someone gone and forgotten. But these Americans somehow thought to preserve the last honor of a long ago American Veteran.


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