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OPERATION GOLDEN EAGLE
American Veterans For Equal Rights
20th Anniversary DC Event in June

Honors LGBT WWII Vets

by Danny Ingram, AVER President

This June, American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) celebrates 20 years of working for LGBT equality in the US Armed Forces with Operation Golden Eagle, a series of events planned in conjunction with Capital Pride in Washington DC, the city where AVER was born in 1990.  AVER members from across America will gather in the nation's capital Jun. 11-13, 2010, to commemorate the founding of AVER, the oldest nation-wide LGBT Veterans Service Organization in the United States.  The focus of the celebration will be LGBT World War II veterans, those men and women of the 'greatest generation' who defeated the forces of tyranny in the largest conflict the world has ever known and returned home to the United States to found the modern Gay Rights movement.  The anniversary event has been named Operation Golden Eagle in honor of the 'golden years' of these first generation LGBT Americans, many of whom wore on their uniforms the famous golden eagle patch (nicknamed the 'ruptured duck') to distinguish their status as a returning WWII vet.

A main event of Operation Golden Eagle will be a wreath placing ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery scheduled for 1:35p.m. EDT on Friday, Jun. 11.  The wreath placing complement will include AVER National President Danny Ingram, and three prominent gay World War II veterans: Fr. John J. McNeill, Dr. Frank Kameny, and Mr. Jack Strouss.

McNeill, who served under General George S. Patton, was captured at the Battle of the Bulge, imprisoned in a Nazi POW camp, and received the Purple Heart, returned to the US and was ordained as a priest in the Society of Jesus.  Following the publication of his book "The Church and the Homosexual," a landmark work on gay and lesbian spirituality, Fr. McNeill came under the scrutiny of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who ordered him to remain silent.  After refusing a further order from Ratzinger, in 1988, to cease all ministry to LGBT people, McNeill was expelled from the Society of Jesus after 40 years in the order.

Harvard-educated astronomer Frank Kameny returned from fighting Nazis in WWII only to be dismissed from his position as an astronomer in the Army Map Service in 1957, because of his homosexuality.  Dr. Kameny went on to form the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC, one of the earliest and most influential gay rights organizations of the 1960s.  In 1971, Kameny ran for Congress from Washington DC as the first openly gay candidate for national office.  He was also one of the founders of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and helped found the Gay Rights National Lobby from which the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) was formed.

Mr. Jack Strouss of Atlanta, also served under General George S. Patton in the European Theater of WWII.  Strouss' transport ship was torpedoed from beneath him in the English Channel, and he was rescued by a Free French frigate.  He went on to fight in the final drive to Germany and served in the Army of Occupation following the Nazi surrender.  When Strouss returned home to the US, he took a job working for the US Department of Civil Service, only to be fired during the infamous McCarthy era due to his homosexuality.

Fr. John McNeill will do a book signing at the Dignity Center, located at 721 8th Street Southeast, Washington, DC 20003-2802, near the Eastern Market Metro Station, from 10a.m. - 11:30a.m. EDT on Saturday, Jun. 12.  AVER members are encouraged to come meet Fr. McNeill, one of our most distinguished members, and help support his trip to DC for Operation Golden Eagle, which he is attending at his own expense.

On Saturday, Jun. 12, AVER will lead the annual DC Pride Parade as the event's official color guard.  World War II dignitaries will ride in designated vehicles in the parade, and all LGBT veterans are invited to join the color guard.  The AVER color guard will carry a special vintage silk 48-star World War II era national flag and a World War II memorial flag in honor of Operation Golden Eagle.

On Sunday, Jun. 13, AVER will staff a "Recruiting Station" at DC's Capitol Pride Festival to recruit new members for the AVER National Capital Chapter, which the national organization hopes to build as one of its most prominent chapters.  Members of AVER from all over the nation will help staff the booth throughout the hours of the Pride Festival.

To top off Operation Golden Eagle, members of AVER will present a "taps" ceremony from the main stage of Capital Pride with "all hands present."  All WWII veterans will be invited onto the stage to be recognized for their service.  The taps ceremony will honor all LGBT service members who have given their lives in the defense of our nation's freedom, especially Army Maj. Alan G. Rogers, who became was the first nationally-known gay combat casualty in modern US history when he as killed by an improvised explosive device while leading a patrol in Baghdad, Iraq, on Jan. 27, 2008.  Rogers also served as an officer in the National Capital Chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights.

Planned events yet to be scheduled:

AVER will conduct a wreath laying ceremony at the grave site of Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, who was one of the first and most prominent gay service members to challenge the military's ban on gay service in the 1970's.  A recipient of both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, Matlovich's grave marker bears the famous words "WHEN I WAS IN THE MILITARY THEY GAVE ME A MEDAL FOR KILLING TWO MEN AND A DISCHARGE FOR LOVING ONE."  Matlovich rests in Washington's Congressional Cemetery where AVER hopes to establish a national LGBT war memorial in the future.  This event is not yet scheduled.

AVER hopes to sponsor a Saturday press event at the World War II Memorial featuring our three distinguished VIPs and other LGBT WWII veterans to speak on the injustice of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" issue and use their "gravitas" to help place a final nail in the coffin of the military's ban on gay service members.  In order to encourage WWII vets to attend the press event, AVER is offering free Lifetime Membership to every WWII veteran who participates.  AVER hopes this will be the largest gathering of openly LGBT WWII veterans in US history and one of the most powerful collective voices ever to target the injustice of the gay ban.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:

Sponsor a WWII Vet: In order to make Operation Golden Eagle a success, AVER is in need of LGBT World War II veterans to attend the event.  Anyone interested in participating in June or helping sponsor a WWII veteran should contact AVER President Danny Ingram at
president@aver.us.  Help is also needed in logistical support, including local transportation, an advance team to help with permits and locations, and funding.

Come to Washington and participate: AVER is hoping to make Operation Golden Eagle a tremendous experience for LGBT veterans of all ages from all eras.  For more information, continue to watch for news releases on the AVER National website at http://www.aver.us.  Most of all AVER is about honoring service, and we hope to take the opportunity in June to say "thank you" to all LGBT veterans for your service and your dedication to helping end the injustice of the ban.  Please join us in Washington, DC, the weekend of Jun. 11-13 as we honor our first generation and we celebrate the camaraderie unique to those of us who have served in the armed forces.  There is an organization for you as an LGBT veteran, and it is AVER.  Come see what we are about and consider membership in the only LGBT Veterans Service Organization recognized by the VA.

  2010 Gay Military Signal