Category: self reblog

“The need for men and supplies for Vietnam overwhelmed the services’ ability to fly and ship them,…”

“The need for men and supplies for Vietnam overwhelmed the services’ ability to fly and ship them, particularly in the early years of the buildup. This made plenty of work for private ships working in the Military Sea Transportation Service, the merchant marine. When their ships were required for secret missions, their civilian crews needed security clearances. In San Francisco at Fort Mason, it was the job of Lieutenant (junior grade) Jim Spahr to do the footwork for the Office of Naval Intelligence and conduct the necessary background checks.
         Usually, this meant little more than looking in to the crews’ police records. Barring some serious crime, approval was routine. IT was while looking into such records, however, that Spahr began running across police accounts of individuals who had been observed at a ‘known homosexual gathering place.’ Under regulations, this meant the crewman could not be cleared for work: He might be queer and a security risk. To keep the government’s business, the shipping company must fire the crewman.”

Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military by Randy Shilts, page 49.
(via vietnamwarera)

“Life was much tougher at the front lines, because the field offered so few opportunities for privacy…”

“Life was much tougher at the front lines, because the field offered so few opportunities for privacy and because the soldiers at the front tended to be younger and less confident in skirting the rules. The Vietnam experience was far less libidinous for the typical gay soldier than was later fantasized in homophile fiction and erotic filmmaking.
       Danny Flaherty, for instance, had only one homosexual experience in Vietnam, with his first sergeant’s effeminate driver in the back of a truck. There was, however, a near encounter a few months later, as Danny was smoking pot with a heterosexual sergeant. As Danny took a deep drag of marijuana, he saw that his friend had opened his zipper and was glancing toward him. Danny was extremely stoned; it took a moment to appreciate what was going on. It was a moment too long. The next thing he knew, the zipper was closed. The two of them continued smoking and joking, and neither of them acknowledged that anything out of the ordinary had happened.”

Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military by Randy Shilts, page 43.

See this quote for what life was like in rear areas of Vietnam.

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“The air base at Da Nang saw considerable action that was not particularly warlike during these early…”

“The air base at Da Nang saw considerable action that was not particularly warlike during these early days in Vietnam. The veranda of the officers’ club at China Beach was a favorite place for REMF [rear-echelon mother fucker] gay cruising. And the swimming pool at any Army or air base also became a cruising zone as the numbers of troops swelled in 1965 and 1966. Most organized gay life, however, was in Saigon, a cosmopolitan city that had long considered itself the Paris of the East.
         Saigon’s best pickup spot was t he bar at the Continental Hotel, which had been a favorite gay meeting place since the days of Tom Dooley, where a casual visitor might not even notice the subplots being played out between five and seven every evening. Here, large numbers of handsome young officers gathered to strike up convivial conversations before pairing off for dinner.
        A few blocks from the Presidential Palace were the Louis Pasteur Scientific Baths, where a gentleman could usually spot like-minded companions. If no assignation occurred here, one might make a trip to Tu Do Street, a honky-tonk thoroughfare with rooftop bars and restaurants that served thick American steaks. Rooftops made the bars fairly safe from random hand grenades thrown by passing Vietcong bicyclists, and, at night, tanked up with plenty of beer, one could watch U.S. Air Force bombing raids on suspected enemy supply routes, the explosions lighting up the horizon like fireworks on the Fourth of July.
        Curfews complicated cruising. You had to pick up early enough to get your business over with in time to return to the barracks, or you had to be sure you could spend the night. Curfews also presented a cover. Army intelligence officer Lieutenant Dave Dupree learned this one morning when eyebrows raised over his having spent the night in the room of an Army major with whom he was having an affair. He had gotten drunk and missed curfew, Dave explained, and everybody understood, because under the pressure of the fighting and dying just about everybody got drunk at one time or another and missed curfew.”

Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military by Randy Shilts, page 42.

Tom Dooley was a US Navy physician who served in Vietnam immediately following the signing of the 1954 Geneva Accords. He oversaw the medical treatment of thousands of refugees fleeing North Vietnam under Operation Passage to Freedom. Dooley was also investigated for “participating in homosexual activities.” He is the author of Deliver Us From Evil.

(via vietnamwarera)

vietnamwarera: From the source: Combat veterans like Bob Yeargan…

vietnamwarera:

From the source:

Combat veterans like Bob Yeargan did not have time to worry about being gay when they were in the field. They and their buddies were much more worried about survival. Bob’s two tours of duty, first as a platoon leader and later as a company commander, reveal that combat leadership is not the exclusive purview of heterosexual officers. Yeargan went on to have a twenty-year career in the Army, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel, working in the Pentagon. (Photo courtesy of Bob Yeargan.)

Robert G. Yeargan served in the US Army, commanding a unit of the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division during his tour in Vietnam.

Listen to an interview with Yeargan as part of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. A complete transcript of the audio is also available.

“By the spring of 1961, the idea for resolving his struggle was almost fully formed. There was a way…”

“By the spring of 1961, the idea for resolving his struggle was almost fully formed. There was a way to prove to the world he was a man. Nobody would call him queer if he was defending his country. That’s what men did.
          Jess visited his local Navy recruiting station. As he sat filling out his enlistment application, he came across the box that asked whether he had ‘homosexual tendencies.’ He felt a stab in the pit of his stomach. They must know his secret. Why else would it be on the form? He paused and then quickly checked ‘no.’ Nobody challenged him. On November 21, 1961, Jessop was accepted into the United States Navy. He set out to become the best sailor he could.”

Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military by Randy Shilts, page 29-30.  (via vietnamwarera)

On why telling the stories of LGBT+ service members is important

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  • As long as an LGBT+ service member does their job well and can be relied upon when the going gets tough, why does their LGBT+ identity matter?
  • Why focus on the sexuality and gender identities of service members and veterans?

These questions have certainly been asked of me this month as I focus on the experience of LGBT+ service members during the Vietnam War era. In a way, I asked them of myself, though the answer was easy for me to find due to my own life experiences. Being a transgender man affects the way I study history, just as being a historian affects my life as a transgender man. Not everyone feels this way in their own experiences, which is completely valid, however this should not silence those who find importance in these overlapping identities.

Regulation

The Department of Defense in 1949 unified the policies of the branches of service by declaring: “Homosexual personnel, irrespective of sex, should not be permitted to serve in any branch of the Armed Services  in any capacity, and prompt separation of known homosexuals from the Armed Forces me made mandatory.” The Uniform Code of Military Justice, adopted in 1951, maintained the prior criminalization of sodomy under Article 125. Prior to these dates, and indeed back to the Continental Army, gay servicemen were discharged from the military. “Consensual sodomy” committed by service members was deemed a crime in a 1920 revision of the Articles of War (precursor to  the UCMJ).

Actuality

During peacetime, each military branch regularly drummed out suspected gay and lesbian service members. The military maintained they were unfit for service, despite the fact that they were often doing their jobs to the same degree of satisfaction as their heterosexual peers. Their ability was questioned not after any decrease in performance, but rather only after allegations of homosexuality were made and investigations begun.

The number of service members discharged under the anti-gay policies of the military dropped noticeably during wartime. While discharges of gays and lesbians still occurred, it was at a much lower rate. Considering the increase in overall troop numbers during times of war, sometimes massively, percentage-wise this meant even less service members were receiving discharges due to their sexuality. Obviously a larger military meant more people, which meant more gay people. Why a lower number of discharges?

Because they had skills needed. If the military discharged every alleged gay person, they would have lost a startling number of trained and skilled personnel. Clearly, the military only believed that gay service members were unfit for service when it suited them. It would look the other way in times of war, and ask gay service members to die for their country, and then disgrace that service in times of peace by denying them the right to continue serving. The military used and abused LGBT+ service members this way.

Vietnam War context

The 1960s is seen as a decade of great change for the United States. Movements gained incredible strength during these years, or were born into their more modern versions that we recognize today. Many of these movements became intertwined with the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement.

The gay rights movement came into existence during the 1960s and contributed to the anti-war movement. Much like members of the Civil Rights movement, who fought for racial equality and condemned the government’s willingness to let people of color serve in the military and die for their country, abusing them through an inequitable draft, while people of color at home were treated as lesser citizens. Many gay veterans came to see that they were treated similarly.

However the gay rights movement did not quite know where to place gay service members. Often they were seen as contributing to the problem, rather than as gay men and women who needed as much help as their civilian counterparts. Being part of the system should not have excluded them from the aims of the gay rights movement when the system would still gladly eject them and potentially ruin their lives.

Conclusion

The experiences of LGBT+ service members during the Vietnam War era bear historical significance. They highlight the inconsistencies in the carrying out of military policy, as well as the injustices of those policies and how they affected lives even after military service. They show the connections between the gay rights movement, the war, and the anti-war movement during a period of immense social change in the United States. They also provide context for ongoing civil rights issues regarding the military, such as the struggle of transgender service members to continue serving today.

The stories of LGBT+ service members need to be told to understand the struggle of serving in a military that discriminated against them.

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Sources:

The Experience of Women in the Vietnam War

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I know that this has been asked after a lot and in updating the book list I found a number of titles about women who served in the Vietnam War, often written by the women themselves. I wanted to highlight those here.

Let’s Talk Books (9/?)

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Women in Vietnam

Scholars have been sparse in their study of women during the Vietnam War. Their writings on the service of women becomes even more scarce, and downright nonexistent, when other minority aspects, like race, are factored into the equation. This makes it all the more necessary to read those works available to the public (published books rather than dissertations or articles in scholarly journals), applaud what has received deserved attention, and ask questions where gaps exist. The following books examine the role of women who served in different capacities in Vietnam.

  • Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era by Heather Marie Stur – (Cambridge University Press, 2011) It is not only the sharing of women’s experiences in Vietnam that must occur, but the study of their roles within the war from varied angles. Stur provides this insight by studying not only the jobs performed by women, but what was expected of them in terms of their gender. 
  • Officer, Nurse, Woman: The Army Nurse Corps in the Vietnam War by Kara Dixon Vuic – (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010) The main focus of Vuic’s work is to examine the effects of the “cultural climate of the era” on the Army Nursing Corps. The Army, and individual soldiers, sought to exploit the ideas of traditional feminine gender roles, even as nurses meaningfully expanded their medical experiences. Vuic utilizes official records along with interviews conducted with nurses.
  • Women at War: The Story of Fifty Military Nurses Who Served in Vietnam by Elizabeth Norman – (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990) A result of her doctoral dissertation, Norman interviewed 50 military nurses in 1983-84 and from those interviews highlighted the common threads in their experiences. She also highlights common themes between female and male service members, and between experiences in Vietnam with earlier wars.

vietnamwarera:Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight

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Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight

vietnamwarera: Lt. Magnolia Lilly, Army Nurse Corps, in 91st…

vietnamwarera:

Lt. Magnolia Lilly, Army Nurse Corps, in 91st Evacuation Hospital Emergency Room, Chu Lai.