All this current clamor about sexual choices, switches and privy privileges evokes personal memories in this old guy. The President’s recent order to reverse the acceptance of transgender recruits into the Armed Forces only adds fuel to the raging fires in the hearts of the advocates.
My memories on the subject go way, way back to 1944. I’d been in the Navy for nearly a year, and hadn’t quite hit my 19th birthday. After earning the rating of yeoman 3rd class, I expected to be assigned to a ship as a feather merchant (personnel clerk).
However, that didn’t happen for another six months. My orders sent me to the Navy camp in Shoemaker, California. It’s about 50 miles south of San Francisco, and today still active with various Armed Forces facilities. At the main gate, the Marine guard looked at my papers and laughed.
When he called over another Marine carrying a carbine at port arms, I began to wonder. This Marine told me to walk in front of him, and marched me about 100 yards to another gate. It was the entrance into a compound surrounded by a high wire fence topped with barbed wire. A sign read: U.S. Navy Disciplinary Barracks.
He turned me over to another armed Marine inside the gate. Frightened, I wondered what crime I’d committed to be sent to prison. I marched in expecting to be put in a cell.
Instead, after a big laugh by other Marines, I was given a bunk and locker as a member of the prison personnel staff. My assigned job was giving information and do paperwork for prisoners who had served their sentences and were to return to active duty or dishonorable discharge from the Navy.
This was almost 75 years ago, and regulations reflected the times. Many of the men eligible for release had been convicted of homosexual behavior. The usual court martial sentence for the crime was prison of up to two years, and then kicked out of the Navy.
Many had been in the Navy for years and were ranking enlisted and officers. Those discharged were all reduced to the lowest rank, apprentice seaman, and all pay and allowances discontinued.
Also, the dishonorable discharge became public knowledge and destroyed efforts to establish meaningful lives. It was heartbreaking to know that not only their Navy careers were over, but the stigma would follow them for the rest of their lives.
Of course, while in those days, homosexuality was a crime, other so-called normal sexual offenses were accepted. When I was on liberty nights with shipmates, the most avid sailors seeking prostitutes were the married ones. Also, leaders of the time, including President Roosevelt and Generals MacArthur and Eisenhower, had well-known extra-marital relationships.
Today, those in the service who have differing sexual preferences are no longer jailed as criminals. Progress for transgenders may have been temporarily halted by Presidential decree. However, those affected can at least hope for eventual acceptance in efforts to serve their nation with a meaningful career.