Because of my father's dislike of my mother's family and our quasi-estrangement from most of them, I was an adult before I heard the story of one uncle's months in a prisoner of war camp and the experiences of the other two during their periods of active duty.
But when Memorial Day rolled around, I don't remember ever going to a cemetery or ever doing anything in any public way to acknowledge those who have fought and died for this country. I'm not sure if this makes me ashamed or not, but we should have been more aware, and we should have paid more attention to the people who fought and died...or didn't die...to keep us living this life of complacency.
My friend Debra LoGuercio DeAngelo, of the Winters Express , wrote a powerful column about her father and the effect being in World War II had on him. You can find it here, but you have to go through a couple screens, first click on her name and then on the column "Sometimes the Deepest Wounds Can't be Seen." I highly recommend it.
It seems incredibly tragic that at this time when we honor those who have given their lives (or limbs) not only for this country, but in the attempt to make lives better for those in other countries, that on our own shores we are still going through such ugly debate about whether or not willing and able gay people can serve openly in the military.
There is no list of the number of gay men and women who have lost their lives fighting for this country, because even in death, there seems to be a need to keep that ugly secret buried, but one can assume that the percentage of deaths is proportional to the percentage of those serving in secret.
Liz Neff, a staff writer for the Wisconsin Gazette, wrote about Alan Greg Rogers.
To date, one soldier killed in Iraq has been publicly identified as gay – Army Maj. Alan G. Rogers of Hampton, Fla., who was fatally wounded by an IED while on patrol in Baghdad in January 2008.
Rogers, who received a Purple Heart posthumously and his second Bronze Star, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full honors. His commanding officer wrote to Rogers’ family, “As God would have it he shielded two men who probably would have been killed if Alan had not been there.”
Mainstream news reports, hailing Rogers as a national hero, contained remembrances of the solder as exceptional, brilliant, religious, calming and compassionate and detailed the soldier’s childhood, career and interests, even his effort to raise money to buy a Persian rug for a gift for a friend. But Rogers was not identified as a gay man until gay friends came forward to salute his service, as well as his personal opposition to DADT.
The Memorial Day following Rogers’ death, Steve Ralls of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays memorialized his friend: “He was brave in every sort of way. He deplored silence and understood all too well its impact. He felt the pain and isolation it could create. Those who spend so much time and energy propping up the military’s gay ban have tried to cover up the real, and significant, contribution that gay and lesbian Americans make to our Armed Forces.
“In the meantime, gay service members are fighting and – as we now know – dying on the battlefield in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world. Their stories are irrefutable proof of the disrespect and dishonor DADT imposes on our men and women in uniform.”
On this Memorial Day, I would like to salute those who have fought for this country, those who have died for this country, those who have given body parts and been irreparably damaged mentally by their experiences.
But I would especially like to salute those who, because they are gay, could easily walk away and let someone else do the fighting, but have chosen to live a life of secret because their love for their country and their desire to protect its interests is great.
In this era of voluntary military service, everyone who puts on a uniform is a hero, but these brave men and women have a special kind of heroism and should get not the disrespect and derision so many are experiencing, but the respect and dignity they so rightly deserve.