Happy Memorial Day.
Today we honor and remember military personnel who served their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. (Not to be confused with Veterans Day, which honors all soldiers who have served our country.)
Scroll down to read about five famous LGBT army veterans from decades past, and add more to the list in the comments section below…
Baron Frederick von Steuben
Though Prussian by birth, Frederick von Steuben trained George Washington’s Colonial Army and was invaluable in helping them defeat the better equipped and trained British troops. The Baron arrived in the Colonies in September 1777, with his young aide de camp, Louis de Pontière, and their prized Italian greyhound, Azor. Steuben developed a model company of 120 men, who in turn trained others. As part of his technique, the Baron would don full military dress and upbraid the troops in French and German. (He eventually recruited a captain to curse at them in English.) The Baron was often described as “eccentric”and “flamboyant,” which was essentialy Colonial-era lingo for “gay.” Despite this–or more likely, because of this–he still managed to become one of the great heroes of the Revolutionary War.
Thomas A. Dooley
While serving as a physician in the U.S. Navy in the 1950s, Dooley, a celebrated doctor and humanitarian, was investigated by the Navy and forced to resign his commission. Despite being fired, he remained in Southeast Asia, tending to the forgotten victims of war and building hospitals through the Medical International Cooperation Organization. After he died of cancer at just 34, Dooley’s legacy was later enshrined by President John F. Kennedy, who cited the doctor’s example when he launched the Peace Corps. Dooley was also posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
(Female members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, a.k.a WASPs)
Cpls Fannie Mae Clackum and Grace Garner
Though hardly the first people forced out of the military for being gay, Fannie Mae Clackum and Grace Garner, U.S. Air Force reservists in the late 1940s and early 1950s, were the first to successfully challenge their discharge. When the two women were suspected of being lesbians, the Office of Special Investigations essentially entrapped the pair, giving the Air Force cause to issue dishonorable discharges to both in 1952. But they refused to accept the discharges and demanded their case be brought to a courtmartial. Eight years later, the pair won their suit: the courts vacated the discharge and awarded them back pay.
Sgt. Leonard Matlovich
Vietnam vet Sgt. Leonard Matlovich was the first gay man to disclose his sexual orientation in the military while serving in the U.S. Air Force. His photograph, along with the headline “I Am a Homosexual,” appeared on the cover of the September 8, 1975 edition of Time. In addition to being one of the first openly gay American soldiers, Matlovich was also the first to appear on the cover of an American news magazine.