In a New York Times op-ed published this Saturday, writer Frank Bruni detailed the story of Marine veteran Hal Faulkner and his "other than honorable" discharge from the United States military. In 1956, Faulkner's commanding officer found out that the sergeant, who had risen in the ranks over several successful years, was gay; he was asked to leave despite his otherwise perfect record, and until 2013 those words, "other than honorable," kept Faulkner's great service in the dark. The story, intensified by the former Marine's limited time–given an unfortunate and untimely cancer diagnosis–truly serves as a reminder of the military's intensely homophobic past.
“They gave up on me,” he said, referring to the Marines. “I never forget it.” He was haunted in particular by those three words — “other than honorable” — and wanted more than anything to have them excised from his epitaph. That became his dying wish: that those words not outlive him.
Before federal law was changed in 2011, more than 110,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual people were discharged from the United States military over time because of their sexual orientation. And until the 1990s, when the policy tweak known as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” vaguely softened the prohibition against gays in the armed services, it was common for such discharges to be dishonorable ones that barred gay veterans from receiving any benefits and sometimes disqualified them from civilian jobs they later sought.
But now that the military accepts gays, there is also a process that permits those who were dishonorably discharged to appeal for reclassifications of those dismissals as honorable. A military spokesman said last week that he didn’t know how many veterans had sought to take advantage of it, or with what success. But Hal caught wind of it, and knew that he had to try.
Faulkner's desire to have his discharge appealed was seemingly an extension of not only the anguish of that singular act but also a lifetime of closeted service in various industries, from the 1950's to the 1970's. Still, despite his dwindling time, Hal Faulkner (seated in wheelchair in photo at right) was able to see the fruit of all those difficult years, as his revision appeal was accepted.
John read from the letter, including its assurance that Hal’s military record would “be corrected to show that he received an honorable discharge.” When Hal took the letter from him, he didn’t hold it so much as knead it, pressing tighter and tighter, maybe because he was visibly fighting tears.
“I don’t have much longer to live,” he said, “but I shall always remember it.” He thanked Anne. He thanked his nieces. He thanked the Marines. He even thanked people in the room whom he had no reason to thank.
Someone went off to mix him a Scotch-and-soda, and he finally gave in. He sobbed.
“It’s often said that a man doesn’t cry,” he said. “I am a Marine and I am a man. So please forgive me.”
His remarks hung there, because he’d used the present tense. Am a Marine. And because he was saying he was sorry, this veteran whose country owed him an apology for too long.
Good luck to all LGBT military service members seeking an appeal for similar discharges–they are much deserved.
Read Bruni's full post HERE.
Photos via NYT.