Ken’s Take on the World


Memorial Day 2016

On this Memorial Day, Americans gather together for barbeques and get-together’s with friends and family.  For many, it means a shorter work-week which is always nice.  For many families and friends this is a special day in which we come together to honor a loved one who paid the ultimate price in service to our nation.  Across the country, parades are held and wreaths are presented.  Graveyards in every state serve as the final resting place for those who gave their lives in combat zones across the globe in every war the United States has been involved in throughout history.

 

This is a tribute to a special group of military personnel.  For more than two centuries, one group of military members fought and died for their nation while hiding a very deep secret.  Gay and lesbian service members have fought, and died, in nearly every single conflict since the founding of our nation.  Because of the oppression and hostility they would face, including imprisonment, harassment, threats, and violence, these men and women, no less brave than their peers, were forced to live secret double lives.  Brave fighting men and women while in uniform and extremely discreet, closeted gay people in public.  To do otherwise put them at risk of discovery and other negative consequences.  Those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice are known only to their family and friends.  Until now.

 

While the majority of lesbian and gay service members who were killed in battle throughout our history are unknown, the lifting of the military ban on openly gay service members has allowed the stories of contemporary service members to become public.  More importantly, marriage equality has permitted gay husbands and lesbian wives to collect pension and other benefits when their life mate is killed on the battlefield.

 

US Army Major Alan Rogers (09/21/1967 to 01/27/2008) was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) while on a patrol in January of 2008 in Afghanistan.  He was the first known combat fatality know to be gay.  In 2005, his Master’s thesis discussed the failure of the military policy of, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).  His family states that they were unaware of his sexual orientation before he was killed.  Statisticians have estimated that at least 200 combat fatalities in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of operation were lesbian or gay.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aaron-belkin/gay-soldier-killed-in-afg_b_475559.html

 

Corporal Andrew Charles Wilfahrt is the first known gay service member killed in combat since the repeal of DADT.  He came out to his parents at 16 and at age 29 decided to join the Army.  He was 31 years old when he was killed by an IED on February 27, 2011.  He played piano and had scored a perfect score on an Army aptitude test. http://thefallen.militarytimes.com/army-cpl-andrew-c-wilfahrt/5837138 http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/07/02/gay.soldier.andrew.wilfahrt/

 

US Air Force Major Adrianna M. Vorderbruggen was married to her wife in 2013.  One of the first lesbian Air Force members to marry in uniform.  She was 31 when she, along with five other Air Force intelligence members, on December 21, 2015 by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.  She is believed to be the first openly gay woman killed in combat.  http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-woman-among-six-americans-killed-in-afghan-attack/363317681/ http://www.military.com/daily-news/2015/12/23/us-military-brings-home-six-airmen-killed-in-afghanistan.html

Surely, there are many more stories of gay and lesbian service members who have lost their lives in service to their nation on battlefields around the world.  Not to mention the number of gay men and women who have been wounded in battle including the first US casualty of the Iraq war, Staff Sergeant Eric Alva.  This Memorial Day, as we remember all of those who died fighting for the United States, let us honor those, too, who fought a second battle in silence and secrecy against the very nation they served.

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