The needler in the haystack.

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963: A second loss of innocence


JFK and Jackie, vivacious and alluring.

Those still alive who remember the day that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated are likely to tell you they can remember the exact moment they heard the news. I am one.

As one of Yale Medical School's first certified 'Inhalation Therapists', I was working the day shift at Gaylord Hospital and Sanatorium in Wallingford, Connecticut that grey and wintry day (Wallingford also is the site of JFK's alma mater, Choate Academy, and my boss had been the Choate physician).

Coming down the hall of one patient wing to the day room that connected it with another, I chanced upon the scene just as an announcer broke into regular TV programming to announce that the President had been shot.

There were no further details and we did not learn until later that Kennedy had died.

It was the second stunning blow to my innocence and foreshadowed the tumultuous decade in which I came to maturity and became politically engaged.

Up until then, it had seemed a Camelot come true for this farm boy. The vivacity and allure of Jackie and JFK infected a whole generation of college-age men and women, of which I was just one. We were proud to be Democrats of a new, younger sort, forging a New Frontier and looking forward to an ever-brighter future for the country and its citizens.

As I said, JFK's death was the second blow to my innocence.

The first came the year before when I was discharged from the Air Force as 'undesirable' on account of my suspected homosexuality.

Wrestling with whether I was truly called to the ministry, I had taken off some time from college. As the Cold War reached a fever pitch in the early 1960s, I decided not to wait passively and see if I would be drafted into the Army, but take my fate in my own hands and enlist in the Air Force.

Shipped off from the Buffalo airport in the midst of a snowstorm with about forty other young men from Western New York, we arrived at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas in the middle of the night where the temperature was still in the low 80's.

After a month of intensive physical training and molding into a part of a team, the newly minted Airmen went on to their next assignment, either a duty posting or further training.

I was selected to be trained for the Air Force Intelligence Services and was shipped off to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi for training as a Morse Intercept Operator. Once training was completed, I would be stationed in Turkey as part of the US intelligence mission that was coupled to the missiles pointed at the heart of the Soviet Union.

Fatefully, the FBI agent routinely assigned to interview people who knew me was told by a former college professor that he was suspicious that I might be a homosexual.

In those days, a gay person would have had to lie about their sexuality just to get into the service. Though there were many gays in the military, and a blind eye was often turned on the matter, getting through the security clearance was a crucial hurdle. I did not make it.

Removed from class one night without explanation, I was summoned the next day to an interview with an investigator with the Intelligence Service whose name was Truman Hyde.

Alone, confused, with no counsel, no end of the interview in sight, and (apparently) no rights, I finally admitted to a homosexual experience in college, thinking the admission would bring the interview to an end and I could escape to try and get some help.

It did end the interview. I went immediately to the pastor of the Methodist Church near the base which I had been attending and spoke to the minister, who was a colonel in the Air Force Reserves. He was most sympathetic and made several phones calls, up to the base deputy commander. But to no avail, as I had voluntarily admitted to Agent Hyde a disqualifying experience.

Within a matter of weeks, I was processed out and sent home on a train that made its way north from Biloxi to Cincinnati, thence to Cleveland and finally to my hometown. (It was the only time I ever slept in a Pullman berth.)

I was not wanted. I was not fit to serve. My first loss of innocence.

Some time after I had arrived home and the numbness began to wear off, I received a letter from a friend and fellow airman from Keesler.

He wrote to advise me, kindly, that I shouldn't feel too bad as the rumor circulating about why I was removed from training and then discharged didn't focus at all on whether I might be a homosexual.

The word instead, he said cheerfully, was that I was a 'Red' and everyone knew that could not be true.




-- Dan Damon [follow]


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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Citizens of Plainfield be warned
The police department is cutting overtime in a vein attempt to cover the BULLSHIT promotions for FRIENDS. That means NOT ENOUGH OFFICERS ON THE ROAD TO PROTECT THE RESIDENTS.

Anonymous said...

Breaking News
Marty took off for the month and put Captain Gilliam in charge as Director LET THE GAMES BEGIN