They Also Serve

updated 02/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

HE KNEW HE WAS GOING TO TAKE SOME heat, but even Bill Clinton may not have anticipated the barrage of boos hurled his way when, in his first week in office, the President moved to end discrimination against homosexuals in the military. Instantly the Joint Chiefs of Staff began to bridle, while many enlisted personnel expressed outrage. The rumble of the vox populi lit up the switchboards at radio call-in programs across the country as listeners phoned to register their displeasure.

Just how high emotions were running became especially (dear early on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 30, when three Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune allegedly dragged a man out of a gay bar in nearby Wilmington, N.C., and beat him, yelling, "Clinton must pay!" and "All you faggots will die!" The Administration tried to downplay the significance of the incident. But as the following cases suggest, the opposition that has been so deeply entrenched in the armed forces over the years may be difficult to overcome.

Though an Army hero in Vietnam, he became an outcast

For Gerald Rosanbalm, who served as an Army intelligence officer in Vietnam, there is a bitter irony in the whole debate over homosexuals in the military. In his experience, gay soldiers often strived to perform better than their straight comrades, if only to prove to themselves that they were worthy of the respect that a uniform bestows. In Vietnam he worked on the top-secret Phoenix program, which was an attempt by the U.S. government to infiltrate and destroy the Vietcong from within. But military intelligence proved too comfortable an existence for him. He volunteered for more perilous duty—and got his wish. He began monitoring enemy traffic on the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos.

During the Tet offensive in 1968, Rosanbalm received six bullet wounds while protecting other wounded soldiers in the city of Quang Ngai. As he lay on the ground in agony, his lover, who was nearby, raced into the thick of enemy fire to save him and was shot. He was later killed in action. "He was a very good soldier, and he loved me very much," says Rosanbalm, now 51. Rosanbalm's actions saved the lives of six people, and he received a personal note from President Lyndon Johnson thanking him for his bravery.

A year later, though, Rosanbalm's homosexuality got him into trouble. Transferred to West Germany to help with spy operations in the Eastern bloc, he became involved with a 20-Year-old refugee from Czechoslovakia. After a tip-off, military investigators accused him of consorting with a Communist spy. Rosanbalm denies that the youth had any ties to the espionage trade, but Rosanbalm was quickly shipped back to the U.S., where he underwent psychiatric evalualion. After lengthy examinations, Rosanbalm, who didn't deny being gay, was declared to be simply "neurotic." He was cleared of all charges and given an honorable discharge.

Rosanbalm believes that in practical terms, at least from the standpoint of gay recruits, easing the stigma against homosexuals will have no greater impact on the military than it has had on the civilian sector over the past few years. "I think you'll find that we didn't all, of a sudden start having sex in the corporate dining room," he says. "We didn't start hitting on our coworkers." He adds bluntly, "People do not join the Army to get a date."

All the same, Rosanbalm, who works as a financial adviser for gays in New York City and found he was HIV positive in 1986, wishes that the-nine attention being paid to the controversy could be devoted to the more pressing AIDS crisis. "There are so many other issues that are so much more important," he says.

Tormented by shipmates, a sailor is murdered in brutal fashion

When Allen Schindler joined the Navy 4½ years ago, it was adventure he was after, not martyrdom. But last Oct. 27, Schindler, 22, a gay radioman assigned to the amphibious assault ship Belleau Wood, was beaten to death in a public restroom near the U.S. naval base at Sasebo in Japan. His attackers had battered his face and-skull so savagely against a urinal that his features were almost unrecognizable. His mother had to identify him by the tattoos on his forearm. In addition, all but two of Schindler"s ribs had been broken and his penis bore cut marks.

Two of Schindler's shipmates from the Belleau Wood, Airman Charles Vins, 20, and Airman Apprentice Terry Helvey, 20, were quickly arrested by Japanese police and charged with involvement in the murder. Naval investigators refuse to characterize the killing as a bias crime. But there is no doubt in the mind of Jim Jennings, 35, a nurse in San Diego, who says he was Schindler's ex-lover. "He wasn't robbed," he says. "He was killed because he was gay."

As Jennings tells it, Schindler at first was happy in the Navy, which he had joined out of high school. During 1991 he served aboard the aircraft carrier Midway, a relatively tolerant ship where he did not feel the need to conceal his homosexuality too carefully. But everything changed at the end of that year when he was reassigned to the Belleau Wood, a vessel with a distinctly unsavory reputation in Sasebo for thuggish behavior by the crew. "He didn't like the people on that ship," says Jennings. "Right off the bat the harassment started. He'd be walking down the passageway past two guys, and one of them would say, 'You know, there are a lot of faggots out there, and we got to do something about them. Schindler's mother, Dorothy Hajdys, a bookkeeper for the Salvation Army, agrees. "Once he got to the Belleau Wood, he did nothing but complain," she says, adding that he referred to the ship as the Helleau Wood.

After a summer of such abuse, Schindler went in September to the executive officer of the Belleau Wood and apparently told him he was gay in the hope of getting a discharge. In his diary he wrote, "At that time I admitted my true self and told him, 'If you can't be yourself, then who are you?' " Within days, word that he had admitted being gay filtered around the ship. Schindler noted in his diary, "More people are finding out about me. It scares me a little."

On the evening of Oct. 27, he went to Sasebo Park, near the base and known as a meeting spot for gays. Around 11 p.m. several witnesses saw him being attacked in the restroom. The next day authorities picked up Vins and Helvey. Helvey has been charged with murder and faces a court martial. Vins will testify against Helvey; in return, he has received the equivalent of a four-month sentence. Dorothy Hajdys is outraged by this—and by the homophobia she believes the Navy and the nation have allowed to flourish. "It doesn't matter if he was or wasn't gay," she says angrily. "In this country all you have to do is be suspected of being gay and you end up dead."

A World War II vet recalls a life lived entirely in secret

During World War II, when Warren Hunt served in the Navy, being gay in the military required a lot of subterfuge, but it also fostered a certain clarity: No one even dreamed of coming out. "It was just something you kept close to your vest," says Hunt, now 74, a graduate of the Naval Academy who served as a gunnery officer aboard the battleship Arkansas and saw action during the D-day invasion. "You just didn't fool around."

And he kept up appearances. Despite always knowing he was gay, Hunt was married for 36 years (his wife, Teresa, died in 1982) and has two children. Married life, though, was difficult. The couple separated in 1977, but Hunt returned soon after to nurse his wife until her death from cancer. His children, Lorea, 44, and Anthony, 36, he says, "are highly aware that I'm gay. They love me dearly and support me totally."

Now retired from the insurance business and living south of Los Angeles, he has no illusions about the difficulties that lie ahead in lifting the ban on gays in the military. In contrast to some gay activists, he cautions against comparing the integration of gays with the integration of blacks into the military in 1948. He points out there was a broad-based civil-rights movement supporting blacks and argues that no such movement exists for gays. "Prejudice against gays is ingrained by the church, by the family, by society in general," he says. "There was a time when people said, 'That person is black. He was born that way.' But with gays, people say it's a matter of choice—and that's a crock. I think it's far more of a divisive situation." All the same, he believes the ranks should be opened to all who want to serve. "The only thing to do," he says, "is dive in and get wet all over and learn to swim."

BILL HEWITT
BRYAN ALEXANDER in New York City, TOM CUNNEFF in Los Angeles and BONNIE BELL in Chicago

Share this story:

Your reaction:

advertisement

From Our Partners

From Our Partners