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Gays and Lesbians in the American Military During World War II

An estimated 650,000 gay men and women served in the Armed Forces during World War II, despite the official ban on gay military service. Among these: Air Medal recipient Robert Ricks, a WWII B-24 bomber navigator whose plane was shot down in August 1943 and who spent the rest of the war behind German lines, including three months in Dachau; and Bronze winner Robert Fleisher who helped liberate camp inmates who, like him, were Jewish, from Dachau.
Though some won medals for their service, many more were hounded out of the service because of their sexual orientation. Consult for why we classify homophobia as a form of racism.
The following is an account of how the anti-gay witch hunt operated from Allan Berube’s Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two (New York: The Free Press, 1990), pp. 204-08:
Sexual humiliation was one of the interrogators’ most powerful weapons for getting at the “naked truth” beneath the suspects’ denials. “They do make it horribly embarrassing,” wrote a gay infantryman to a buddy after his interrogation by a disposition board at Camp Livingston, an infantry replacement center in Alexandria, Louisiana. “There’s one board, for instance, where the victim is placed on a block, quite nude, in front of a table full of assorted colonels and majors, and made to answer the most intimate questions. We call it the ‘slave mart.’ Then there are the interviews, and questionnaires, and consultations, and accusing looks.” Such humiliations could make gay suspects feel as if they were the enemy or were pieces of garbage to be thrown away. “How do you recommend I be disposed of?” the infantryman at Camp Livingston wrote to his friend. “Gas? Firing squad? Weighting with chains and casting into the sewage canal? I’m bucking for cremation. I’ve been burned up so many times in the past two years that it would be a pleasure to be burned up once and feel it.”
The systematic violation of their dignity and trust made many GIs talk, but at a terrible cost to their self-respect. Dave Barrett, who in 1943 was held with dozens of other suspected homosexuals in a Navy “queer brig” in Noumea, New Caledonia  described how Interrogators used the good cop/bad cop technique to break him down.   Taking him from the brig to an office, both the judge advocate and a lieutenant worked on Barrett while a yeoman took notes. They began the interrogation by telling him about his family and his former employers. “ ‘My God,’ ‘ Barrett wondered to himself, “ ‘how did they learn all this?’ They scared the hell out of me.’’ Then the judge advocate threatened him with criminal prosecution. During a break in the interrogation, the lieutenant took Barrett “out to a station wagon and we sat out there. He put his arm around my shoulder and he said, ‘For the good of the service, you should go.’ And I said, ‘Well, if you feel that way, and if I’ve done something wrong and it hinders the service, I suppose I’ll go.’ He said, ‘You go in and tell them that.’ So he softened me up.” Back inside the office Barrett agreed to talk once he got assurance that nothing would happen to anyone he named. He named two men. On his confession Barrett had to sign that he was “ ‘not under duress’ or ‘I was not coerced.’ Then the judge advocate looked at his yeoman and said, ‘For Christ’s sake, I didn’t think he’d break.’ And that hurt terribly. I was heartbroken.” The men he named were rounded up for interrogation and discharged.
The interrogation of a twenty-four-year-old corporal at Fort Oglethorpe demonstrates how officers could barrage a suspect with sexual questions in a kind of psychological rape until they broke her unwillingness to expose herself, her partner, and her friends. When the line of questioning approached the corporal’s sexual pleasures and orgasms, the interrogation was turned over to a female officer. “Are you and Lt. Foster closer than just friends?” the officer asked the corporal. “No ma’am,” she replied, “I think a lot of her but we are just close friends.”
Q. Are you in love with her?
A. No ma’am.
Q. Is she with you?
A. I don’t think so. . . .
Q. Which one of you first made love to the other one?
A. We don’t make love to each other ma’am. . . .
[Interrogator] informs witness of allegations against her and explains to witness that she understands people like her.
Q    Now do we understand each other better.   .   .  ?
A        Yes, ma’am.
Q       Has Lt. Foster ever made love to you?
A      Yes ma’am.   .   .   .
Q        What do you do when you and Lt. Foster get together and make love?
A      We just love each other.
Q       How? Describe it to me.
A       We put our arms around each other and love each other.
Q       Do you feel various parts of one another’s bodies?
A        Yes ma’am, I have.   .   .  .
Q       Have you ever touched her sexual organs?
A.       No ma’am.
Q     What physical reaction do you get from kissing Lt. Foster and petting her?
A       I would say I would get the same reaction that I would get
from  kissing a man. .  .  .
Q    Does making love with Lt. Foster make you nervous?
A     No ma’am, it doesn’t make me nervous. . . .
Q       Is it a pleasure?
A.     Yes ma’am. We always get such funny feelings.
Q      Do you continue until you get relief in the form of an orgasm?
A       Yes ma’am. . . .
Q    Do you kiss long clinging kisses?
A       An average one I would say. . . .
Q     Have you ever heard the term “to come” expressed—meaning someone has been relieved physically, that one has had a physical reaction as a result of being made love to?
A      Yes ma’am.
Q       How do you love one another to get this reaction?
A     We are very close to each other.
Q      With your clothes on?
A.     In bed with our pajamas on.
Q       Did you learn it from her?
A.    I think we learned it together. . .
Q       Besides being the finest person you have ever known, is she sexually gratifying?
Yes ma’am. . . .
[Here the male interrogator takes over and threatens to tell the WAC’s brothers, sisters, parents, and Baptist minister about what she has just admitted.] …
Signed confessions were the suspect’s ultimate act of surrender and the prize of the interrogation. A typical signed confession was composed by the interrogator after the questioning ended. “It’s not even my own words,” explained Fred Thayer, who signed one in New Caledonia. “It’s words dictated to me.” The confession verified consent to the confession even when the signer was coerced, and described his or her sex acts and relationships in the awkward language of military regulations. The confession of a sailor interrogated at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, began:
“I have since March 15, 1943 attended six ‘gay parties’ at Jim BELL’s home. Jim BELL was at that time a civilian and is at present a private first class in the U.S. Army. I have also attended two parties at Doris’s, a “dike” living in Jacksonville. Florida, and on several occasions I have been present at ‘gay parties’ which were held at the Mayflower Hotel, Jacksonville, Florida. By ‘gay parties’ I mean those parties were attended by sexually perverted individuals and were usually held on Saturday nights with practically the same crowd present. I have seen Bob SMITH, Bob KNOWLES, Stan CASELLI, Doug MARKS, Lt. N. R. BURKE USNR, Richard GIANNINI, ‘Buddy’ WILSON, Steve DUNN, and Manuel MIRANDA. All but the last three are serving in the U.S. Navy, the others are serving in the U.S. Army. Drinking, singing, dancing and the playing of suggestive records occurred at these parties with the exchange of kisses upon greeting each other.”
The threat that such confessions would be used to charge suspects with criminal offenses was present during most interrogations, investigations, and psychiatric interviews. Gay male and lesbian suspects often disclaimed their sexuality during the interrogations not because they believed what they said but to avoid criminal prosecution. Many who broke down under questioning did not know that they were not on trial.

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