July 23, 2011

The Navy Let Me Down: Don't Ask Don't Tell - An Ugly Chapter In Military History Nearly Over

Vice Admiral Roy Alexander Gano
My Grandfather and namesake, Vice Admiral Roy Alexander Gano.
 (Official Photograph US Navy and Family Photo)

by Roy Steele

My father, my brother, and my grandfather have all served our country in the United States Navy. My uncle, my great uncle, and my great great uncle, also served in the Navy. To say that we were a Navy family would be an understatement.

Primogeniture in the US Disappeared With The Horse And Buggy

Male primogeniture is a term we aren’t overly familiar with in our country. It is primarily a European Royal custom, enshrined by law, that gives the exclusive right of inheritance to the firstborn son. While six European monarchies eliminated primogeniture laws, in the United Kingdom this custom still stands, and it’s this law that determines the line of succession to the British throne, and guarantees that the current Prince of Wales will succeed his mother, and be crowned King.

We don’t have primogeniture laws in the United States. We have family traditions that may surround birthdays, or holidays, or other events and milestones, and my family is no different. I was the first born son in my family. Being the oldest, in a family with four kids, brought certain responsibilities and obligations that are typical of other families.

One tradition unique to my family, was the expectation that I would follow in the footsteps of my ancestors, and Grandfather, and go to college in Annapolis, Maryland, and enroll at the United States Naval Academy.

We Planned Your Future And You Are Going To Be A Naval Officer 

From as early as I can remember, my parents, and grandparents, went out of their way to indoctrinate me in the ways of the US Navy. This started when I was very young, and involved going to church at the Navy Chapel, and spending time with family friends, who were usually Naval officers - generally Admirals all.

We attended events at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, went to football games at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, went swimming at the Army-Navy Country Club, and had Sunday brunch at the Officer’s Club. On many steamy summer nights, we were guests of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and Chesty, for the Evening Parade, on the parade grounds of the Marine barracks. We would watch the trooping of the colors, the parade and Marine band concert.

My father, my brother, and my grandfather have all served our country in the United States Navy. My uncle, my great uncle, and my great great uncle, also served in the Navy. To say that we were a Navy family would be an understatement.

A map of Beecher Pass which was named after Lieutenant Albert Morrison Beecher

This tradition started in the late 1800’s when my great great Uncle, Lieutenant Albert Morrison Beecher, of Fort Dodge, Iowa - graduated from the Naval Academy. In southeastern Alaska, a three mile long passage that connects Wrangall Narrows with Duncan Canal, is named in his honor.

Beecher Pass, and Beecher Pass State Marine Park, were named by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, because Albert Beecher surveyed the area in the late 19th century. Lieutenant Beecher died in a freak accident aboard the USS Maine (BB-10) in 1903.

My great uncle Captain Paul Howard graduated from the Academy in 1921.

Vice Admiral Gano Was A War Hero And A Great Man

My Grandfather, Vice Admiral Roy Alexander Gano, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1926. A native of Minnesota, he was one of the most highly decorated Naval officers in the history of the Navy.

Admiral and Mrs. Roy A. Gano and unknown couple. (Family photo)
Admiral and Mrs. Roy A. Gano and unknown couple.
(Family photo)
Admiral Gano was known for his technical skills in battle, the exacting expectations he had of those he commanded, his ready quips and sense of humor, and for the warmth and empathy he had for all who served. His exploits in times of war and battle, are well documented.

Less well known is the work he devoted himself to after retiring from active duty. The balance of his life was devoted to promoting the welfare of American sailors and their families, US government, military, and civilian personnel, and anyone employed by the maritime industry, as President and Chairman of the Board of the United Seamen’s Service.

After my grandfather’s death, his best friend, Admiral Arleigh Burke,  and his diminutive wife Bobbie, stepped in and joined my grandmother in teaching me about the Navy. Arleigh Burke was an Admiral in the United States Navy, who was Chief of Naval Operations during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.

Admiral Arleigh ‘31-Knot’ Burke Got Me Drunk

When I was in high school completing my college applications, I found myself in Annapolis on a crisp fall day with Admiral Burke, watching the Mids defeat the University of Virginia.

Admiral Arleigh Burke and Admiral Roy A. Gano (Official Photograph US Navy)
Admiral Arleigh Burke and Admiral Roy A. Gano
(Official Photograph US Navy)
Going to a football game with Admiral Burke was a trip. After morning cocktails at the Commandant’s quarters, we would find the Class of 1923’s tailgate, where we would eat and drink, and more cocktails would be consumed.

Entering the stadium, every other person would recognize the Admiral and stop him, as they needed to shake his hand or say hello to him. He would mumble about wanting to sit down and watch the game, but greeted each person with kindness and respect. We would miss the first quarter with this ritual, and it would start all over again when we got to our seats, where every midshipman, and Navy veteran, would stop by to pay their respects.

With half time approaching, I was excited to see the half time show! The parade of midshipmen never fails to impress. This was the first time I became painfully aware that I was more interested in the pomp and circumstance and uniform,  and the men in uniform, than becoming an officer in the United States Navy. With that realization, I knew then that I would have to go through the painful process of telling my parents, and grandmother, that going to Annapolis wasn’t in my heart.

Being A Gay Midshipman At Annapolis Didn't Sound Like Fun To Me

This realization created a lot of turmoil within myself. I felt awful about letting the people important to me down, and I never enrolled in the Naval Academy. The last time I visited Annapolis, was with my family. We were there with my grandmother at a football game, where the Academy was unveiling a monument and memorial, in honor of a group of men who lost their lives on a ship that my grandfather commanded.

My Grandfather never had an unkind word for anyone. Ever. His chief aide was black, when segregation was de rigueur, and the civil rights act was still a dream. He led by example, and always said you judge people by what’s in their heart, not what you see with your eyes.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Created A Toxic Work Environment

It’s only been as I got older, and matured, that I realized that I didn’t let my family down. The Navy and our armed forces let me and our country down.  The witch hunt created by Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, kept people in the closet, forced people to lie, and created an unhealthy environment within each branch of the military.

Institutionalized discrimination ruined people’s lives, and was a factor that kept me from continuing the family legacy.

Before President Clinton proposed DADT, lesbian and gay service members served with distinction. With a stroke of his pen, Clinton enshrined discrimination as the law of the land at the Department of Defense.

President Obama signs the Executive Order lifting Don't Ask Don't Tell

The Repeal Of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Makes Us A Better Country

Yesterday President Barack Obama received certification from the Secretary of Defense, and Admiral Mike Mullen, that the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would not affect military readiness. The President signed the certification, which signalled that the discriminatory law would be repealed in sixty days.

I’m certain that my Grandfather and namesake, Admiral Roy A. Gano, and my fill-in Granddad, Admiral Arleigh Burke, are smiling down on the President and Admiral Mullen, because they did the right thing, and followed their hearts, guaranteeing that in the future - anyone who wants to serve our country, can do so with dignity.

I know like me, that the old Admirals would be very proud.

straight talk in a queer world.            jiveinthe415.com

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Roy Steele

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