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Military lessons learned and relearned

Tuesday’s Opinion page will carry a clarification of Screenwriter David Freed’s Sunday op-ed piece, which first ran in The Los Angeles Times, examined the thinking behind such military decorations as the Congressional Medal of Honor.

In pointing out the influence individual commanders with personal biases have over who gets and doesn’t get a medal, Freed commented: “Witness the fact that not a single African-American soldier received the Medal of Honor in World War II, even though thousands saw combat.”

A couple of readers called to remind us that Vernon Baker, who was living in St. Maries, Idaho, at the time, received the Medal of Honor in 1997 for his heroics as an Army lieutenant in Italy in 1945. Indeed, the Medal of Honor was awarded to Baker and, posthumously, to six other black World War II veterans on July 13, 1997 — not “in” World War II, but half a century after.

So the column was accurate, if incomplete. In fact, the commentary and its subject were incredibly timely, coming on the weekend when the U.S. Senate sealed congressional approval of legislation repealing the odious “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military only as long as they lie about it.

Prior to the early ‘90s, it was believed that of all the wars in which America fought since the Congress Medal of Honor was created in 1861, World War II was the only one in which no black service member received it. In 1996, the news magazine, U.S. News & World Report, identified seven black soldiers whose service records would seem to qualify them for the medal, but a team of military historians was unable to locate any evidence that any of the seven — or any other African-American — had been nominated.  

There was unresolved speculation as to why, but it would be hard not to blame the bigotry and political tension that were prevalent in that period.  Blacks were allowed to fight, in segregated units under white commanders, but their gallantry was not deemed worthy of recognition.

Similarly,  thousands of gays and lesbians have served, many with distinction, only to be turned out because they owned up to their sexual orientation.

Today we recognize the error of how blacks were treated in a segregated military structure. Yet, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly continues to provoke ludicrous assertions that it would undermine military cohesion and effectiveness.

How long will it be before we look back on 2010 and recognize how mistaken we were?


Idaho Officer Applauds DADT Repeal

Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach of Mountain Home Air Force Base told the Statesman Monday, “I’m doing great,” after Saturday’s Senate vote to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Fehrenbach was in the Senate chamber as the votes were counted. “It was overwhelming,” he said. “I was very emotional.” Fehrenbach will appear on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show at 7 p.m. Monday with three other gay servicemembers and a live audience. Fehrenbach first appeared with Maddow in 2008 and became one of the most prominent faces in the fight for repeal. On Tuesday, he’ll be at the ceremony at the U.S. Capitol where the repeal bill will officially be sent to President Obama. He also hopes to be at the subsequent signing ceremony at the White House/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here. (AP file photo/Ted S. Warren: Margaret Witt and Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach leave federal courthouse in Tacoma Sept. 24. Both fought their discharge from the service for being gay.)

Question: Were you surprised that Congress repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” this year?

Minnick, Simpson Split On ‘Don’t Ask’

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed an amendment to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act which would repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuals serving in the armed forces.  Idaho’s House delegation vote was split; Congressman Walt Minnick voted to repeal it, while Congressman Mike Simpson voted to keep it in place/Jay Howell, Idaho Reporter. More here.

Question: Which Idaho representative voted the way you wanted?

Pentagon OKs Openly Gay Recruits

The Pentagon has advised recruiting commands that they can accept openly gay and lesbian recruit candidates, given the recent federal court decision that bars the military from expelling openly gay service members, according to a Pentagon spokeswoman. The guidance from the Personnel and Readiness office was sent to recruiting commands on Friday, according to spokeswoman Cynthia Smith. The recruiters were told that if a candidate admits he or she is openly gay, and qualify under normal recruiting guidelines, their application can be processed/Adam Levine, CNN. More here.

Question: Do you support this change in Pentagon policy?

Judge reinstates Witt

Margaret Witt, center, and her partner, Laurie McChesney, right, walk with Sher Kung, left, an attorney with the ACLU, near the federal courthouse in Tacoma, on Monday, Sept. 20, 2010.

TACOMA — Spokane resident Margaret Witt may be the best evidence that “Don’t Ask Don’t tell doesn’t work, a federal judge said today. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton, in a sometimes emotional ruling from the bench, said Witt can be reinstated in the Air Force Reserves despite the military’s ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military.

Leighton ruled that Witt’s rights were violated and that evidence presented during a six day trial showed her unit, the 446th Air Evacuation Squadron did not suffer any loss of cohesion or morale from her service or other known or suspected homosexuals among its ranks. On the contrary, morale dropped after she was suspended and later discharged for being a lesbian.

That overrides the general reasons set down by Congress and adopted by the military to keep openly gay members from serving, he said. Jim Camden, SR More here.


Idaho case challenges ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

A lawsuit challenging the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law regarding gays in the military has been filed in federal court in Boise, seeking a temporary restraining order to keep a decorated Iraq veteran from being discharged from the military, and asking to declare the law unconstitutional. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

House votes to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell”

WASHINGTON — The House has voted to repeal the 1993 law known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” and allow gays to serve openly in the military.

The House vote tonight came several hours after the Senate Armed Services Committee took the same course and approved a measure repealing the policy that prohibits service by gays who openly acknowledge their sexual orientation.

The House was a victory for President Barack Obama, who has pushed for a change in military policy, and for gay rights group who have made an end to “don’t ask, don’t tell” their top legislative priority.

Republicans voted overwhelmingly against lifting the ban, saying Congress should wait until the Pentagon completes a review of the impact of a repeal on military life and readiness.