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Interview with Allen Irvin Bernstein [5/16/2012]

Joan Radner:

[Interview was transcribed by Lara Ballard] Today is Wednesday, February 19,2003, and this is Jo Radner. I'm interviewing Allen Bernstein in his home on Washington Avenue in Portland, Maine. I'd like to...whoop. [Tape restarts] I'd like to start out by asking you just to give me a little background about where you grew up and your family and all of that?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Grew up completely in Salem, Massachusetts, 1913-1929. Nashua, New Hampshire, I think was just my mother's going up, back to her parents, her mother's siblings for the third birth which was her last one, but then going back to Salem right after birth, I think as near as I can make out that was the story. My father and mother were living in Salem at the time. In Salem until mother died in 1928, my father died a year later, then after that, legally adopted and financially taken care of, and so on, by an uncle and aunt in Albany, New York, after Salem High School, Class of '29, one year at Tufts College, Bedford, Mass, '29 - '30, 3 years at Union College '29 to '33, U. Chicago, MA in history '33 - '34. '34 to '40, generally a period alternating unemployment and part-time odd jobs. Let's see, I think it was '36, was about 8 months or so, maybe 7 to 9 months, Washington, DC, paying then a bonus, which was the first one of the general civil service exams for bachelor's degree college graduates, whatever they called it at the time, civil service entry exam, but anyhow, they got a lot of the BA's from classes of '30 to '34 and that lasted for a while, say. Then back to Albany and through a relative ?all that stuff? again, a job, the Federal Writers Project, Boston, Mass. January 90, I'm sorry, January '38, August '39, architectural writer, historical writer for the city of Boston, Federal Writers' Guidebook, which of course never got published. In August '39, Congress said "Look after you've ?get on WPA? for 18 months, period, that stops it," so that I think stopped the Federal Writers' Project, then back to Albany which was legally home, and taken care of by the family, and enlisted in September '40. And I think that's a general, quick enough...

Joan Radner:

That was extraordinarily complete, thank you. So why did you decide to enlist?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Because I knew I'd be drafted, generally. Of course with Jewish background, definitely, we knew what side we were on.

Joan Radner:

Not much question about that.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes.

Joan Radner:

Can you tell me about your enlistment, and--?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

At the time I enlisted, it was still a-maybe like this fellow I met last month, I'll comment on-a before-draft status, I guess, say, draft law probably passed September 3, I'm guessing, September 6, we enlisted October 1, but the draft law probably didn't go into effect until November or December of '40, so for both of us that would have been a pre-draft, voluntary 3-year enlistment. Of course, the end of the 3 years September '43 well, you can't say, "Forget this 3-year business!" [Transcriber's note: Mr. Bernstein mentioned prior to the interview that he had recently returned from a cruise on which he had been placed with a roommate. This is the "fellow" referred to above.] So it was enlisting at that time for a specific job or place and I enlisted as, well, this was a list of places where you could volunteer for, so I said Staten Island, New York. There was a clerical position and a general maintenance of a plant office, and uh, drafting, answering the maintenance work order forms, that type of thing. Of course it turned out later on, of course...Oh yes, and of course, during that period, you get a chance to be sent to the QM school, and so I went down there for what was a 2-week or 3 week period I came back and... [inaudible] "Well, gee, that's a good place maybe to be permanently," so I put in for a transfer and got transferred there, which it seems in retrospect was not the smart thing to do, because after that, the head of the department I was in, in quartermaster office in Staten Island, managed to get everybody else and he himself transferred, I guess to Newfoundland or to Gander or someplace, and brought along 5 or 6 of my co-workers and got them all draft-...commissioned immediately. So I think I ran into one or two of them later in Virginia, oh yeah, after the event. Of course, I got in Virginia at the school, technical writer again and, writing manuals, the uh, and uh, but it was very hard to get for the school candidate, I mean a candidate for the school, for the officer candidate school, so...

Joan Radner:

So you weren't able to do that?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Sorry, that was a ?voluntary draft movement? on my part I thought prior but it turned out maybe not, it was not the smartest....Oh, I didn't know how things were going to work out.

Joan Radner:

When you enlisted were you aware that you were gay?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes, oh, of course.

Joan Radner:

And did they ask you?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No. I discovered later, on one of the forms, that the...I think there may have been a form in which "sexual background-normal" checked off automatically, but I was not asked.

Joan Radner:

I see.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No reference to it by the doctor at that time.

Joan Radner:

Do you think that your superiors suspected it?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No.

Joan Radner:

No. How did you feel about it, knowing that it was something you had to hide?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I figured "Oh boy, this is the best of all possible worlds." I am a subway soldier on weekends, but uh, you uh, a nickel ride from Staten Island to New York City, and good for casual pickups.

Joan Radner:

I see.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

There may have been one or two other individuals at Staten Island that may possibly have had a similar inclination. I don't know; I couldn't say definitely.

Joan Radner:

So you weren't aware of any other soldiers who were gay?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No, no.

Joan Radner:

There was no way to communicate that?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No, correct.

Joan Radner:

Right. Sometimes there are coded ways.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes, right, right. As I said there might have been one coded way, but I think that it was not a coded way, I think it was just that somehow or other there was a real youngest guy, say, of a whole group of people in their mid-20s, one guy who was 17 or 16 or whatever the....1 don't know how he got in, but everyone else sort of looked at him but I think it was his age, more differential between 24 and 16 or something more than anything else.

Joan Radner:

Right. So that was fairly comfortable while you were on Staten Island.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes, right.

Joan Radner:

What was it like when you went to Fort Lee?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Again, possibly with the difference that instead of the, quote, "best of all possible worlds" being a nickel ride away, it was 2-hour or one-hour ride, for, you got the bus from Camp Lee to Petersburg, Petersburg to Richmond, and you were in downtown Richmond.

Joan Radner:

I see.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

And the irrelevant to be gay experiences in downtown Richmond was walking into what I thought was a cheaper district theater, a movie house..."Oh, this is a colored house, ah!" Completely unconscious, but uh...

Joan Radner:

I see.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Not realizing there was such a thing as a colored line.

Joan Radner:

Was that not true at Fort Lee?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I don't think so, I wasn't conscious of it, I mean, we had no colored individuals in the camp.

Joan Radner:

Oh, you didn't.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I mean in the school, or the, in my group.

Joan Radner:

I see, I see. So what did you like about being in the Quartermaster's Corps? What are your memories from that you, that you keep?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Hard to say. When I said in the recent years, I've been a landlord with my two partners upst-, or my partner upstairs, we had a 2-family house, and learning the whole business of building maintenance, and that sort of...thinking of all the "Oh, gee, the refrigerator doesn't work," "Oh, the heating system needs this," you know, the calls from the officers' wives. And assignments, drafting. I think the first assignment when I got to Staten Island in September '40 was, I was replacing someone who was retiring, and he was in the middle of a project of doing the drafting of the plans or the drawings for the 1880, whenever it was, Staten Island buildings, the Fort Wads--, the original Fort Wadsworth structures, which I probably worked on for a few weeks 'till they got completed.

Joan Radner:

I see.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

It was that type of thing, very pleasant situation.

Joan Radner:

So what kinds of jobs did you find yourself doing throughout the war? If you could sort of tell me what you did at different times, I don't have much of a picture of that.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I think completely clerical. Maybe once or twice, yeah, "Oh yeah, this is the Army, we'll show you how to work a gun," but that was just a one afternoon interruption from the desk job, say, at the desk, primarily.

Joan Radner:

And how did you feel about that? Was that the good job for you?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I think so, yes. Excepting of course that I kept putting, quote, "putting in" as a, for me to be a school candidate, yeah, sure. Look, I enlisted in September '40. Maybe January '40, the Army had, say, 400,000, 500,000 people. September '40 we were up to 1 million, and all of a sudden we get to 16 million, 15 million, and everybody gets, oh yeah, half the, the looking at the event 50 years later, gee, these kids that I were, I grew up with, oh, he ended up as a 1st lieutenant! My brother, who got, who was 3 years older than I was, who was an accountant, got, either volunteered or drafted in '42 or '43, oh yes, so he ended up as a 1st lieutenant. He got sent to an accounting school, Florida in the summertime and Alaska in the wintertime, which it probably, ?setting the Army aside? but, but yeah, but I guess he was a 1st lieutenant. Then I think they had a practice of dischar-...promoting you one day before you were discharged, and uh, this fellow, this last 2 weeks confirmed, oh yeah, that this was a standard practice at the time, after the war in '45, '46,1 guess, whenever it was.

Joan Radner:

Why did they do that?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I think it was partly to persuade the guys not to stay in. Yeah, this fellow this last 2 weeks said that, yeah, that this was a practice that was, part of it was either an implied or standard promise that you would not reenlist.

Joan Radner:

Ah.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

That, uh, part of the last-minute promotion was that it made you ineligible for future duty.

Joan Radner:

What were the advantages of the last-minute promotion? What did you gain?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Just that you could always tell people you were a captain and some were a 1st lieutenant. This guy I think was a major for one day.

Joan Radner:

I see. But you were a staff sergeant for quite some time. That was not a promotion at the last minute.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No, no.

Joan Radner:

No. Why do you think you didn't get into the officer candidate school?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I think that the procedures were just, "Look we've gotta run this school, gee, we need these 300 characters to run this school." And of course then later I got into a separate allied thing, the manual-writing, the manual-writing was an assignment that apparently got assigned to us. So yeah, I got into that.

Joan Radner:

What kind of manuals did you write?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I'm trying to remember those. Don't ask me that one, I wouldn't know.

Joan Radner:

So you did some clerical work.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right.

Joan Radner:

And you wrote some manuals.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right.

Joan Radner:

That's pretty much the range of things that you were doing?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Except for, quote, as "staff sergeant," maybe I was also, to some..."in addition to his other duties," that expression, quote, in charge of the 60-man barracks, whatever that meant. "Gee, the 60-man barracks didn't pass that inspection"-all of a sudden the afternoon leaves are cancelled or something.

Joan Radner:

Did you ever have to do that?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I think that happened once in 3 years.

Joan Radner:

That couldn't make you too popular.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No.

Joan Radner:

What was it like to be Jewish in the Army at that time?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I don't think it made any difference.

Joan Radner:

Really.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I don't think there were any required religious services at all. Trying to remember the one big thing. Oh, and there's a few things that stick out, of course. The, FDR and the declaration of war, but for that I think we all, everybody at camp got called into the dining rooms, and turning on the radio, and FDR and the declaration of war, but that was about it.

Joan Radner:

I see. Was it hard for you or easy for you to keep track of what was happening to the Jews in Europe?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I don't think I was totally conscious of any details.

Joan Radner:

Really. But you said that that was one of the reasons why you enlisted.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Well generally, I'd say I was on the anti-German, British side, yes, probably.

Joan Radner:

Yeah. Right.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

At that...I'm trying to remember, am I getting things mixed up with Vietnam? When did Americans start going to Canada?

Joan Radner:

That was Vietnam.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yeah, but there was some Americans volunteering in the Canadian Army in'38, '39.

Joan Radner:

I believe so.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I think I may have half-tried that. Of course in '45, '46 I went up to Montreal to try to enlist there but, oh yeah, "The war's over, thank you, good-bye." Canadian enlistment after the British, European theater was ended, and the Pacific, was nil.

Joan Radner:

I see. But there wasn't very much talk about the, the Nazi-

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No, no.

Joan Radner:

-effort, and the Final Solution?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I don't think, I don't think the details were known, particularly.

Joan Radner:

I guess we know now that they were known by some people.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes. Right, yes.

Joan Radner:

But they were not being spread.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right.

Joan Radner:

Right. That's very interesting. So, you didn't, how were you aware of what was going on in the European and far Eastern theaters of the war?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Only through the press reports, or maybe like an Army newspaper.

Joan Radner:

You weren't in touch with anyone?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No, no.

Joan Radner:

Where was your brother stationed?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Uh, the only thing that I know is that he was probably drafted, volunteered before he was drafted, but the Florida and uh, OCS, and the Alaska assignment, were the only things that I would know about.

Joan Radner:

I see, I see. Well, that sounds like a more comfortable war than some.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

[Laughs] Yes, well, for example, the assigned two-week roommate I just had, after Barbados, said "Oh yes, I was here, I was here I was here," and so on, but one of the things that he mentioned also, Holocaust. Apparently he was in Germany, one of the first groups who went in Buchenwald. "I saw a," quote, I'll try not to break down, "I saw something that looked like a 6-foot statue. It was bodies...6 feet by 6 feet..." [Long pause.] ?I know after the event? [Pause]

Joan Radner:

No. That's a terrible thing...

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes.

Joan Radner:

...to have burned into your memory.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right.

Joan Radner:

Terribly real.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right.

Joan Radner:

No. Yes, well, we'll all, I think we all feel, feel the pain of that from different directions,

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes, right.

Joan Radner:

Yes, yes, yes.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Of course, you asked about what we knew. My grandmother died-the only grandparent I knew; the other 3 died before I was born. She died in '35. Came over from I'm guessing the Ukraine, may have had siblings, because there were stories, '33 to '35, question mark, of periodic letters from relatives, her siblings, and probably the Ukraine and getting somebody in Nashua to try to read them to us, but that's as far as we would have any personal family connections.

Joan Radner:

I see.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

That was probably the very first 2 or 3 years of the Nazi regime, '33, '35.

Joan Radner:

Right, right. When did your family come over to the United States?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Father was born in Europe '79, I'm guessing 1879. I'm guessing he came over 80, in the 80s. I think my mother's folks probably came over in the 1860s and there, on my mother's side there were 5 or 6 children, of the aunts and uncles and my mother, and two...I think only the oldest was born on the other side, like my mother, born probably '82, '83 in the U.S. So they probably all came over, I'm guessing, between 1860 and'85.

Joan Radner:

I see, I see. How did they wind up in Nashua, New Hampshire?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

My...apparently that generation, the Polish or, or Polish-German, Russian-Jewish groups, that-they became my family-started in at different areas of northern New England. One of my, my father kept insisting that they landed in Lowell, Mass. And I kept insisting "That's impossible, you could never have landed in Lowell Mass!" and he kept insisting "Oh yes, we landed in Lowell, Mass," but uh, mother was born in Troy, New York. The, some of her siblings I think, were born all through New England. Had an uncle I lived with in Albany, New York. They lived for a while in Hoosick Falls, New York, between Albany, north of Albany, where there was a quote "family store," there was a family business as well, small retail in town, stores.

Joan Radner:

Right. That's very interesting. There isn't a military tradition in your family.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Oh no, no.

Joan Radner:

So you were perhaps the first to....

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes.

Joan Radner:

...voluntarily to go to war.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right, yes, right.

Joan Radner:

I see, I see. How did your uncle and aunt feel about your enlisting?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I think they were glad to get rid of me. There was also a financial deal from my parental estate, which went to, quote, "their business." And I think that oh, yeah, the, let's see, they had 3 kids and my brother and I, so they had 5 children at one time, and we were all in our mid-20s, and later 20s, early 30s..."Gee what are these people doing during the Depression, it's a war?"

Joan Radner:

Right. I see. So you fulfilled a number of, of needs when you...

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes.

Joan Radner:

... when you enlisted?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes.

Joan Radner:

Right. There must be a story about the end of your service in the Army. I don't know if you want to tell it, but, I'd like to...

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

All right.

Joan Radner:

And, and...

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

So it was standard practice for to go in-standard practice for me and for at least a few other people that I met during that period-to go into Richmond on the weekend for a pickup. There was one guy I met 2 or 3 times, it was real interesting, because somehow or other, he had met a Richmond young lady, working, a secretary, probably at some office, and she had said "Oh yes, won't you stay overnight in my house?" And so he stayed overnight at her house, and then he got me to stay overnight at her house, and then the two of us would sleep together, and I don't think she was even conscious that we were both gay. But she was the Richmond hostess for weekends to two guys in service.

Joan Radner:

I see.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

And so, so, everybody has quote, "weird stories," yes, but...

Joan Radner:

Was he in the Quartermaster Corps as well?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No, no, no, he was in some other corps. So one weekend outside that, yeah, there was one character at the Fort Lee, and a couple of younger twins, maybe early 20s, question mark, one of whom I was attracted to, and I said, ?"Can I get.."? or "How about, I'm going to some visiting Russian ballet or something, you know, in Richmond for this weekend?" So "Sure, sure." We went to the top of the Richmond theater, whatever it was, the Russian ballet, 6 to 9 pm. And somehow or other he was sort of suspicious of me, 'cause I said something about staying over night, "No thank you, I'll take the bus back." So I went "uh, uh, what to do," looked around, saw a sleeping sailor-there was a guy sleeping at the USO-and said "Do you want to share a room?" He said "Sure." So, I got into bed, I said something, "Well, you're attractive." He got dressed and left. And I fell asleep. Two hours later, the door, bang on the door, "These are the MPs!" He had filed a statement,... an affidavit, I said "Sure, I'm gay" and the roof fell in.

Joan Radner:

Oh.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Of course this was January '44. I guess until December '43 there may have been no Army, quote, "official policy." Then in December '43 it was bad discharge.

Joan Radner:

Ah.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

So I was one of the, quote, "first cases" whatever it was, at least for the Camp Lee authorities.

Joan Radner:

Were these the so-called blue discharges?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes, right.

Joan Radner:

I see. That must have been incredibly painful.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Well, the aftermath, without realizing what it meant, yeah, right, yeah.

Joan Radner:

What was it like? Were you, were you put in jail?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

[Laughs] That's part of the additional, humorous...not humorous, what's the right word, sordid...Saturday night, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. I was in the Richmond theater with the better upper-middle class watching the Russian ballet, and that night, midnight to 5, 6 a.m. I was in the Richmond jail. Would you say, a little change, say?

Joan Radner:

That would be different.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes. Right. Of course the Richmond jail was just where the MPs would stick their suspects from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., I guess.

Joan Radner:

And then they would come back the next day?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

To pick me up to drive me down from Richmond to Petersburg.

Joan Radner:

Hold on a second, [changes tapes] Um, so then they took you back to the base?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right.

Joan Radner:

To Fort Lee?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right.

Joan Radner:

And what were the procedures like? What did they do?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

The first thing, of course, was, in at the Camp Lee stockade, forced relations with one guard, a second guard coming in and my saying "nix nix nix," and then the next day, on one hour's notice, a special...or the day after, on one hour notice, or 2 hour notice, they, you were being brought before a board, and then the board hearing, and then transfer from the board to the psych ward. I sat in the psych ward for 3 weeks while the paperwork got forwarded. The only thing about the psych ward I remember particularly was a Rorschach test. That and that it was the, quote, the "saner nuts."

Joan Radner:

The-?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Saner nuts.

Joan Radner:

Oh, yes.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Everybody who was, uh, I got the impression that if any serviceman got into disagreement with a superior, the superior could say "Let's call him psycho and get rid of him." I think there was one guy whose chief fault was that he punned too much.

Joan Radner:

Ah.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I never could find out what the other people were in for. But nobody else seemed to be in for being gay. None of them seemed particularly psychopathic, should I say, or--? So we were the, quote, "saner nuts," diagnosed as a way to discharge.

Joan Radner:

There was a large ward where people were confined?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yeah, about 20, 30 people.

Joan Radner:

Did they know what you were in for?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Oh, sure.

Joan Radner:

How did they react?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

The "they" meaning?

Joan Radner:

Your, your colleagues in the ward.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Oh, I don't think the colleagues knew. I don't think anybody knew what anybody was in for, specifically.

Joan Radner:

I see, I see. So then you received a blue discharge.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes.

Joan Radner:

And you were out?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I was out. This was the, driven to the Camp Lee gate, this is the Camp Lee bus to town, you know, 10 dollars to get back to town, to get back to Albany, New York or whatever it was, and uh, good-bye, "Officer on duty, this man is a civilian, do not let him back in." [Sighs] So...

Joan Radner:

How did you feel?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I wouldn't know. I felt, I'm just guessing, I wonder, as I say, maybe to a certain extent, should I say, lucky that it wasn't worse? Maybe the way I'm feeling now after that, gee, I just had 2 free nights in a Philadelphia hotel courtesy of USAIRways, but I had, there were 2 ladies that were coming in, "Gee we slept on the chairs in the Philadelphia airport for 2 nights." So maybe I felt somewhat the same way.

Joan Radner:

I see. Yes, that's right. Well, what was the aftermath like for you?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

All right, so I went back to Boston, where I had moved '38, '39, got a job for a few months as a...What's the name of the outfit? Was it Raytheon? I don't remember, but one of the early ?radio discharge? things, I don't know, paperwork or drafting or something, and running into an ex-roommate, gay fellow, and of course, he just [gestures, shrugs] at this point we won't ask anything. "See, I was hard of hearing," and got enlisted probably the day after drafting, "but then got discharged because I was hard of hearing, ear trouble, but I've got an honorable discharge and you haven't." This was, it was '45, '46, something like that, '44, '45. Then another job in Boston, the first one petered out, I don't know why. I realize I was ?getting doorways entered?, and from '44, '45, '46, assistant steward at a Sheraton chain hotel, which meant I was the character who would book the weddings. Don't ask how I got that work, probably just answering a newspaper ad. That was what they needed, or they were looking for, and then, I'd see that, uh, "Gee they're opening all these colleges, so I'll file"...branches... in New England, the federal aid to...Colleges were all aggie colleges, known as; all of a sudden after World War II they became, quote, "state universities." There was a two-year, a temporary branch of College of Amherst, U. Mass. So I was in that along with a half dozen other, well, along with the rest of their staff and faculty and so on.

Joan Radner:

So you were teaching there.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yeah, right, of course.

Joan Radner:

You wouldn't have been eligible for the G.I. Bill.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Oh, of course not. That was the, that was another thing, you asked about after WWII and the GI bill, discovering that I was in eligible, discovering "No, thank you, you're an outside civilian, what are you even doing here?" Except for insurance purposes, for some reason, don't ask why that was. Oh yeah, well...Then in '46, June or July, I was probably-'46, okay, so I was 33 years old-so I met this nice middle-class Jewish girl from the Boston area, through one of the Nashua, New Hampshire cousins, and we clicked. It was terrific. We were both products of the 30s, in our own early 30s. Quote, "I'm gay. Will you marry me?" "Yes." 45 years later she died.

Joan Radner:

45? My goodness. And you were married for 45 years to her.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yeah. So for the first half-dozen years, gay weekends away, then, quote, "I'm being a good father," and quote "coming out" to the kids only after she died, one of them saying, quote, she "half-suspected it." Maybe all the mail, my, quote, "war with the Army," '46 to '81, appeal one, appeal two, appeal three, and the "No thank you, no thank you." Maybe I left it sloppily around the house, or maybe I was a first member of, what was it? Mattachine, the first gay organization.

Joan Radner:

Yes, the Mattachines.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

First gay organization, maybe '78 or 81, leaving all that mail around the house, Gail or Leslie, I don't know.

Joan Radner:

I thought you said that she knew when you married her.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Oh, yes, she knew, but I think the...

Joan Radner:

But the kids didn't. I see.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No.

Joan Radner:

You eventually had your discharged reversed. [Bernstein gets out a file of paperwork and shows Radner some pages.]

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

In 81... reversed. One of these things here. Okay, take this one here. 2 February 44, down here, date '81, ...doesn't say '81 anywheres on this.

Joan Radner:

And this is your certification of military service.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right. And this is '44, this ones dated down here '89.

Joan Radner:

This one's dated in '92.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Okay this one year is the one I think that I...

Joan Radner:

Oh yeah, honorable discharge.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

This one down here it says dated '89, what is it?

Joan Radner:

Where are my spectacles?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

May '80, anyhow it was after '44.

Joan Radner:

Yes, yes, it says May '50, you're right. So the certificates of honorable discharge, retroactive to February 1944, are forms that were actually created in 1950. [Laughs]

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right, yes, right.

Joan Radner:

That must have been a long, hard process for you. 14

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Well, I kept appealing and appealing, didn't know any better, say, after the first 2 or 3.

Joan Radner:

Well, why not? You got a good conduct award, you told me, you're obviously a very good soldier.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Oh yes. Well, because the other left...maybe not specifically for the veterans things, that...yeah, after WWII and the first discharge things, I discovered blood donations. And I went "Oh boy this is a reward maybe this is a special...veterans blood donations" or something. So, I, at the time up to 110 blood donations, probably most of them 3 or 4 times a year at the local Augusta hospital, and so on and so on, then moving from Augusta to Portland. "Well, let's see, if you're over 65 you have to have a doctor's certificate, or they won't take you," so I called over to the MD that we went to...uh, "This guy is gay," Red Cross "put him on your permanent"-Red Cross, that was, "permanent blacklist." After your 110th donation. And of course, believing in a good cause, this was, I moved from Portland to Augusta, here, in '78,1 kept working in Red Cross blood donations. I was the guy who after coffee, what do you, or after the donation take this guy over give him a drink yeah put up your head, yeah, if he feels faint. So that was me for 10 years. Volunteer of the year for '95 or '96, but on the blacklist, of course, from donating myself.

Joan Radner:

Oh, dear, well...

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

That's life.

Joan Radner:

You have a lot of courage, I would say.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Well, ?this stupid decisions/positions?

Joan Radner:

No, I don't think I'd accept that. So when did you begin to appeal the discharge?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Pardon?

Joan Radner:

When did you begin to appeal the discharge?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

First time it was possible, probably, I'm guessing, was G.I. Bill '44 or '45? Or '40, or, in the first group...

Joan Radner:

I think it was'45.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

The first time, the first time would probably be '46, would be the first time. I have another file like this but it's in the other room, and I think didn't get it out.

Joan Radner:

That's okay. So you began to appeal right away.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right.

Joan Radner:

And what response did you get?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

"We agree with the first discharge." That was what they said, after the... "No change in legal status, no change in facts," or "no change in legal basis." And so on.

Joan Radner:

What kind of presentation did you have to make? Did you have to appear in person, or was there paperwork?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Number one was an appeal in person. Washington, DC, some Naval office outside of the Reflecting Pool near the Lincoln Memorial. But after that, I think appeals 2 and 3, or 2, 3 and 4,1 think, were all by mail or maybe with a local...no, I don't think there was even any local group. I think the one that finally went through was with a local group, maybe with the Red Cross, I'm not sure.

Joan Radner:

Why do you think it finally went through?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I can't really say.

Joan Radner:

You don't have to say.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Okay, no. '44 through ex-80, how long I was out of the Army? '80 to '82, "Well, maybe the past ones might be, maybe, we may have a change of policy." '82 to '94, "Well, no, they're out again but maybe" or something, then of course the whole Clinton thing of "Yeah, well maybe, but no it's up to...No, in practice it's still out again."

Joan Radner:

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right. Yeah, okay, so, how this 80, of course, it doesn't here but it...1 think the papers I sent down to them, there was, part of the '81-six pages or so-had a big deal about "Psychiatry has changed between 1935, or 1946 and 1981, and now we know better" and so on and so on. Gee, what happened in '82? We don't now, in '83, whenever they went back again. But as of '81, quote, "we know better."

Joan Radner:

So you, you chose the right moment, finally.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Well, I just hit it at a, be it number 4 or 5, and the right moment of' 81, '82 just coincided.

Joan Radner:

Wow, yes.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Oh, yes, of course, and after that I looked into a couple of these things, and uh...veterans' things. Well let's see, house loan expired in '40, in '51 or '52....Oh no, I think house loan was the only thing I was eligible for but by that time I had bought the house without the VA. I think house loan was the only thing I was eligible for.

Joan Radner:

I see. So you were able to get a VA loan?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No, no. I think I was eligible but by that time my wife and I already settled in.

Joan Radner:

Right, I see. Well it's kind of an Alice in Wonderland, isn't it?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes, right.

Joan Radner:

Yes, very strange. Well, tell me what else you would like to, like to say about your involvement with the American military. Is there anything that I haven't asked you that you'd like to--?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I guess that I was either lucky ~ completely stateside or else-as an ex-statistician, everybody traveled so many thousand miles-I was probably the one who traveled a minimum number of miles. Albany, New York, to Virginia and back to either New York City or Boston, as compared to the character who, from Pittsburgh to Florida to Barbados to Germany back to Pittsburgh, or compared to my brother's, Albany to Florida to Alaska to Albany.

Joan Radner:

Yes.

Joan Radner:

Yeah, Sasson.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Was it Brookes, maybe? Poets who got killed in '40... 1917, 1918,

Joan Radner:

Wilfred Owen?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yeah. Not to mention all the guys who died in '45, '46.

Joan Radner:

Yes.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right.

Joan Radner:

So you finally feel fortunate.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Lucky, you're right.

Joan Radner:

Despite a few, a few bumps along the way.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right.

Joan Radner:

Gosh. Did you did you spend the rest of your working career teaching in Amherst?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Clerical in Boston, until I got married at which time I was a teacher, U. Mass temporary branch, after that the temporary, well, 4 year registrar, assistant for let me think, what else, history, New England College, Henniker, New Hampshire....Then a couple of years in SLVTI, vo-tech at academic-related subjects, quote, "This is a vocational school, gee, you're too academic for us, we think, good-bye" after two years. I don't play office politics well. I've learned that office politics is very, very important, I would say. I keep taking courses at the ?U.S. Amhill? State University One of the courses I took recently, real interesting, the, a couple of points that the younger students, girls in their 15, well, 18 to -25-year-old age group were thinking about work situations. Standard practice, I don't know if the textbooks, vocational, occupational things tell you. What is important is office politics, knowing who to approach and how to approach them, what and why. The other thing that everybody said, it really impressed me because I've run into it ?. You can get from A to B by any one of 10 different ways. Say you're a waiter like I was and like the people serving us at, on American Line, you take the food out of the kitchen, you place it on the other person's table, you could do it by steps this way or you could do it by steps this way. [Gestures first in a circle to the left, then to the right.] Well I used to do it this way, the rule is you have to do it this way, and how you do you get around it, or what, the boss says you have to do it this way, if you do it this other way you get fired. Okay look it's a microstep, we don't give a damn how you do it, let's get the food onto the kitchen table. Now these 10 different people saying whether it was a hospital, whether it was a social service agency, the smallest level jobs, 2 ways you can do them, or 3 ways, and the different ways the bosses are ?self-taught?

Joan Radner:

Wow.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Real interesting, I thought that was just something unique that I had run into, but oh no, this was standard practice, apparently.

Joan Radner:

My goodness, my goodness. Have you stayed in touch with anyone from your military days?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No.

Joan Radner:

And you, you cut ties with them right away, when you-?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Oh, they cut ties with me right away, yes.

Joan Radner:

Well, have you ever joined any veterans' organizations?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Only the gay veterans. I think I looked into the, let's see, VFW, I think, required that you have some overseas service. I think the Legion said "no thank you" maybe at once, maybe it was the early 1950s, I don't know.

Joan Radner:

Because of the discharge.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yeah.

Joan Radner:

Yeah, right. Do you know any other gay veterans who married?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

No.

Joan Radner:

No. I know that, that does happen, a fair amount, yes.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Say, through the various senior gay organizations-there's one in the Boston area-and there's a geriatric volunteer endowment Tufts nutrition which [puts you in] quote "best hotel in town" 13th floor room with TV and food and meals, and no work except [inaudible.] You take it once in the morning and they give you a check when you leave after, it's just the other way around.

Joan Radner:

What was this?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Boston Nutrition Lab at Tufts, nutrition research lab at Tufts. You just have to eat their food, is the only catch. "We're testing for some breakfast cereal additive, we're testing for this or that."

Joan Radner:

My goodness.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

But say, Saturdays free, running into a...volunteering, showing up at a Boston senior gays group, and I guess marriage among gay men, very common, right, yes.

Joan Radner:

Women, too.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes.

Joan Radner:

Speaking personally.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Yes.

Joan Radner:

Yes. If you could change the Army's policy now...

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

If I could change what?

Joan Radner:

If you could change the Army's policy, towards lesbian, gay servicemembers, how would you change it?

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Of course not asking the question, and sociology of, sexual sociology of course degree, I would say the Army attitude seems to be, of course other than the attitude particularly seemed to be, of course on a weekend away you're going to have sex, and of course we don't give a damn about bastards...on the outside...that, the old official Army policy, well, marriages and births, say, of Americans overseas in Europe...Gee, read the Halifax guidebook, it says Halifax received in '45, '46 a million interfai- wives of overseas marriages and their kids, the Canadian-American armies, sex is quote natural and expected, except provided it isn't homo. ?Provided it's quote, not your whatever...right?

Joan Radner:

Right.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

?Whatever you might be.?

Joan Radner:

Right.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

I would say either, for the Army, answering your question, "Look, we don't give a damn about it," completely devoid of it, or else they say "Okay, so we won't give out the condoms." I think on one weekend assignment, maybe in Quartermaster Corps in, I'm sorry, maybe in Staten Island, maybe at that time we still had, "You have one week off, go home to Albany, and here are 2 or 3 condoms," which of course went into my pocket, were never used, but that was standard Army policy. I'll tell you, military and sex outside work, look, either completely disinterested or 100 percent neutral.

Joan Radner:

Right.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right.

Joan Radner:

I wish that, too.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Right.

Joan Radner:

Well, gosh, thank you so much for talking to me and for, for putting this kind of very important experience into the record.

Allen Irvin Bernstein:

Thank you.

Joan Radner:

I appreciate it.

 
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