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Interview with Franklin E. Kameny [1/8/2003]

Joel Westbrook:

Rolling.

Lara Ballard:

Okay. Frank

Franklin E. Kameny:

Now, is this all being recorded somewhere as I talk, or what?

Lara Ballard:

Yes, yes, it's being recorded right here. We'll make a copy for you.

Franklin E. Kameny:

All right. All right, I just didn't, I didn't know how, how, what the, what the nuts and bolts were. All right.

Lara Ballard:

All right. This is an interview with Franklin E. Kameny, born May 21, 1925, who resides at 5020 Cathedral Avenue, Washington, DC ...

Franklin E. Kameny:

Northwest Washington, DC.

Lara Ballard:

Right. My name is Lara Ballard. I am the Veterans History Project Coordinator for American Veterans for Equal Rights, formerly Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Veterans of America ...

Franklin E. Kameny:

Which I hope they will turn it back to.

Lara Ballard:

Right. [Laughter in background] We've had this discussion.

Franklin E. Kameny:

This is a closet-y name. [Laughs]

Lara Ballard:

Okay, I'm conducting this interview at my residence, 1239 Vermont Avenue, Apartment 709, also Washington, D.C. Joel Westbrook, President of Alexandria Productions, is filming this interview, and Gigi Sohn is also in attendance. The date is January 8, 2003, and it is 8:20 p.m. First of all, in which war did you serve? [Kameny looks at his watch.] Oh, is it not 8:20?

Franklin E. Kameny:

Yeah. [Laughs] World War II.

Lara Ballard:

Okay, which branch?

Franklin E. Kameny:

I was in the Army.

Lara Ballard:

Right. And what was your rank?

Franklin E. Kameny:

Private first class.

Lara Ballard:

And in what theater did you serve?

Franklin E. Kameny:

Uh, Europe. European.

Lara Ballard:

Okay. So let's ... When did you enlist? Or did you, were you drafted?

Franklin E. Kameny:

No, I enlisted on May 18, 1943, 3 days before my 18th birthday, because at that time the Army had a program called the Army Specialized Training Program, ASTP, under which they would, after your basic training was done, they would send you to colleges and universities for training in engineering or other such types of specialized training for use in the Army. But in order to be eligible for that, you had to enlist, not be drafted.

Lara Ballard:

I see.

Franklin E. Kameny:

So it, it sounded like something very good, which hopefully might keep me out of lethal combat. And so I enlisted. At that time I was living in, with my family in New York City, burro ugh of Queens, and I enlisted and was ... I was in college at that point and went to summer school for that summer, and then was called to active duty on September 20, 1943.

Lara Ballard:

Okay. Now, at the time of your enlistment, do you recall being asked about...

Franklin E. Kameny:

Oh, yes. Because I remember very much, uh, mentioning to my mother just exactly this, when I came back and told her about signing up, and I said, "There was one question in there," we didn't explore it, and then the question didn't come up outside the family at all, but there was one question which said, "Do you have homosexual tendencies?" That was the way they worded it, and that to my best of recollection is a verbatim statement of what the question was. And, uh, knowing fully well that I did, I said "No." And, oh, and that was the end of the issue for the remainder of my Army career.

Lara Ballard:

I see. So you were out to your mother.

Franklin E. Kameny:

No, I was not. Oh no, that was just in casual discussion. No, I wasn't out to myself at that point! I mean, I knew very well the kinds of things that I thought about, and the kinds of fantasies I had, and what I was attracted to, but keep in mind this was nineteen- FORTY -three, not twenty hundred and three. It was a very different cultural era, and I was slow on the uptake even within myself. I didn't really come out until almost a dec- ... until over a decade later-I came out on my 29th birthday-in any real, meaningful, active sense. This isn't, isn't to say there weren't incidents earlier. There were. And I had had some experiences with a very close friend of mine who, in the end, was not gay, back when we were camp counselors, and I, we were 15 or 16. So there was, there was ferment there but nothing at all real.

Lara Ballard:

So did you have any misgivings about answering that, the question that way?

Franklin E. Kameny:

No, because I, I knew what, what the culture of the day demanded and what the Army demanded and what you had to do if you wanted to go anywhere so I said "No."

Lara Ballard:

Okay! So then you went to basic training.

Franklin E. Kameny:

Yes, at Fort Benning, Georgia. As I said, we had to report on the 20th of September and, let me see, they took us out to Camp Upton, Long Island, and then shipped us down to Fort Benning, Georgia, where I remained for substantially the remainder of the year. I don't remember the exact date that we finished up, but somewhere ... It could have been as early as November, but I don't think it was, probably in December.

Lara Ballard:

Okay. Do you remember anything about basic training, anything stand out?

Franklin E. Kameny:

Just, uh, basic training of the day, all the things that you did for 13, 13 weeks of basic training. Somewhere back home I have a little diary listing what happened each week. And, uh, the usual things, you learned to fire rifles, you learned to fire machine guns, you learned to fire all sorts of things, you mar- you go on endless hikes, carrying heavy packs, all the things that basic trainees do. I, I suppose there's a lot more technology connected with it today, but I have a feeling if I went back to it today a lot of it would be extraordinarily similar to exactly what I went through then.

Lara Ballard:

And then, you were still participating in this program, this ... ?

Franklin E. Kameny:

No no no, that was to come. And it was scheduled to come. And so when the basic training was over, I was shipped, we were shipped out to various places, I was shipped out to the University of Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. And, matter of fact, put us up very nicely. I, I had a room with either one or two other soldiers in the Sigma Ki fraternity house, and they had people divided up into mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and, uh, what was the third one? Um ... what other kind of engineering is there?

Gigi Sohn:

Civil.

Franklin E. Kameny:

Civil! Yeah, you're right! [Laughs] Yes. And I went into mechanical engineering. And we were very busy with that, on into the winter, the bitter Midwest winter, and I remember-keep in mind, this is out, things are very level there. I used to say you'd look out the window, and the greatest difference in altitude that you could see, for as far as the eye could see out to the horizon, was the distance from the top to the bottom of a plow furrow. [Laughs] And that's how flat it was. And, uh, then, vaguely February-again, some, sometimes some of these dates I remember with precision, others are a little vague; it was vaguely February, I don't think it was as late as March, although it could have been-Congress cancelled the program. The rug was just pulled out from under us, and so one day I was sleeping in the Sigma Ki fraternity house, for 2 more days or maybe 3 I was on a troop train headed south, and the next day I was sleeping on a, in a tent in a, in a sodden field in Louisiana, at what was then Camp, it's now Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Lara Ballard:

And so what were you assigned to do then?

Franklin E. Kameny:

I was, they assigned us to the 8th Armored Division, and the 58th ... Oh, I should have brought it along! I have it at home, I only got it last weekend-a book with a whole picture of my company, including me, from 1944, and uh, but, urn, anyway, I was assigned to the 58th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 8th Armored Division as an 81 millimeter mortar crewman. And that's what I remained for the rest of the war.

Lara Ballard:

So this was precisely what you were hoping to avoid by enlisting into this .. ,

Franklin E. Kameny:

Exactly. [Laughter in background]

Lara Ballard:

... special program?

Franklin E. Kameny:

Exactly. Exactly. And so we then proceeded to go through advanced training, all through the remainder of the spring and the summer and into the fall, down there in Louisiana, and then mid-October, late October, they-troop trains were slow, it must have been mid-October-they shipped us up to New York for embarkation over, I think we ended up just briefly in Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and uh, then we got on a ship on the piers on the Hudson River, New York, Manhattan, and set sail. Interestingly, my mother, at that time she, well, like many, many, many women of the day, had volunteered for the Red Cross and all that, and she knew, she had been able to find out when I was leaving, so as we got to the ship, and we had our great big heavy knapsacks on and all, and marched up, and there was my mother giving out doughnuts to everybody. [Laughter] So, up onto the ship, it was a former luxury liner, a white, a Cunard White Star luxury liner called the Samaria, and-made over into a troop ship--and so I don't know what the [inaudible] were, was originally, but it was just row on row on row on row of hammocks, and we each had our hammock, and as the ship went along through the ocean, the hammocks swayed back and forth and--or the ship swayed and we didn't, however you choose to conceptualize it-and we headed out. We set sail on Monday, the day before election day that year. We learned one day out that Roosevelt had been re-elected for his fourth term. So that's why I know exactly when we set sail. And of course there were German subs all over the place so we zig-zagged. It took us 3 weeks to cross the Atlantic. We zig-zagged and dropped depth charges continually, and it was a long, slow trip, which we hoped we would all survive and we did. And, oh, oh, I had always been susceptible to car sickness when I was younger, and oh, I got seasick. It was awful. But that passed, I mean, in 3 weeks a lot of things go, and once I got past it, there was a feeling of wellbeing that was really quite perceptible. And ... I don't know if I'm telling you too much detail in all this or not. So we landed at Southampton. I guess it must have been around, past the middle of November, and were sent up to a huge tent camp in an area, an extension of an old time British military barracks area called Tidworth Barracks, right at the edge of, in Hampshire County, right at the edge of Salisbury Plain, just a few miles away from Stonehenge. The moment I learned that, I knew where I was gonna go the first day we had off! And I did. And, we stayed there through the rest of November and all of December. Urn, we did, I did, whenever we got leave I went into London. There wasn't any opportunity, except for local, local trips near, like Stonehenge, there wasn't much opportunity for any, any, much other travel. However, a lot of the people who lived in the area did extend us invitations for Christmas dinner. And so I and one other friend of mine-the one person in all ofthis that I have kept up with; I was over at his house out in Falls Church-he's not gay-last Saturdayyuh, he and I had dinner in this bitterly cold, unheated, large mansion. We sat around with shawls around us, but, uh, it was a pleasant Christmas dinner by, by someone who meant very well. He kept up with this, this friend of mine kept up with her for many years thereafter.

Lara Ballard:

Really. So the English were generally very hospitable?

Franklin E. Kameny:

Oh, oh yes. Oh, yeah, to the extent we interacted with them. Again, there wasn't that much chance. Certainly, when we went into London. Oh yeah, I well remember, the British [sic] were sending the V2s over at that point, they used ... Sometimes you'd hear them, they sounded like a motorboat, chugging by overhead, and I remember in London ... What's the name ofthe big park there? [Inaudible background comment] Yes! And I remember one night in London in Hyde Park, and just looking out over as much of London as you could see, and seeing these V2 bombs come in, here, here, like meteors across the sky, but I mean, not quite the same. Just at random, just dropping on London and exploding. And uh, oh, meanwhile, I don't remember the exact date because it wasn't my battle to be there, but somewhere toward the very, very end ofthe year, the Battle of the Bulge bulged. [Laughter in background] And they immediately, they needed troops, so they rushed us down to Southampton and we crossed the Channel, I got seasick all over again for a one-day trip, and we landed at Cherbourg, and then they put us in a small town in Normandy, where we stayed for quite a number of days. French was not one of my languages, it never I studied German and Latin in high school and college, but I did learn enough French "Un verre de Cognac, s'il vous plait?" [Laughter] We used to go out there and get drunk or high every evening, in their little tavern in the town there, on Cognac. And then we headed across, completely across France. Keep in mind, an armored division, it's all motorized vehicles, and we had a specialized vehicle, a half-track, open vehicle on top, two wheels in the front, and a, a tank-type tread behind that, for the back half ofthe vehicle, mounted with a, a mounting, a bracket, to support the mortar, and that was our vehicle in all our squad. And so we headed across France, they rushed us across, and meanwhile, the Bulge de-bulged, and we ended up in extreme eastern France, in a little tiny town called Eply, E-p-l-y, which was about halfway between Metz and Nancy and a little bit to the east, in Alsace-Lorraine, and we stayed there for most of the month of January. It was bitter cold. There had been some nasty fighting around before we ever got there. The Americans had taken all of our dead with them. The Germans hadn't. And we used to wander around-it was all farmland-we used to wander around, there were trenches and so on, and things were covered with snow when we got there. Some of that began to melt, and every so often you would see two boots, boot tips, sticking up out of the snow, and underneath it was the, was the body of a dead German soldier. And [laughs] I remember somebody, as a joke, there was a trench somewhere, there was a German machine gun associated with it, and somebody had gotten one of the German bodies, they were-not only were they dead, of course, they were frozen solid, it was cold!-and had taken this body, taken off the helmet-so they'd have hair; it had a lot of hair, which was flying around wild-stood him up behind the machine gun, and you walk along and all at once there's this machine gun aimed at you with this madman-looking person behind it, frozen to it! Those were the things we did. [Laughter] And all the villagers were gone. We took over their houses, and anyway, around somewhere near the end of January, they moved us up north into Holland. We went through the area of the Battle of the Bulge late at night. It was a moonlit night, we went through the Ardennes, and-where the Bulge had been in part-and headed on up, and we ended up in ... I don't know if you, how good you are on geography; the eastern part of Holland has a little appendix hanging down from it, called Limburg, the province of Limburg, and you have Aachen, Germany just over the border on one side, and Maastricht on the other side, with this little appendix sort of hanging down between them. And we ended up in a little town called Cadier en Keer, on the highway, on Maastricht, Maastricht to Aachen highway, and they put us up with people there, a very nice Dutch family, and we stayed with them for most of that month. And while-all sorts of things going on-and then somewhere toward the end of ... which month am I in now? Urn, we're in February, 00, '45, they moved us up north to Roermond, R-o-e-r-m-o-n-d, and there we were pushing up against the flank ... north of us were the British and Canadians. We were at the northern end of the whole American ... we had the 9th Army-I think I have them in the right order-we had the 9th Army, the 1st Army, the 7th Army and the 3rd Army with Patton, in that order. And we were at the top end and above us were the British and the Canadians, and simply in the way they had decided to maneuver the troops, at just that area the British and Canadians were falling back northward a little bit farther, and we were replacing them. And at Roermond-there had been some fighting there-and we came into the main square in Roermond and there was a HUGE pile of furniture there, and lying on top of the furniture was a drawer, a desk drawer, a big dresser drawer, something, what, maybe that big [gesturing with hands], and written on it in blue chalk in a British script, it said, "THE ENEMY IS 500 FEET AHEAD." And we listened, and we heard the enemy. And that was our introduction to actual combat. We stayed there a week or two. It started out all very nice, and very courteous. About five to five every afternoon we would fire over on the Germans, and at five o'clock the Germans would fire back at us, then everybody would have tea and that was the end of that day's hostilities. [Laughter] And for a while ... but then it began to get nasty, and there had been a dam that had broken, there were the remains of flooding around there and so on, so it, it was hardly a, a luxury trip. But anyway, around the beginning of March, we headed east into the Rheinland in Germany, and we got about halfway across Rheinland to a town called Grefrath, Gr-a-t-h. Now, at that point we hadn't gotten acr-we, we in the large, hadn't gotten across the Rhein yet, so everything had come to a complete halt. And the Germans were on the far side of the Rhein, we were on the west side of the Rhein, and everything had stopped dead. So we just sat in Grefrath for most of the month of March; again, taking over somebody's house. And then, urn, the Remagen bridgehead was taken-not by us, but by others. But the moment they got across, then they opened up, up and down the Rhein on the east side, crossings were possible everywhere, and late one night we pulled out and headed east. And I remember, we reached the Rhein itself and crossed very late at night, and there was anti-aircraft machine gun fire going up. It was beautiful! All these pink, pink, purple shhbullets going up in great big streams and streams! Oh! I remember that vividly! And, uh .. .is this the kind of detail?

Lara Ballard:

Absolutely!

Franklin E. Kameny:

All right. And we, all right, we crossed the Rhein and headed into the Ruhr Pocket. The Ruhr, of course, was an industrial area. It was considered important, our troops were rounding the Ruhr, let's look east [turning in his seat], or as I see it, rounding the Ruhr to the south and to the north, and to close it back and close in the Germans. There had been a dam, the Mohne Dam, that had been breached, and I remember one point, we were high over the Ruhr River itself and saw the breached dam and the water flooding down, and that's where we really got into full-fledged, nonstop combat, for quite a while. And all the usual things, we lost quite a number of men, and I could have easily enough .... You learn after a while, as we did quickly enough-their artillery was coming in-that as long as you hear an artillery shell, you're all right. But the shells travel faster than sound, so if it's going to come very close to you, before it gets there, you stop hearing it. Then you know you may be hit! And you have a few seconds, maybe five, ten at the most, and you hear it land somewhere near you and you're thankful it didn't land on you. And I remember one time we were in a town, Kirchhellen, and we pulled up very close, it was some sort of a factory, a small-scale factory on one side. We pulled up in a halfftrack, right alongside the factory. And a shell-keep in mind, again, these half-tracks are open on top-and a shell came in just that way, silent. It landed right on that factory right next to us, debris came pouring in right on, on top of us, fragments of the factory, wood and things like that, but at least we didn't get hit. The factory would bum fitfully for the whole rest of the night, we took shelter in the basement of somebody' s house for the night. Actually, those people had wonderful frozen vegetables in jars, and you go into some of those basements and you can have a feast! And we did.

Lara Ballard:

How was the Army feeding you? Were they--?

Franklin E. Kameny:

Oh, we had our rations our K-rations and what were they C-rations and, however, they were, I mean, there was a, a kitchen attachment to the whole company. We, we weren't being starved, and this was just supplement. So eventually the Ruhr Pocket was closed and we headed on eastward and got into the Harz Pocket, and went through some of the same sort of thing, and interestingly, you know, Walpurgisnacht is May 1st, and May 1st we were in the Harz, right at the foot of "der Bruecken," with the SS Troops instead of the demons dancing on their Bruecken, Walpurgisnacht. It was sort of fitting in its way! And uh, but uh, we fought, we fought through there and we spent some time, one large city, Braunschweig, Brunswick in the English version of the name, and, uh, oh, it was through that period, I'm not sure whether we were still in the Ruhr or whether we had already moved east, that Roosevelt died, and we heard the news of that, and then, eventually we settled down, a week before the war ended-things were coming to an end, it was clear enough-and a week before, or so, before the war ended, we settled down in a little town called Duderstadt, Duderstadt am Harz, which was, which celebrated its thousandth anniversary of existence in 1929. It still had the old moat, and the, the wall completely around it. It had two churches, one of which had a spiral spire. I have a picture of that at home on my wall; it was, it was their sort of trademark. And we sort of settled in there. Now there, my college, high school and college German came in handy, and although there was no official position as company interpreter, unofficially I became the company interpreter and used to take care of all the business, our interactions with the townspeople in all kinds of ways. And we stayed there through most of May, the war then did end, and I remember we had temporarily attached to us a squad of Yugoslavian soldiers. I don't know how they, how or why they were attached to us or what happened to them, but for a while they were there.

Lara Ballard:

Were they Partisans?

Franklin E. Kameny:

Don't ask me the politics of the day, I just know that they were on our side, they were with us, and then they weren't with us. And uh, then, at that point the whole of Europe was being sorted out one way or another. And we were shipped south to Czechoslovakia and became, instead of army of occupation, we became army of liberation, and headed on south into Bohemia, western Czechoslovakia, and we were stationed for about a month, probably two, in the city of Klatovy, which is in western, western Czechoslovakia and then moved to a little tiny village called Stenovice, a tiny, tiny little place some miles from Plzen, and stayed there for the rest ofthe summer. Now, meanwhile, when we got there, it, all that was a holding operation, because the war was still going on in the Pacific, and they were shipping people out as fast as they could, south through Italy, through the Suez Canal, and on-keep in mind, things weren't done by airplane very much in those days, it was all ships-and, and over into the Pacific, and we all expected to go. We had no imminent expectations of ever-I mean, even assuming we survived everything--{)f seeing home very soon. And then of course, beginning of August, along came Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, and that changed everything. And so we stayed there for, I guess, about the beginning of September, and then they ship~ed us back into southern Germany, Bavaria, to the town of Landshut, and moved ... The gt Armored Division was at that point, in a formal sense, dissolved. I ended up in the 4th Armored Division, in a clerical capacity, and in Landshut for, give or take, the dates are a little bit vague there, about a month more or less. And somewhere in through there, I got leave and had a trip to Paris, which I, which I saw, and then they were getting people home as fast as they could but there were a vast number of troops, over 6 million or some such number as that, and they had to do something with us. So they set up two universities, one was in Biarritz, in southern France near the Spanish border, the other one was in Shrivenham in England, not far from Bristol, and I signed up and they sent me to the one in Shrivenham, and I'm unclear now how long that was. It must have been somewhere around 2 or 3 months, something like that. I took a series of courses there, and then very systematically, every weekend, when we were, when we didn't have classes, I picked a different part of England, Scotland, Wales to visit. And so one time I went down to Land's End, spent some time. I'm an old Gilbert and Sullivan fan and there was Penzance! And oh, I, I...! [Laughs] With ... and they have palm trees there. All of that southern tip of England is warmer than you think. There are palms all through Cornwall. And traveled through Wales, and several trips to , weekends in London, other parts of England, I missed the lake country. I did head on all the way, I went to Oxford and Cambridge, all the way up north to Edinburgh. Now, the trip to Edinburgh is a very long one, 403 miles from London as I recall, and you go through Durham and York, and several other major cities, including one in which I think I am probably unique. I am probably the only person you ever met who knowingly and consciously carried coal to Newcastle. [Laughter] I ... Newcastle was one of the towns on there, I knew we were going to it, the trains of course were coal-powered, so I picked up some coals in London, put them in my pocket, and dropped them off the platform off the train at Newcastle, so I literally carried coals to Newcastle! [Laughs] And so we went through all that and, uh, very pleasant time, and some of the courses I took, particularly one course I took in meteorology, which has stood me in good stead over the years. And then back to Germany, this time to Regensburg, in, again in Bavaria. And again, some of those pictures are at my ... [picking up pictures from coffee table and looking at them] this is sitting at a desk in Regensburg, and this somewhere, an old German plane, somewhere out at an old German airfield or something, it's all in that area, this is in front of all these, in that last couple of months, in, in, in Regensburg, there's some duplicates there.

Lara Ballard:

This one I think I've seen before, I think you gave it to SLDN.

Franklin E. Kameny:

Could be, could very well have been.

Gigi Sohn:

Frank, your command of your memories. It's really unbelievable.

Franklin E. Kameny:

[Laughs]

Gigi Sohn:

I can't remember what I did yesterday.

Lara Ballard:

And you thought you had no interesting stories! [Inaudible background conversations]

Franklin E. Kameny:

[Laughs.] All right, and so .. ,

Lara Ballard:

These larger pictures, were this taken at the time of your enlistment?

Franklin E. Kameny:

That was, was probably taken on a visit home. [Pointing to formal picture of Kameny in saucer cap] But this one [looking at formal picture of Kameny in garrison cap] was very very late on, because all these things [pointing to stripes on sleeve], all came, this indicates 6 months of, each of these are 6 months overseas, or 6 months in the Army. [Inaudible background conversation] What?

Lara Ballard:

I'm just making sure the camera can get that. So this is the overseas service, and this one, that one's the ... [inaudible]

Franklin E. Kameny:

So all that would have been very late on in my service. The other one I think was probably taken, sometime, that one my mother had in a frame when she was alive, in the living room, for decades. So, let me see, where was I? Oh yeah, so in Regensburg doing clerical work, they were just keeping us spending time, and eventually they put us on a troop train, shipped us to Cher- to Cherbourg, and home. And we landed at New York, then again, once we got on this side it was very quick. Camp Kilmer, got my discharge, and came home, and was discharged on-I may be off by one day here-- May 20-, uh, March 25, 1946. And that was the end of all that. Now you had mentioned, I did of course, I was eligible for the G.I. Bill. I went back to college to finish up starting in September of '46. I had a year and a half to go. I was at Queens College majoring in physics. And uh, I had skipped grades early on, so I started college when I was 16, and so I was almost done by that time, and then when I finished, I actually finished up, got all my credits and everything mid-year, and had applied and was accepted in, by the astronomy department at Harvard, commencing with the second semester of the academic year, 1948. So I went up to Cambridge in the end of January , 48, for graduate work. And I stayed at, I was living at home with my family for that last year and a half, and once I got up there the G.I. Bill gave me the wherewithal, and so that, that was pretty much it.

Lara Ballard:

During your whole service, did you know or know of other gay servicemembers?

Franklin E. Kameny:

Did you see the statement that I made to SLDN?

Lara Ballard:

Yes, I did.

Franklin E. Kameny:

All right. I was very, and I've always regretted that, there's, oh, there were so many opportunities that just passed me by! [Laughter in background] I look back on them and say "You know??" And, oh, there were so many! There was, was one time, there were one or two experiences where things actually did occur. There were any number that could have, if only had I known. But otherwise, not none, but not much.

Lara Ballard:

What was your impression of what would happen to gay servicemembers?

Franklin E. Kameny:

Well, it was generally known, I mean, at this point I can sort of answer with a certain amount of legalistic precision. I couldn't then, and, but I simply knew that, that you would be thrown out. And of course nowadays, I mean, if it is, if it happens, you have a great many society defenses, societally and culturally and so on, it's not the kind of stigmatizing disaster anymore-it's bad enough, I'm not, I'm not making light of ittbut it's not quite the stigmatizing type of disaster that it would have been back then.

Lara Ballard:

Did you know of anyone getting undesirable discharges?

Franklin E. Kameny:

I didn't know of any of them personally, no, no, no, except it was generally known, yes, they did, yes they were being given, being ... in hindsight, yes, they were being gotten rid of that way.

Lara Ballard:

Did anyone ever discuss the issue in the unit?

Franklin E. Kameny:

It never, I don't recall it ever really coming up.

Lara Ballard:

Well, now how do you feel that your experiences in the military influenced your career as a gay activist?

Franklin E. Kameny:

Not so much in a direct sense, because once I was in back and I was in college, and the military was sort of a closed, compartmentalized thing. It started in May of '43, it ended in March of '46, and except for the G.I. Bill, that kept me going, it was sort of, it didn't relate itself; that chunk of your life didn't relate to anything else terribly much otherwise. And I simply moved ahead, I did my graduate work, and in the course of all, which I did finally come out socially speaking, and finished up and came here to Georgetown, on the faculty for a year, and into the Army Map Service, and then, of course, the civil service commission's policies, which were precisely parallel, then, to the current military policies and fully and ferociously enforced, hit me, and I fought back, and here I am. Forty years later, yeah.

Lara Ballard:

You also worked on issues related to the draft [inaudible]

Franklin E. Kameny:

No, no no no no no no. What there is, the, uh, after I got going on the whole gay movement thing, which was starting in a formal sense in 1961 when I founded the Mattachine society of Washington here, and got, among other things, and we took on the government as one of our prime, reform of the government as one of our prime objectives, then I, as a self-trained, self-designated and characterized paralegal-you don't have to be a full attorney to take on cases at the administrative level; I couldn't take people into court, but below that I could help them as full formal counsel of record-and I had any number of cases of civil service employees, until we got that reversed in '75, security clearances, where eventually I became the authority in the country on security clearances for gay people. And military cases. I have mounds and mounds and mounds of files at home, case after case after case. And uh, fought them, including a lot of people-the draft was, was, was in effect functional until about 1974-and so people, there were people claiming falsely to be gay. A lot more people were claiming truthfully to be gay. People in the service who were fighting ... In those days, I mean, nowadays, in general you at least get an honorable discharge. In those days you got either a dishonorable discharge or an undesirable discharge. I remember we, we used to object to that, saying "If you don't want him"-well, in those days the military was primarily male-"Ifyou don't want a man, let him go, but don't throw him on the trash heap for the rest of his life!" Which is what those discharges did. And so I used to fight a large number of cases, of people being threatened with that kind of discharge. The draft ended in 1974, but in 1981, they decided to reinstate draft registration, and they reactivated the draft boards, the selective service boards. And I decided, well, I didn't know what I could do other than working with other groups and people and so on trying to change the general military policy, but at least I was going to do, do what I could to see to it that gay people here in Washington got a square deal. So, in order to reconstitute the draft board they worked through the governors of various states, who had people, the governors take steps to get people in and then they would be fed on into the federal context and appointed, so I volunteered to, what amounting for this purpose to our acting governor here, that's Marion Barry as mayor, and he fed my name in, and I was interviewed over at the Armory one day, and became a member of local D.C. draft bo-I can't remember whether it was board 4 or board 6. And I served on that for 20, the statutory limit-there's a 20 year limit on that by law-I served for the full statutory 20 years, and was retired at a very pleasant honorable ceremony last year, May of, May of 19, May of20 hundred and 2. And we went to training sessions and all that, and I have mounds of books with all the draft regulations and how you classify people and so on, and so that was my connection with that. Now what I am saying, and I'm pointing out and I'm, I'm spreading this, you know there has been talk in the last week or two or so. I suspect it's just going to end up being political talk and nothing more, by Rangel and some others. In fact, he was on some, he's been on television programs, he was on two of them last evening, about reactivating the draft, and I am-and you'll see an article about this on the Blade on Friday, because they, they're writing about it-and I pointed out that ifthey do not squarely address the gay ban, the draft is going to implode and collapse, because there's not the stigma that there used to be. Anybody who doesn't want to be drafted will simply, in terms of the "don't ask don't tell," will simply tell, they'll be out, people will be doing, hordes of people will be doing it, the draft will collapse. And they had better face up, in other words, either gays are going to be drafted, or, with slight hyperbole, nobody's going to be drafted. I'm going to take one further step-if they actually do activate it, I am going to get out a picket sign and picket some registration place here, and hand out leaflets, urging people to lie and declare themselves as gay. The purpose, not a 1960 peacenik thing-SOLEL Y, solely to get at what I consider the treasonous ban on gays in the military, and I'm going to spread the word out through the Internet and urge people to do that, all over the country, and I'm already sort of getting ready for that, and I'm telling people about that. Hopefully it's not going to need to be, but if it is, and if I'm still alive, I'll be there.

Lara Ballard:

That's great. One other thing, you mentioned that you had a friend you served with that you're still in contact with.

Franklin E. Kameny:

Oh, yes. Yeah. He, he, at that time, he's 7 years older than I am, and that's just slightly relevant, you'll see in a moment. He's 7 years older than I am, he's not gay, he, at that time in his life, he was a very conservative, traditional Catholic. He was married, he had been, he was married somewhere in, how do the years work out, '37 or '38, about '37 or '38. And, but he and I sort of had a very pleasant meeting of minds. We used to sit in the barracks late at night and just have endless philosophical discussions about everything under the sun. The gay issue didn't come up particularly then, but all kinds of other things. He was a sergeant in communications in our company, and after I got out, and of course I was back in New York and I was Cambridge for a while, but then I moved down here. He is a native Washingtonian, and has always lived, well, after his earlier part of life, certainly after the later years, in Falls Church, and we sort of kept in touch. I remember once, there was a-when I was at Cambridge in the' 50s there was a meeting of the American Astronomical Society and they two, two meetings a year in different parts of the country-they had a meeting down here. At that time I had my first car, a 1937 Chevrolet, and this was about 1951 or '52 or something, and I drove, I made arrangements with him and drove down and stayed at his house. And so we kept up, and once I got here, in the late 50s, and especially into the 60s, he used to have a gathering, an annual gathering which became sort of a, a, a fixed event on his calendar and the people who knew him, on the first Sunday after New Year's. Bresnahan's Sunday Punch. And he had his special recipe for punch, and everybody came over to his house, and that was always a fixed point on my calendar, all through the 60s and 70s and the 80s. And it ended up in recent times, except for his wife, I have known him longer than anybody else around. So they had a 65th wedding anniversary celebration, this last year, and invited me to be a guest of honor and to give a speech. And, but then, as I said, he's 7 years older than I am, he's 84, and depending on how the birthdays work out he may actually be older, 85, and unfortunately, he is right at the beginning of Alzheimer's. And has good days and bad days; it progresses fitfully. They were out in California last year and he had to be rescued; he walked into a hotel and said "I don't know my name, I don't know where I am." And of course, in the present state of medicine, that goes one way and there's nothing to be done about it. So I don't know how much longer there'll be any meaningful interaction. We can sit down, he can still talk about our company captain, Captain Disser, as he did last Saturday, and some of the memories going back, they are very vivid. He remembers all the people, I remember all the people. We just, what we used to do after those affairs, family would be there, friends would be in, neighbors, everybody from Falls Church would be there, and after everybody left, we would sit down and re-fight World War II. And every year, it was always, I'll repeat for the 3rd time, one ofthe fixed points on my calendar, and they missed it last year, but they reinstated it this year on Saturday, but it was still Bresnahan's Sunday Punch. And we did the same thing, but had a long, long long talk about, with his wife off in the comer, about what his situation is, and unhappily it doesn't look good. I suppose 7 years from now I might be the same way, who knows? For the moment, I. .. every time I forget something I wonder "Oh my God, is it starting?" When you're in your 70s you'll worry a little bit, too, but for the moment I think I'm all right.

Lara Ballard:

Is there anything else you want to talk about?

Franklin E. Kameny:

No I'll go back to actually what I... the mode of operation I set out at the beginning that we haven't followed at all. I'll let you call the turns, you ask the questions, you ... Anything you want I'll go along with.

Lara Ballard:

If there's anyone else that you've served with, have you since come out to them?

Franklin E. Kameny:

Oh, I did to him. I mean, I don't know what his reaction would have been if I'd known enough about myself to come out to him way back then, but in later years, oh yes, he's well aware of all of that, and everybody, his family, everybody knows and it's all completely fine. Now, our sergeant, he died 2, 3 years ago, he also lived in this area, I. .. But Bresnahan, the one I told you about, he kept in, he kept in touch with a number of these people. I didn't, so sort of! kept up with them second-hand through Bresnahan. And he knew, he was well aware of my activities and things of that sort and apparently he's quite proud of me, and he has a son who's a doctor or something, and he also was ... I did go to his funeral and was very, very cordial and so on. So, whether some of the other people, Taylor who was our sergeant, lives up in Pennsylvania, or Tucker who's out in Ohio ever knew I don't know. O'Claire, who's up in Cambridge, and who died 5 or 6 years agoothey're all going-whether they ever knew of me in that sense, I don't know. I certainly kept no secret of it, I never, I never in the least suggested to Bresnahan that he keep anything silent. That's not my style. And it's not at all impossible they may very well have known. But the only one, I repeat, that I ever really ever met face to face after we were all out, except for one meeting with O'Claire-well, that, his name doesn't mean anything to you. He was our supply sergeant. Except for one meeting, he, his native stomping ground was Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is where I did my graduate work, so on one occasion I saw him there in Cambridge. Other than that, it's only Bresnahan that I have ever had a face to face meeting with, after I got out in 1946.

Lara Ballard:

Did he give you any indication that he would have difficulty serving with you or...

Franklin E. Kameny:

Oh, no no no no no. No. No. That was all fine, and where he and I, fine terms, and with his wife, they had, although they had been married for quite a number of years they had fertility problems, they had no children while we were in ... Well, they had had no children while we were in the service. But, even though they had been married for 7 years by the time I first met him, going on 8 years, 7 years, but that was all straightened out medically after he got out of the service, and they have 5 children now, and fully grown, I mean, they all came fast in the 40s once that was taken care of. And one of them's a mathematics professor at Stanford. And I know them all. I'm all on, whenever we see them at these things, I'm all on the most friendly and cordial of terms, and they're all very well aware of all that background, and so on. Yeah, I mean, there's nothing sub rosa.

Lara Ballard:

That's fantastic. Well, like I said, can you think of anything else [inaudible]

Franklin E. Kameny:

You know I will go home, and then it will be the afterthoughts-"Oh, I should have mentioned that!" 'Cause I should have brought along that bookm which would have shown my whole company with me, you can just see my face in 1944 in Camp Polk.

Lara Ballard:

We could send it in, we could make copies of that...

Franklin E. Kameny:

Well, any of these you want, I mean, again, it's your, it's your project.

Lara Ballard:

[Inaudible] We could get together again, and make a copy of that.

Franklin E. Kameny:

I'm ... anything you want, I don't know why I didn't throw that in. He had, as I said, Bresnahan had that book there, it was in his little library room, I looked at it and said "Oh, my!" It said the Thundering Herd, that was the nickname for the 8th Armored, and I looked through it and there were all these pictures, all taken back in ' 44, maybe into '45, and I opened one to the 58th Armored Battalion, headquarters company, row on row on row of soldiers, all in summer uniforms ... [cut in tape] There I was! [Laughs] Looking actually, it would have been roughly a year before this [Kameny points out one of the photographs], but looking about like that, except it was a summer uniform.

Lara Ballard:

Okay, well I think ... [cut in tape]

Franklin E. Kameny:

Yeah, is there any paperwork that needs ... and I guess I'm taking all these pictures, or am I not yet? If you need them, you want them, keep them for a while, it's your choice. [Tape ends]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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