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"It doesn’t matter how good you are or who is supporting you…even then, you would get discharged."(Video interview, 33:09)

   Richard Dean Williams
Image of Richard Dean Williams
War: Persian Gulf War, 1991; Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Air Force; Air Force
Unit: 20th North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD); 9th Tactical Intelligence Squadron; 603rd Tactical Air Control Squadron; 400th Missile Squadron
Service Location: Fort Lee, Virginia; Shaw Air Force Base, Sembach Air Base, Germany; Vandenberg Shaw Air Force Base, California; F. E. Warren Shaw Air Force Base, Wyoming; Maxwell Shaw Air Force Base, Alabama; New York City, New York; Naples, Italy; RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom
Rank: Major
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Major Richard Williams’ Air Force career took him around the world, assigned him to missions dealing with everything from space shuttle launches to a study of Gulf War Syndrome, and even buried him deep beneath the earth (during his time as a missile launch officer). Throughout it all, he was aware of the precariousness of life as a gay Airman. In his oral history interview, he speaks eloquently about the toll that discriminatory policies took on the personal relationships of gay members of the military, and calls the end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy one of the best days of his life.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (8 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (77 min.)
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
Switching from air intercept to intelligence; first time he had to officially lie about being gay; meeting a lot of gay men in the Air Force. (02:52) Working on mission to rescue hostages in Iran; deciding to become an officer; commissioned through the Bootstrap program; becoming a missile launch officer; serving in Cheyenne, Wyoming. (04:52) Service at Vandenberg AFB; serving as the chief of protocol for shuttle launches; served there until Challenger explosion. (00:56)
Never investigated for being gay; difficulties of keeping private life private; answering probing questions; military policies on HIV status of service members. (04:14) Did not see much change in atmosphere during 1990s until institution of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; service in Naples, Italy. (02:38) Situation in which an NCO serving under him was investigated for homosexual activity; testifying on her behalf; she was discharged; still a lot of antigay prejudice at this point. (01:31)
Assigned to mission to study Gulf War syndrome. (03:27) Even for straight couples, service places strain on personal relationships; even harder for gay couples; gay subculture assisting during times of transition; importance of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. (03:08) 
  
 

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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