Tomorrow night (Tuesday, September 18), we will celebrate the one year anniversary of the end of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy by honoring Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Chair of the Joint Chiefs, aboard the USS Intrepid. (See: Celebrating Our Heroes) Admiral Mullen changed the course of history with his testimony before Congress on DADT and, as much as the president or Congress, set events in motion that resulted in the repeal. The incomparable Barbara Walters will emcee and guests will be treated to the best of Broadway.
For the first time in history hundreds of service members, will stand open and proud before their military commander to say, "Thank you, Sir."
It will be an especially sweet evening for one service member in particular. Just as World War II was ending, Melvin Dwork, a handsome young American sailor, was given a dishonorable discharge because he was gay. Now 94, Mr. Dwork will be on hand to celebrate his now honorable discharge. For decades the original discharge demeaned his service to our nation.
Melvin Dwork received a dishonorable discharge in World War II for being gay.
Since World War II, thousands of gay and lesbian service members have received dishonorable discharges. And, under the DADT policy, 14,500 service members have been saddled with a code on their records that tells every prospective employer they are not eligible to re-enlist. So while there is much cause for celebration, the mission is not complete.
While Melvin Dwork toiled in the Pacific, my father flew reconnaissance over Germany. It was a time when few could imagine a time when any nation would embrace its gay and lesbian sons and daughters. Ironically, World War II planted the seeds of the modern gay movement as hundreds of thousands of young people from rural and urban America were thrown together for the first time in the European war theater. With rules suspended, some found they could admit, if only to themselves, they were gay.
Many, like Alan Turing, the British mathematical genius who broke the Nazi code, lived only to face unimaginable humiliation and derision. Turing ultimately took his own life. Others, unsure how to return home and explain the unexplainable, had their employment opportunities cut short and this extended to many other parts of their lives. Some like Frank Kameny, also a World War II veteran, found his courage and helped spark the modern fight for equality equality. So Melvin's upgrade to honorable discharge represents one of sweetest victories. It is never too late for justice.
The organization that achieved this reversal and was a major force in the repeal is the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). The proceeds of the evening will go to correct these many records and to continue the advocacy for equal benefits for LGBT service members, another aspect of the mission that remains incomplete.
In World War II, my Dad returned a hero. Now it is Melvin's turn. On Tuesday night, let's raise a glass to Admiral Mike Mullen, Deborah Mullen for her extraordinary work with military families and wounded warriors, Melvin Dwork, and all the great men and women who serve our country each day.