Vietnam Introduction:

During the Vietnam War era, the Pentagon continued to view homosexuality as a “moral defect,” so homosexuals were one of the few groups of able-bodied young men theoretically ineligible for the draft. Anti-war groups even counseled young, straight men to become “hoaxosexuals” as a way of avoiding service. Since working-class and minority draftees were less likely to have student deferments, many pretended to be gay when called up for the draft, but sexuality was only rarely a “deferment” from this war. Enforcement of the ban on gays became strict again only after the war, in the mid-1970s. Ironically, one group of young men and women who didn’t want the military to think that they were homosexuals were gay military personnel proudly serving their country.

Combat veterans like Bob Yeargan did not have time to worry about being gay when they were in the field. They and their buddies were much more worried about survival. Bob’s two tours of duty, first as a platoon leader and later as a company commander, reveal that combat leadership is not the exclusive purview of heterosexual officers. Yeargan went on to have a twenty-year career in the Army, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel, working in the Pentagon. (Photo courtesy of Bob Yeargan.)
Tedosio Samora grew up California’s central valley during the 1950s, where there were few role models for a young, Mexican American boy coming to terms with his sexuality. Ted volunteered for military service out of a sense of patriotic duty. After he returned to the States, Ted had to investigate suspected homosexual troops. “Having some of those feelings too, and kicking some of those guys out, it was very hard. I disagree with it very much, because I know that it has been going on since the military began. They’ve always had Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” (Photo courtesy of Ted Samora.) View video interview with Ted Samora at the Library of Congress.
Grethe Cammermeyer joined the army as a nurse in 1961 and served in Vietnam 1967-1968. When she came out publicly as a lesbian in the 1989 after nearly three decades in the army and army reserves, she was kicked out. After successfully suing the military, she returned to the reserves and retired as a Colonel in 1997. (Photo courtesy of Grethe Cammermeyer.)
An Air Force nurse from Georgia during the Vietnam War era, Judith Crosby survived an interrogation and investigation into her sexuality at the same time she was coming to oppose the American war in Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of Judith Crosby.)
Drafted by the U.S. Army in 1968, Perry Watkins admitted he was gay. He even became something of a minor celebrity for his drag shows as “Simone” in enlisted men’s clubs. The Army discharged him in 1981 based on his admission of homosexuality in 1968, but the courts order him reinstated, because Watkins had never lied to the Army. (Materials from GLBT Historical Society collections.)
When Sylvia (Rey) Rivera was drafted in 1967, the draft board thought they had made a mistake, assuming that she was a woman. Rivera, one of the transgender people who fought the police during the Stonewall Riots and later joined the Gay Liberation Front, said that she didn’t have a problem with sexuality. She liked men. The draft board sent her home. (Photo from Sylviasplace.com.)
Leonard Matlovich volunteered for the Air Force and served three tours of duty in Vietnam. As he explained years later, “I had to prove that I was just as masculine as the next man. I felt Vietnam would do this for me.” During his first tour in 1966, Matlovich received the first an Air Force Commendation Medal for attending to wounded comrades during a mortar attack. He eventually won a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. (Materials from GLBT Historical Society collections.)
When Matlovich returned to the States in the early 1970s, he became an instructor in a new program set up by the Air Force to improve race relations. Tech Sergeant Matlovich’s 1974 evaluation praised him for being an “absolutely superior NCO in every respect.” That was before Matlovich told the Air Force that he was gay. Ultimately, after a protracted court battle, the Air Force settled Matlovich’s case without acknowledging that there was anything wrong with the ban on gay service personnel. (Photo of Matlovich tomb in Congressional Cemetary, Washington, DC.)