Gay WWII Vet Gets Justice

67 years after being discharged from the United States
Military in 1944 for being gay, Melvin Dwork is having his record cleared. The
military is changing his discharge status from “undesirable” to “honorable”.  This allows him to receive full medical benefits
and to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Both of these benefits come at
a crucial time as the 89 year old enters his final years. He now works as an
interior designer in New York; however it is a miracle that he was able to find
a job at all. Most of those who are dishonorably discharged find it difficult
to find anything above a minimum wage job. What makes Melvin Dwork’s story
unique for me, aside from the fact that he is the first WWII vet to have his
record cleared, is the climate in which he was discharged.

Melvin Dwork was discharged in 1944 during the height of the Second
World War when man power was at a premium. And yet, the military still found it
in them to demonize a human being who was willing to serve his country and die
defending it. The Allies were fighting an enemy who was murdering homosexuals
and Jews by the thousands every day, but a gay could not fight for the freedom
of others while a Jew could. During his time, homosexuality was seen only as a
mental disease that automatically made someone “evil”. An army fighting for
freedom was at the same time denying the freedom of one of its own soldiers. The
circumstances surrounding his “outing” to the military were not as one would
think. He was not making sexual advances towards other service members or
outwardly disturbing others. He was thrown in the brig because of love letters
to his then boyfriend! Millions of love letters during WWII were sent from service
members to their loved ones. But only because his were to a person of the same
sex, he was arrested and sent for weeks to a military psychiatric ward.

This story is very personal for me because not only am I a
gay man, but I also have considered becoming a doctor in the United States
Navy. And I cannot contemplate serving my country and being hated while others
are given medals and treated as heroes.  Hopefully
this will not be the case with the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and a
different socio-cultural environment from when Melvin Dwork was in the Navy.
His story is only one of the almost 100,000 men and women who were discharged
between WWII and 1993 for being gay. Honest people who despite the fear of
persecution and a lack of freedom took it upon themselves to serve us. To defend
our liberty without any thought of themselves. The sacrifices made by those men
and women cannot be repaid. I hope this story reminds us all of the men and
women, gay or straight, who put their lives at risk for those they have never
and will never meet.

Associated Press Article

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