Hal Faulkner enlisted in the Marines in 1953. He was one of eight children in his family, and his father passed away when he was just 7 years old. The family struggled financially, and they lived on a cattle ranch in the north part of Florida. When he was 19, he attended boot camp in South Carolina and rose through the ranks from private first class to corporal, then to sergeant. He served in the Philippines. He was on his way to the top. But then something happened.
In 1956, when he was 22 years old, he was dishonorably discharged after three years of service. Proud service. He never had an issue -- his record was clean, no insubordination, there were no write-ups of incompetence or laziness. But there were rumors ... and injustice.
An acquaintance of Hal's told his commanding officer that Hal was gay. He was immediately discharged with the classification "other than honorable." Hal describes that moment as something that "wrecked" him. Here we are all these years later. Hal is now 79 and the cancer in his body is taking over. And even though he thought he made peace with his discharge from the Marines, in his final days, he found himself reflecting on his service.
"They gave up on me," he told Frank Bruni of The New York Times. "I never forget it."
There have been 110,000 gay, lesbian, and bisexual service men and women discharged over the years due to their sexual orientation. And of course, there was Don't Ask Don't Tell. But in 2011, laws were changed and those who were dishonorably discharged can appeal. So that's what Hal decided to do. At 79. With cancer in his liver, lungs, and adrenal glands and a six months to live diagnosis a year ago. He's living on borrowed time some may say. He's nearly deaf and has a hard time speaking. He has around the clock care and family by his side. He is predeceased by his partner, the love of his life. But he's living long enough to be honored as he should have been.
Hal received his letter of honorable discharge thanks to the work of his lawyer, who presented it to him along with a member of OutServe-SLDN’s board of directors and two local Marines in uniform.
All that shame, the sadness, lifted. With the letter tightly gripped in his hands, Hal said with tears in his eyes, "I don’t have much longer to live, but I shall always remember it." He thanked everyone in the room. Then he cried. "It’s often said that a man doesn’t cry. I am a Marine and I am a man. So please forgive me."
Wow. He deserves this. He never deserved anything less than honor. We've come such a long way, we still have more to go, but learning about a 79-year-old man experiencing this is living proof of the long journey it took us to get where we are today. How it's taken us far too long.
What do you think of this story? Should more of those who served come forward to have their status changed if they were dishonorably discharged due to sexual orientation? Should the military just look into it and change it without being asked?
Image via USMC Archives/Flickr