I recently have been reading about the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that the pentagon is re-writing. What I understand this would allow homosexuals to serve in the military under certain conditions. Many Americans are against this new approach and many Americans say it is way overdue.
Reading about this policy brought to mind a funeral I attended for a young Marine who was killed in Afghanistan several years ago. They had a “celebration of life “service at his home church. The church was packed. My relationship to this young man was that I knew the family from a neighborhood I use to live in. I remember seeing ‘Frankie’ riding around on his bicycle. He came over to my house once to sell raffle tickets for some church trip. I did not know him very well. His parents were very proud of his scholastic achievements and athletic abilities. He was a champion swimmer at his high school and won several state championships.
After the service, I stood on line to share my condolences with Pete and his wife Becky. When I got to Pete he smiled and asked if I wouldn’t mind hanging around afterwards to talk. I replied that was not a problem. I found a seat in the lobby and waited. I somehow felt honored that he wanted to talk to me. Twenty minutes later Pete showed up. Obviously exhausted, he asked me if I wouldn’t mind going out back to have a cigarette with him. He said he bummed the cigarette off one of his son’s friends. We went outside and while lighting up his cigarette, Pete began to cry. “My son was gay Mike, my son was gay. How can you be a good Marine and be gay? Can you answer that one? I’m proud that he died a Marine and I can only pray that God forgives, forgives….”
He couldn’t finish. His was overwhelmed by his grief.
At that point, I was ready to bum a cigarette. What do I say? What can I say?
I put my left arm around his shoulder, took a breath and said: “God knows Frankie’s heart, just as he knows yours and mine. Talk these things over with Pastor John over there. Don’t let this conversation die.” He hugged me back. What a relief that was!
Pete and I go out for coffee every once in awhile. He is still grieving hard two years after Frankie’s death. It’s bigger than don’t ask, don’t tell. It took time for me to ask Pete how he discovered that Frankie was gay. When I did ask, Pete responded without hesitation that it was literally the “girl next door.” Frankie left a letter addressed to Pete and the family that was to be given to his parents once he arrived in Afghanistan. He trusted his friend Amber, his childhood friend to deliver the letter. Frankie shared his secret life with Amber, his playmate, his friend. So Amber, being a friend, came over to visit Pete and Becky one Sunday after church with letter in hand. Frankie was killed one week later. Many years ago, Amber asked, Frankie told. Pete and Becky never asked, never knew; until they read the letter.