Calvin Fritz has an interesting viewpoint on the controversy over the military's policy of don't ask, don't tell.
The 84-year-old from Belleville, Ill., served aboard the USS St. George, a seaplane tender, in the Pacific Ocean near the end of World War II, and he said he knew guys who were homosexual but still proudly served their country.
"They were just people," he said. "They served in the war."
He first realized that there were gay guys on his ship during a battle drill. He was 18 and his ship was in areas that were threatened by kamikaze fighters, the suicide planes of the Japanese.
"We had a general quarters call," he said. Sailors had to run to their battle stations on the ship. "I had to go through the chain locker where they keep the anchor. I stepped over a couple of guys on the floor. I knew one of the guys. I didn't know much about anything like that, but I kept running."
It was later when he passed that guy in a corridor he asked, "What about that back there?"
The man's answer was, "You think I would do that if I had a choice?"
Later the man told Fritz that he felt like that was how God had made him, and he had always been that way.
"He was a fightin' son-of-a-gun," Fritz said. He was a big guy, and strong. He could have beaten me up. He was brave, and in as much risk of dying in battle as I was."
Fritz said there were other guys like that among the 1,400-man crew.
"We pretty much knew who they were," he said.
And a lot of them got beaten up by shipmates, he said. He knew of a few guys who were caught having sex and transferred to other ships.
Even though he fought alongside the guy and drank beer and homemade hooch with him, Fritz said they never talked about the incident again.
But he feels like it is his Christian duty to point out what he knew about one man.
"I've thought about that all my life," Fritz said. "I don't think it makes a difference."
Wally Spiers is a columnist for the Belleville News-Democrat.
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