By Debbie Gregory.
Long before “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” H. Edward Spires served as a chaplain’s assistant in the Air Force.
When his supervisors discovered Spires was gay, they interrogated him, threatened him, and ordered him to see a psychiatrist. Ultimately, they gave him an “undesirable” discharge and showed him the door.
Now the frail 91 year-old, assisted by a group of lawyers at the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic, is seeking to upgrade his discharge status to honorable, allowing Spires to have a funeral with military honors.
Spires’ husband, David Rosenberg, spoke on his spouse’s behalf.
“The idea that this man of faith who served dutifully as a chaplain’s assistant in the armed forces, who built a life and a career that has brought joy to those around him, would leave this earth considered undesirable in the eyes of his country, it’s unthinkable.”
The couple has been together for nearly six decades, marrying in 2009.
Spires recently suffered a bout of pneumonia and spent three weeks in the hospital. His declining health adds an undertone of urgency to the legal mission.
Spires joined the U.S. Army Air Force in 1946, at the age of 20. After completing basic training, he was assigned to be a chaplain’s assistant at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Within 18 months, he reached the rank of sergeant.
Spires built a large group of civilian friends in San Antonio, many of whom were gay. But there were ominous signs: In October of 1947, the commander called a meeting to “clean up the base of homosexuals,” the lawsuit states.
According to Spires, shortly after a 1947 off-base Halloween party, he was summoned to the judge advocate’s office and asked if he was a “homosexual.” When Spires did not initially answer, the master sergeant threatened to throw him into the stockade.
As word of his interrogation spread across the base, he was taunted and verbally abused by his fellow soldiers. Only his direct supervisor, Father Major John Habitz, stood up for him.
“We hope the Air Force will remedy this injustice promptly,” said Erin Baldwin, a law student intern who is working on Spires’ case. “By granting Mr. Spires justice, the Air Force will finally send a message to Mr. Spires and to all veterans who received undesirable discharges for homosexuality, despite their faithful service to our country, that the honor of their service does not depend upon their sexual orientation.”