(This is a copy of a review posted on Goodreads.)
This is a compelling and readable book resulting from an important project, one of those we can be grateful were completed while the veterans were still alive to give first-hand accounts. I enjoyed watching “Bob and Jack’s 52-Year Adventure”, with its description gay life in the Army in the 1950s, and was glad to be able to step back to such a comprehensive look at what happened during the war. The gamut of experience is laid out here, from the difficulty gay soldiers sometimes had just getting in and finding their place in the service and the harrowing abuse and persecution many faced during and after discharge, to the eye-opening small-town gays and lesbians experienced on being moved to cities and discovering thriving gay culture for the first time, and the positions of respect and acceptance many were able to achieve in their units. Particularly moving were the heart-wrenching accounts of soldiers who watched their lovers die in combat, and the surprising compassion and support they received in their grief from their fellow G.I.s. I would have enjoyed hearing even more of this oral history. Google shows that there’s a film based on the book. I’ll hunt it down in the hopes of getting more stories directly from the men and women who went through this.
On a personal note, I was intrigued by the fact that, while less stereotypically gay soldiers might pass right through to combat units, an informal system arose of assigning more obviously gay men to certain jobs in which they seemed to thrive. These men became the medics and chaplain’s assistants and yeomen and entertainers. One recounted how his natural sensitivity led him to be prized by his superiors as a writer of particularly thoughtful and consoling letters of condolence to families of fallen soldiers. I have to wonder whether this is part of what happened when the course of Glenn’s Army career turned from lugging a rifle to pounding a typewriter. Glenn would never, at any time in his life, win awards as the most macho in the crowd. I know he had a year of business college which must have been appealing as the “paper army” ramped up, but I wonder whether a classification officer took a quick look at him and said, “You know, I think we have just the job for you…”