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David Ronka
Charlottesville, VA

David Ronka

I’m David Ronka. I’m a Vietnam veteran, a published fiction writer and essayist, and I teach creative writing with the University of Virginia. I’m the Manager of Special Programs at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and live in Charlottesville with my wife and three adorable cats. I should be the next Great American Pundit because (1) I'm an accomplished writer, (2) I’m a news junkie with an informed opinion on just about everything, and (3) being a real, live pundit might cure me of what my wife calls an “unhealthy tendency” to shout at television pundits with whom I disagree.

The lives of gay soldiers

They gaze at me from my morning newspaper, from my television during the evening news, the young soldiers killed in Afghanistan, more than 500 fallen this year alone. Their eyes meet mine, some playful and smiling, others gleaming with a new soldier's pride. All seem filled with hope, bright with dreams now extinguished. They have sacrificed their young lives for their country, for all of us safe in our homes.

Sometimes I find myself wondering: How many of these fallen soldiers were gay?

I wonder this because gay soldiers live under the menacing cloud of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy enacted in 1993. The policy says that soldiers discovered to be gay must be discharged from the military, barred from serving their country. Despite steadily mounting public opposition to DADT, Congress has stubbornly refused to repeal it. As recently as last month, Republican senators used the threat of a filibuster to kill a measure that would have done just that. So how many of the fallen soldiers gazing at me, I wonder, were forced to conceal their sexual orientation as a condition of serving America?

How many of them, because of DADT, reluctantly left their partners at home the morning of their deployment to Afghanistan, then sat alone watching other unit members embrace wives and husbands and children before heading off to war? How many of them, because of DADT, fell silent whenever talk in the base camp barracks turned to the subject of loved ones waiting at home? And which of them chose instead to play the "pronoun game," guardedly substituting "he" or "she" for the names of loving partners? And how many of them, sworn to uphold the Uniform Code of Military Justice which forbids lying under all circumstances, died regretting the lies they'd told to their comrades and commanders?

I cannot know how many of the fallen heroes whose eyes meet mine were gay. But this much I do know: We asked them to fight for us, keep us safe, sacrifice their lives for us if need be. They did so, with honor. We asked them to live a charade, to pretend to be what we wanted them to be. This too, they did for us. And finally, we asked them, compelled them under penalty of dismissal from military service, to stifle the love that ached in their hearts.

By David Ronka  |  October 11, 2010; 12:00 AM ET
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Now that Judge Virginia Phillips has ruled against DADT, the author has one less thing to worry about when he looks at the photos of fallen soldiers.

Posted by: MsJS | October 14, 2010 2:51 PM
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Well written, well said. I would add that back in the Vietnam era the military did not want women and gays under the concept that if they fell in love, would their first loyalty be to their fellow troops or to each other? What if my lover spent the night in a foxhole with another man. The potential problems were real.

Since women can now serve the only real arguments against gays serving openly is gone. The only real objection is Republicans and their homophobic political beliefs.

Posted by: chucky-el | October 12, 2010 12:03 PM
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