John Glenn Gooch’s military stone had only recently been
placed in the cemetery when we arrived to plant flowers to honor him this
Memorial Day weekend. Glenn died
this winter and is now buried near the town where he arrived in America from
Wales at the age of six. An
American by choice, Glenn served in World War II directing warplanes in Greenland, and during the last year of his life he often told me of his fond
memories and proud days of service in the American Armed Forces.
I kneeled down to clear the ground of some fresh growth and
break up the dirt while my partner Brad and his mother Bette waited to hand me the
more “masculine” flowers she had picked out for him. Bette and Glenn had been married sixty-four years having
met in high school in this northeastern corner of Pennsylvania. Both were from mining families – not
the owners, but the miners – and Glenn was able to go to college because of the
GI Bill that greeted returning veterans and later rose to become the President and C.E.O. of a major utilities company in the area.
Glenn’s grave had an American flag waving over it, and as I
dug I felt deep appreciation for his service, and for the service he and so
many others have given to allow me to live a relatively free life in this
country. I recalled reading an essay written by my father Walter Raushenbush at Harvard lamenting
that he had narrowly missed the opportunity to fight in WWII, which had ended
just before he turned 18. At
the time it shocked my young leftist soul that someone should be so eager to
fight, but now I appreciate much more the call to serve my country. (My father later joined the Air Force
rising to the rank of Colonel.)
That neither Brad nor I are eligible to serve because of our
sexuality is not the point of this brief essay, but it is a point that needs to
be made. In reflecting upon his
father’s service, Brad commented that WWII was one of the last common calls
upon all Americans. The universal
draft made everyone part of a unified effort including both Brad’s family and my own. Although plagued by racial segregation,
the armed forces brought people of every background together and made plain our
common identity as Americans. Today, only openly gay and
lesbian people are restricted from this opportunity.
Of all my identities, including my religious one, nothing is
stronger than my national identity as an American, and my appreciation for the
ideals upon which this country was founded. The longer I live, and the more countries I visit,
my pride in my country only grows.
This Memorial Day I give thanks for the memory of John Glenn Gooch, for
the service of Walter Raushenbush, and for all of those who have served in our
armed forces to keep our country safe. May we continue to become a more perfect union – the
land of the free.