fort mcclellan

Trainees found sexual as well as social ways to cope with the homosexual tensions during basic training. They usually didn’t experiment sexually with other men until they learned how to bend the rules or until they found themselves paired up in secluded situations. Until then, afraid that their friendships could be “contaminated by erotic feelings” or that their homosexual desires would be found out, they might not touch each other at all. “During the first months in the Army,” reported a veteran after the war, “there appears to be a rigid avoidance, in general, of any kind of overt demonstration of friendship which might connote homosexual tendencies” such as “overt caressing or any other form of actual bodily contact.” Trainees who knew they were gay especially were careful not to become too physical with other soldiers. “You know that you don’t dare make any moves,” explained Jim Warren, who entered the Army in 1941 at age twenty-two, “especially when you first get into the infantry. So nothing happened in the military until after our thirteen weeks basic training.”

But as men progressed through basic, they found themselves, often unexpectedly, in intimate situations with each other. These included the two-man pup tents during bivouacs, the sleeping accommodations on Pullman train cars during troop movements and the hotel and private home accommodations in towns during overnight passes. In each of these situations, pairs of men could be in bed together with no direct supervision. While the shower rooms and barracks were the public places where homosexual tensions were acted out socially, tents, train berths, and hotel rooms were some of the private places where trainees could act sexually despite or even in response to the military’s homosexual taboos.

Toward the end of Army basic training, the recruits spent from three days to two weeks in bivouac, where they put into practice what they had learned in their courses. Often sleeping together in two-man pup tents instead of barracks, pairs of trainees had more rare opportunities to be physically affectionate with each other in private. Raymond Mailloux, who at eighteen was one of the youngest and smallest men in his company, remembered that on bivouac in Louisiana he had many opportunities to sleep in tents on cold nights with older, often married men who nicknamed him “Junior.” One veteran of World War I, Mailloux recalled, “told me that the way to stay warm was to sleep together. I slept with him a few times. He would be right behind me. And to keep warm, he had showed me, I would put my hands between my legs and he’d put his hands between my legs to keep his hands warm. But it was never any groping. Sometimes I would definitely spread my legs to make sure he could get in there.” Such private physical intimacy easily could lead to sex. When Robert Fleischer went on bivouac at Camp Hulen, Texas, he recalled, he “slept in sleeping bags or on the sand, and every once in a while a furtive hand would be on my knee or I’d find somebody unbuttoning my fly.”

Recruits faced similar situations when they were transferred on trains from one camp to another and place in Pullman cars where they slept “two in a lower berth, one in an upper.” … Saul, a gay man who had decided to remain celibate during his military service, faced his only sexual temptation on a Pullman car. “We were on a troop train with two men in a berth,” he explained. “One night a married man threw his arm and leg over me. I was awakened, but I kept my passions under control.” …

Sleeping accommodations off base gave men more privacy for longer periods of time than did pup tents of lower berths. When buddies went into town on overnight passes, they could arrange to share a bed together without any trouble. Because hotel rooms were scarce in military boom-towns, it wasn’t unusual for two men to sleep in the same bed. … It usually wasn’t until the recruit could leave his camp on overnight passes that he risked planning sexual liaisons with other men. “You had to be smart enough not to fool around in your own barracks shower or your own barracks,” explained Ben Small, who served in the Air Force during the war, “because it would just spread like wildfire. You’d go into town for sex, mainly.”

… Recruits generally had sex cautiously and secretly without talking about it with each other or even admitting it to themselves. Silence protected men from exposure and helped them to deny – even to themselves – that they had had sex with a man. Each of Jim Warren’s sexual encounters at Fort McClellan, Alabama, was “a mutual situation, it wasn’t one-sided,” but there was an understanding that “you just don’t talk.” At night, Raymond Mailloux recalled, the older GIs “held me in their arms, I slept with them. They weren’t cruel the next day, but they just would ignore me.”

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Allan Bérubé, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II, p. 58-60.

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