LGBT History: Gay GI’s fought their own Holocaust in the US
Excerpt from the Book Coming Out under Fire The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two: In Combat, gay GIs pointed their guns at enemy soldiers. But some gay servicemen also found American guns pointed at them. Those who were caught having sex, or who were rounded up in systematic witch hunts at stateside or overseas bases, or who were asking for help coping as homosexuals in the service, found themselves fighting a war for their own survival. As officers began to discharge homosexuals as undesirables, the gay GIs who were their targets had to learn how to defend themselves in psychiatrists’ offices, discharge hearing rooms, hospital wards, and “queer stockades.” There they were interrogated about their sex lives, locked up, physically abused, and subjected to systematic humiliations in front of other soldiers.
Officers who conducted interrogations were neither friendly nor understanding. Their jobs was to extract confessions and the names of others homosexuals by systematically destroying a suspect’s emotional defenses. Confessions were the proof needed to issue a discharge, and names helped interrogators round up more suspects. The interrogations usually began with some form of confinement or restriction to barracks, often under armed guard. Many patriotic gay soldiers and sailors felt betrayed by their government when they were thrown into locked wards with violent psychotics, suspected criminals, and prisoners of war.
In December 1943, Pvt. Norman Sansom was admitted to a locked psychiatric ward at Walterboro Army Air Field in Georgia, he discovered that all the other ‘patients’ were German prisoners of war except for two other gay American soldiers. Making the best of a bad situation, the three gay patients cheered themselves up by teaching the Germans how to sing “This is the Army, Mr. Jones.” “I can still here them now on the ward,” Sansom recalled. “Every morning we’d have our little ‘musicale.’ They couldn’t speak any English at all, but they were able to sing, ‘Dis is dee Army, Mister Shones.’”
Gay men who were locked up sometimes were terrorized by sadistic guards who, in private areas of the stockades, subjected them to psychological torture. “They treated us like scum,” recalled Bill Thompson, who was placed with other men from Noumea under Marine Corps guard in the brig said, ‘You sons of bitches are going to eat out of garbage cans! Get the fuck out of here!“
“You wouldn’t believe the treatment in the brig,” added David Barrett, who was also shipped to Treasure Island. “There was a guy called Big John. He lined us up in front of all the inmates there who were murderers, rapists, thieves- everything you could think of. He lined us up and he just tore us apart. He told all the rest of them that he thought more of them because we were the scum of the fucking earth.”
As David Barrett and his gay brigmates were transferred from Treasure Island to Camp Shoemaker, in Pleasanton, California, they were thrown into the back of a truck. “Two young marines got in the truck with us,” Barrett recalled. “They said, 'Don’t open your mouth!’ And they sat there with their finger on the trigger of the gun aimed at us the whole drive over there. When we got out of that van, there was a lieutenant there and he said, 'Why didn’t you shoot the motherfuckers!’ That’s how we were greeted.”
Some guards stationed at the stockades believed that homosexual inmates were available to them for sexual services and abused their power accordingly. At Treasure Island, Bill Thompson recalled, the “marines would come by and they’d get detail from the brig to go do something. There were three marines; they picked three of us. The marines just took them off somewhere and got blowjobs…” David Barrett reported similar sexual abuse at the Quonset hut in Noumea, where the Marine guards nightly escorted one man to the outdoor latrine to use him for their own pleasure. “The guards were all getting done,” Thompson explained, “ and then guarding the people that were blowing them! How do you like that! So if it came down to it, they could have put the whole goddamn armed forces in the brig!”
While this kind of abuse took place under cover, other officers more openly subjected homosexuals to public humiliation. When men in Noumea had to walk the quarter mile from the Quonset hut to the mess hall, David Barrett recalled, “we folded our arms in front of us. The rest of the hillside was lined with thousands of guys waiting to go chow, and the minute we’d start down, there’d be whistles all over the place. 'Oh, here come the girls!’ And it was a rough experince to go through.“ "Hey, fuckin’ fruits! Hey, queers!’” Thompson remembered them saying. “It was just humiliating to go through that, three times a day.” Norman Sansom remembered such an experience in Georgia as “one of the most traumatic things in my life. I just felt all of these eyes upon me and could hear 'fairy,’ 'fruit’, 'cocksucker.’ and I just wanted to block it out of my mind. It was almost like being in front of a firing squad.”
During a war time which American propaganda condemned the evils of fascism and intolerance, the men who had to endure brutal treatment for being gay, perceived the military as acting in ways that resembled the fascism they were supposed to be fighting. Whenever gay veterans, especially those locked up in queer stockades under armed guard, compared themselves to victims of the Nazis, they did not do so lightly. As Fred Thayer and his fellow inmates who were labeled with tags hanging from their shirts that said “Psychopathia Sexualis” were being transported from the hospital in New Caledonia to ship’s queer brig, the truck stopped at a disciplinary barracks to pick up Thayer’s friend from the cavalry company, whom he hadn’t seen in weeks. “He crawled into the back of the truck,” Thayer recalled, “looking like something from Dachau. I’ll never forget it. He took one look at me and fell in my arms and cried for the next hour and a half.” From his own ordeal, Thayer weighed “only 112 and I looked like a skeleton, like I’d been through
hell. In a way I suppose I had. But it wasn’t from the Japanese and guns.”