This post is excerpted from the soon to be released 25th anniversary edition of "Bi Any Other Name: Bi People Speak Out" and is available here.
The letter arrived just when we were expecting it. It notified me that I was being drafted into the U.S. Army on August 24, 1943. I was eighteen. The instructions were short and clear. I was to report at 4 p.m. in front of the Ligonier, Pennsylvania, movie theater with nothing but a toothbrush and sweater. I had two weeks to prepare myself. My parents promised they'd care for my dog and the 1935 Chevy sedan that my dad had bought me with his $300 World War I government bonus. I would miss chasing the girls who were most easily persuaded into the back seat of my car.
On the twenty-fourth, Mom prepared a stuffed turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and the whole family gathered to give me a proper send-off. The cooking and preparation kept Mom busy all day. She probably planned that as her way of dealing with the pain of our impending separation. My baby sister, Doris, was too young to know about war, but she knew I was leaving and clung to me. We both cried.
After that great meal, we left the old Victorian house where I had spent many years of my youth and walked together down North Main Street and through "The Diamond," which to this day is one of the most beautifully preserved public squares anywhere. A block further on and there we were in front of the movie house.
We, the future soldiers and defenders of freedom, were met by Ligonier's mayor and members of the draft board. The color guards of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars were already in position to lead the parade. The high school band was playing patriotic songs. I had once been a member of that band and played the euphonium. All of our families lined the sidewalks as we draftees lined up behind the band. This was a big deal and was one of those moments when I was supposed to become a man. At the very least, I was trying my best to act like one. The mayor launched into a speech about how proud he was of those of us who were about to leave. It was painful just standing there. I wished that he would get it over with so that we could make our exit. A trumpeter sounded a fanfare, and the band struck up a Sousa march. The parade finally began. Our families and friends walked along the sidewalks waving small American flags.
Unexpectedly, my father stepped out of the crowd and was there marching beside me. This was not a time when public displays of affection between men, even fathers and sons, were common. But this loving man had his own ways of showing support. He said, "Cappy, I want to make this march with you," and I felt his arm slip around my back. So I got a free hug or two. We marched together the remaining blocks to the Ligonier railroad station. Before I boarded the train, we hugged each other again and whispered, "I love you." That was a very special moment between us.
Today is Pride Day, June 19, 1989, forty-six years later. How have those years slipped by so fast? I have been looking forward to this day for some time. That earlier march to the train, with my dad by my side, has recently been on my mind. I have told the story to my wife, Carol, many times and said, "I want to do that with my son and to have the same experience, as a father, that my own dad had with me forty-six years ago. Let's march on Pride Day. We will not be sending our son off to war but supporting him in another important cause." It was not yet clear to me how much I would be doing for myself by stepping out of the crowd and being there with him.
We didn't know what to expect other than the fact that we both would be marching within the bisexual contingent. How many people would there be? How many groups? Would there be a band? Would people line the sidewalks? Would we see anyone we knew or who knew us? What would they think? Would we show up on the evening news?
As we headed across town, I felt nervous about the whole thing. I could have easily used my health problems as an excuse for not getting involved. I might have said, "We will think about doing it next year." But it began to dawn on us that we were also the beneficiaries of making this march when we showed up at the brunch for the Bisexual Women's and Men's Networks. Each person passed us along to others who gave us a hug and said things like, "We have been so eager to meet you." It felt like a large family reunion. There were soon about one hundred individuals in the room enjoying this warm beginning of a very important day. I was probably the oldest dude in the room, but that didn't seem to matter. I knew that I had made the right decision.
Liz suggested that we make signs to carry. The two of us old troopers were soon down on the floor with magic markers. The message was easy: PROUD PARENTS OF A BISEXUAL SON.
While I am not a total stranger to marching for causes, I didn't fully anticipate what would happen next after we loaded ourselves onto the Green Line and headed for Government Center. Emerging from the station into that mass of people reminded me of an earlier day, in Washington, when some friends and I had marched on the South African Embassy with four thousand members of the Urban League. This crowd was many times larger.
Alan Hamilton spoke on stage as the representative of the bisexual community and highlighted the many injustices which our society still imposes upon individuals who have chosen gay, lesbian, or bisexual lifestyles.
Suddenly a young man stepped up and said, "Thank you for being here supporting all of us. I wish that my parents were with me today." As I moved through the crowd toward our place in the line of march, a number of individuals made similar comments. When the parade was about to begin, I could not see either the beginning or the end of the thousands of marchers. The sheer size of this demonstration of pride was beyond any of my expectations. I was breathless with excitement and was also deeply affected by the numerous reminders of concern for the people with AIDS.
Finally the column began to move. I didn't notice it at first but it soon became apparent that cheers and applause were being directed at us from people observing the three of us walking together and the message on our signs. We had not lost sight of the original purpose which had led to our choosing this particular action of demonstrating our support for Woody. But it became more obvious that the message on our signs was conveying something more important — "parental support of children." As the march progressed, Woody and I were interviewed by a local radio station, which presented an excellent opportunity to explain what it meant to me to be there with my son. The most poignant moment came when a young man stepped out of the crowd and asked, "Would you consider adopting another child?" Carol quickly replied, "Yes." There were also a number of sad moments when young women and men approached us and said, "I lost my own mother or father because of my sexual preference." We both thought how impossible it would be for us to lose one of our children because they had chosen a lifestyle different than our own.
Carol and I walked home slowly and silently. I was trying to assimilate this experience, feeling tired but just fine. This was the longest distance I had attempted to walk since my operation. I had done something which I had really wanted to do, and Carol had joined me, as she has done throughout our lives together when we faced important issues.
Alan, Pepper, and Woody came over in the evening. We went out together for dinner and made plans to spend the Fourth of July together at the Cape. It felt so very good to be together at the conclusion of this day. After dinner we walked slowly home, as if trying to stretch out this important day of expressing our pride in one another. There were hugs and plenty of kisses all around.
When Woody and I hugged each other, I said, "You know, I think that we did something special for each other today." He agreed. I don't think that he realized that I was also thinking of the hug that my dad gave me forty-six years earlier at the Ligonier railroad station. Fortunately, I have not lost a son because of war or arguments. Woody and I will have plenty of opportunities to share our memories. I hope there will be more marching parents next year.
Roland Glenn, now 91, is a WWII vet who lives in the Seacoast region of Southern Maine. He is a retired educator and public services professional who wrote an anti-war book called The Hawk and The Dove, and remains active, working with veterans with PTSD.