As promised, here’s the second post where I wanted to discuss Memorial Day. Again, this is a day meant to pay tribute to those who died in service of the United States Armed Forces. If you’ve paid your own tasteful tribute today, even if it’s as simple as offering condolences or planting an American flag on a military member’s grave, good for you… for you understand the gravity of this solemn day.
Unfortunately, there are those with ginormous megaphones, both of the literal and figurative kinds, that want to use this Memorial Day to shout out how zealously patriotic they are. Case in point, those who put an American flag as big as the state of Texas. Well, okay, maybe they don’t make flags that big (yet). But to belabor this point, I had to seriously cringe when hearing this NPR story last week about a legal flap over a massive (40-by-80 feet) waiving over a Gander RV outlet in Statesville, North Carolina.
The city of Statesville has sued Gander’s parent company, Camping World, on the grounds that the flag (again, 40-by-80 feet in size) violates a city ordinance. Said ordinance, while it may be broad, was drawn up to prevent displays of flags from the Confederacy. Yes, you’re interpreting that correctly: Some American citizens’ fascination over a dark time in our country’s collective history, and the symbols associated with it, necessitated this rule… when one wishes said symbols would go into a museum where they belong. Or better yet, a dark cave where it can’t be seen.
Needless to say, Camping World’s CEO is peeved over being sued, and has raised a bit of a call to arms to get public support behind his flag. And, yes, he’s attracted the kind of support, at least judging from that NPR report, of those who believe a larger-than-life flag (I’ll say it again, 40-by-80 feet) flying over a will be the cure for what ails this country.
But to paraphrase the title of a very risque song from Pandora Boxx, nice flag, dudes… but it’s a shame about your *ahem* penis. This is less about putting up a flag and communicating what it stands for… and more about the jingoistic, “love it or leave it” attitudes exhibited by you and even worse, your supporters. (That’s right, I said it.) The scary part of this story is that at least one Statesville council person has received threatening communications from the pro-flag side. Last time I checked, being patriotic doesn’t mean you should threaten your fellow citizen. I hope Mr. Captain of the Cheap Camper Industry will disown that attitude.
My point is that Memorial Day shouldn’t be about how big one’s flag is, nor should it be about how many camouflage-hued baseball caps Major League Baseball can sell. It’s about paying respect for those who served, and doing so in a respectful and tasteful way.
Oh, and speaking of which… by now you’ve heard that You Know Who and his administration have gotten away with barring transgender service people from openly serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. And this on top of, among other things, weakening healthcare protections for trans people of all stripes (a story for another post, I’m sure). It’s these actions that prove our country’s current leadership does not have the best interests of every citizen, and every military service member, in mind.
But while we continue to fight that battle, let’s not forget that once upon a time, before the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” servicemen and women were booted out of the Armed Forces just for being homosexual or bisexual.
But thank goodness there were the likes of Air Force Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovitch. I admit that I’m not the best of LGBT history students, which is why I must credit the above mentioned Pandora Boxx for sharing the below tweet, which inspired me to learn more about this gentleman’s service:
Sgt. Matlovitch was born into an Air Force family. He would enlist at the age of 19 and would eventually serve three tours of duty in the Vietnam War. He was wounded during his time there, for which he would be awarded a Purple Heart; he also earned a Bronze Star.
By the middle 1970s, Sgt. Matlovitch volunteered to teach classes on race relations within the Air Force. He also began to realize that the discrimination African Americans faced in the military mirrored those that he and other gays were facing. And in 1975, Matlovitch came out to his commanding officer. Within short time, his plight became public in the pages of The New York Times and Time among other outlets.
And, no, his sexuality wasn’t a phase he was going through. Sgt. Matlovitch was a gay man, and with his actions he was daring the Armed Forces to drum him out of service. Which, unfortunately, they did in the fall of 1975, despite Sgt. Matlovitch’s distinctive and admirable service. But that wasn’t the end of the fight: Over the next 5 years, Sgt. Matlovitch fought against the Air Force’s decision in court.
In September 1980, a judge ordered the Air Force to reinstate Sgt. Matlovitch, who would instead choose to accept a financial settlement and not go for an attempt to plead his case before a possibly unfavorable Supreme Court. By then, though, he was already an in-demand figure within the gay community, helping to lead campaigns against anti-gay legislation in California and Florida. Even long after he had left the Air Force and was ensconced in private live, Matlovitch would continue to preach “love, not hate,” doing so right up until his death, of complications from HIV/AIDS, in June 1988.
The gravestone in the above tweet is indeed Sgt. Matlovitch’s final resting place, located at Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC. And, yes, his name is marked only as “A Gay Vietnam Veteran.” To this day, is grave has served as a sort of “inspiration point” for those in the LGBT community who celebrate his fight and the inspiration he provided for future generations of our community.
On this Memorial Day, it’s a safe bet that someone has rightfully decorated Sgt. Matlovitch’s grave with some sort of a patriotic memorial. Like, say, an American flag, one that doesn’t measure 40×80 feet. Perhaps there’s a rainbow-colored flag or ribbon accompanying it. It’ll be meant to honor someone who fought for America overseas, fought against the military powers-that-be at home, and did both to defend the freedoms of the LGBT+ community.
It’s the dignity in service of Sgt. Matlovitch and others that should be remembered on this Memorial Day, not how big some businessman wants their flag to be.