A former Marine who received an "undesirable discharge" in 1956 for being gay has had his dying wish come true — he now holds an honorable discharge.
Hal Faulkner, 79, was diagnosed with terminal cancer a few years back, reports National Public Radio
, and finds it "incredible" that he's still alive. When he was diagnosed, he came clean to his family and told them about his dying wish.
"I don't have much longer to live," Faulkner told NPR, "I will always be a Marine."
Faulkner enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1953 and was sent to the Philippines. Just three years later, in 1956, he was discharged, and his military papers pointed out that he was a homosexual.
"I always knew he served in the Marines, but no one in the family knew of the [undesirable] discharge," said Michelle Clark, his niece.
The family has known that Clark was gay since 2005, when he came out while attending a wedding with his partner of more than 20 years.
As it turns out, the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" law made it possible for him to get his military discharge upgraded, a move his family supported.
"He's been carrying this societal shame with him all these years," Clark said. "We as a family had no idea the pain he had inside of him."
The family worried that getting his records upgraded to an honorable discharge while Faulkner was still living would prove to be difficult, if not impossible, since correcting military records in most cases usually takes at least six months and quite often much longer.
But the activist group OutServe-SLDN helped the former Marine find a pro-bono lawyer, Anne Brooksher-Yen, to present his case to the military on his behalf. She also feared that the military would move too slow, but the Marine Corps acted on the dying man's request in just two weeks.
According to NPR, a group of Marines showed up at a small ceremony to present Faulkner with his long-awaited honorable discharge.
"I didn't think that maybe I would last through all the battles that we've had, but a Marine is always a Marine," Faulkner said at the presentation, where his new papers were handed over to him by two young Marines.
Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, which pushed for years to allow gays in the military, told NPR he hopes more veterans will follow Faulkner's example and push to have their records upgraded.
"He will die here knowing that he served his country honorably," said Sainz. "You certainly can't right the wrong of six decades, [but] you can make it right going forward. And that's what happened today, and that's what we hope will come to thousands of Americans similarly situated."
At least 114,000 military personnel have received undesirable discharges
for being gay, but many don't know they can correct their records, noted Sainz. The records correction also makes them eligible for benefits, such as healthcare and home loans, which they could not get before.
But Brooksher-Yen said Faulkner was never interested in the benefits; she said he only wanted to prove that "he served with honor in the military."
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