Column: Thirty years later, seeking a change to a service record amid times of progress

The author, then 26, serving the U.S. Navy. [Courtesy photo]
The author, then 26, serving the U.S. Navy. [Courtesy photo]

MIAMI — Thirty years ago, on Aug. 14, 1986, I was discharged from the U.S. Navy because, under oath, I was asked if I was gay. I said yes. That was that. 

One single statement made me disruptive to good order and discipline. 

I was discharged honorably, and I refused to believe that I did any harm to the Navy that I loved and had served for more than eight years. 

I never doubted my inherent worth.

It was the Navy that was wrong. 

Remaining in Norfolk, I worked at Shoney’s as a busboy, waiter, and eventually manager. I was hired as a civil servant by the same Navy about a year later, but this time I did not hide the fact that I was gay

My DD-214 — the paperwork releasing me from active duty — made me an officially gay person.

I served my Navy for another 20 years, the period I originally intended to serve in uniform. I refused to tolerate anything anti-gay in any type of work experience.

This very same Navy had treated African Americans as second class citizens, treated Filipinos like servants, and denigrated women. Remember Tailhook? I refused to let any of those behaviors happen around me. 

After 28 years with the Navy, I moved from Virginia to Miami, where I began working for the U.S. Army. I have now served the Army for nine years, and I have a total of 37 years serving the defense of my nation. 

I am writing this because America is a land of potential. If something presently is not possible, that does not make it impossible forever. 

Just think of how we have changed.

African Americans have taken their place as full and equal members of our military. Filipinos were integrated as the full sailors they should have been all along. 

A woman’s place in our military is absolutely everywhere. American women have fought and earned their absolute right to lead. 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have fought and struggled for equality, and we are on the cusp of fully engaging transgender people as an integral part of our military services. 

This month I will petition the Board for Correction of Naval Records to correct my DD 214 to change my reenlistment code from RE4 to RE1, meaning from ineligible to reenlist to eligible. This redesignation will be my formal apology from a service that was wrong to discharge me. 

I am now too old to reenlist, but that is not the point. 

I want the generations to come to know that LGBT people — and the rest of the people who were treated less than others — were always equal. 

We, as American citizens, had the right to serve and to be respected.

I was bitter 30 years ago, but it quickly passed. Today, I am exceedingly proud of my Navy, my Army and my nation.

My commander in chief is African American. My next one probably will be a woman. My secretary of the Army is an openly gay man who marched as grand marshal of the San Diego Pride parade, and he led contingents representing all four services. 

I see my LGBT soldiers serve openly with their spouses fully respected. I have an African American battalion commander who is as prepared as any soldier can be. There is a woman who happens to be African American serving as a four-star admiral. A Filipino captain commands the mightiest warship on earth. Some of the most ferocious soldiers on this planet are women, too. 

My battalion is full of young talented people from every corner of the globe. They speak multiple languages. Almost all of these people are college educated. They are living testaments that the American Dream exists. They are a repudiation of the idea that immigrants come here to take. In fact, they come to serve and enrich the meaning of what is to be an American. 

In such company, I only regret that I am too old to do it all over again. 

If I could, even now, I would go to the pier and board the next ship heading out to sea. 

President Kennedy put my feelings about service best: 

“I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: “I served in the United States Navy’”

Jorge Sague, formerly of Hampton Roads, served eight years on active duty as an enlisted yeoman in the Navy, including aboard USS America. He has worked for years as a civilian employee of the Navy and, more recently, the Army.

Published by permission of the author.

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