A 91-year-old gay veteran from Connecticut has won his legal battle against the United States Air Force to upgrade his discharge status to honorable.
H. Edward Snipes was notified Friday that his application to the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records was approved, removing once and for all the undesirable discharge label that had marked his service record since his dismissal from the military in 1948.
“My first thought was, ’it’s about time,” Spires said Monday. “I can lift my head again.”
The 91-year-old veteran filed his lawsuit against the Air Force in conjunction with a team of lawyers at the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic this November. They cited the repeal of the military’s now defunct “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding LGBT service in their suit.
Though Spires and his husband David Rosenberg are relieved to have the matter behind them, they noted that the Air Force Board’s ruling was officially worded with no apology: “Sufficient relevant evidence has been presented to demonstrate the existence of an injustice.”
The board referred to Department of Defense guidance that a veteran’s status should be changed to honorable if the original discharge was granted solely on the basis of sexuality and not for any aggravating factors, such as misconduct.
“Although we cannot conclusively determine the applicant was discharged for his sexual orientation, based on our review of the facts and circumstances in this case, it is our opinion his discharge more likely than not meets both conditions noted above,” the board stated.
Veterans with a less than honorable discharge are generally barred from receiving a wide range of military benefits, including educational reimbursements, housing resources and even the right to military honors at their funeral.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who advocated on behalf of Spires throughout his suit, said, “I’m very gratified for Ed Spires and his spouse for this decision corrects an incredible injustice, I’m also hopeful and excited for others who were similarly unjustly discharged with less than honorable status simply because of their sexual orientation. I’ll continue to fight for them.”
Spires joined the U.S. Army Air Force in 1946, at the age of 20. He was assigned to be a chaplain’s assistant in San Antonio, where he typed letters to distressed families, played the organ at Catholic mass and set up the chapel for services.
While in San Antonio, the young assistant built a large group of civilian friends, many of whom were LGBT. By 1947, however, his commander called a meeting to “clean up the base of homosexuals,” the complaint states.
Spires was then summoned to the commander’s office and questioned about his sexuality. He remained quiet on the matter, which led the officer to threaten “to throw him into the stockade and tell the other prisoners that [he] was a homosexual.”
“Over the course of an hour-long interrogation, the master sergeant repeatedly asked Mr. Spires if he was gay and requested information about his relationships with many people in the address book that the Master Sergeant confiscated from Mr. Spires’s pocket,” the lawsuit asserts.
In order to end the questioning, Spires eventually signed a statement saying he’d been a passive participant in homosexual acts, but refused to out other gay soldiers on the base.
Following his discharge, the vet rarely mentioned his time in the air force, destroying all evidence of his service. When pressed, he’d usually say that he was discharged for medical reasons.
After having his discharge upped to honorable status, Spires says “every day seems a little brighter…I can smile again.”
This June, the U.S. Navy announced that all former sailors and marines forced out of the military because of their sexuality could apply to have their discharges repealed. The following month, the pentagon lifted its ban on trans service members.
h/t: Hartford Courant