Willet Fields comes across like an ordinary 91 year old. He’s serene, happy, healthy, and gregarious. He’s also a World War II Veteran, and very out and gay. He’s got an infectious smile that makes you want to hug him like a teddy bear; and he’s so easy going that he doesn’t mind if you do. The only clue that he is someone special is the little piece of cloth with the rows of WWII ribbons pinned to his old garrison cap, which he wore to march in the New York City Pride Parade this year. Oh, and then there was the little sign saying "GAY WWII VET" which he proudly and gleefully carried past a million thunderously cheering spectators on Fifth Avenue and down Christopher Street.
Like so many of The Greatest Generation, He was drafted into the Army in 1941 as a Private. After the war, he decided that the Army was a good life and stayed in, rising right through the ranks, over the course of 28 years of service, becoming a Warrant Officer, Chief Warrant Officer, 2nd Lt., Lt., Captain, and ultimately retired as a Major in 1974.
His many decorations include: the WWII medal, American Defense Ribbon, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbon, American Campaign Ribbon, National Defense Ribbon, German Occupation Ribbon, The Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Philippines Liberation Ribbon with Bronze Star, and The Philippine Independence Ribbon.
Beginning his training in the Army Infantry at Camp Wheeler in Macon Georgia, he served in the Philippines, and the allied occupation of Germany.
In the Philippines, he worked tracing lost American personnel. As he tells the story, Philippine citizens wrote down the names, from dog tags, onto the wrappers of cigarettes issued by the Red Cross, and hid them under latrines during the Japanese Occupation. In 1944, these ‘records’ were carefully retrieved and used by the Determination of Death Committee to inform families and arrange benefits. In 1951, in the occupation of Germany, he was an adjutant, starting his career in administration and as a JAG officer.
"It was not fun to be a gay person in the service," he said. He had to participate in many sodomy court martial trials. "It broke my heart," he said sadly. But there was nothing he could do; and sadly even today, all these years later, the same circumstance still exists in America’s armed forces. For himself, he had little trouble finding casual companionship. It was the life he chose, serving his country patriotically and faithfully, sacrificing a lifetime of personal freedom. As he approaches his 92nd birthday, Major Willet Fields, US Army Retired, still enjoys ballroom dancing and spends time with his peers at SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment). His esprit is evident even today. When I asked him what to tell a young gay man about to join the Marines; he said, "Do it if you have a mind to, if you feel you can handle it; make a life of it. Be careful. Its a good life!"
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