Hubert Edward Spires has told the New York Post he can “go to his grave with his head held high” after receiving an honourable discharge from the Air Force, nearly 70 years after he was dismissed for being gay.
The now 91-year-old Spires attended seminary school before enlisting in the Air Force in 1946. He was then posted to San Antonio, Texas as a chaplain’s assistant.
Growing up as the son of strict Catholic farmers in Ohio, Spires had learned very early on to hide his sexuality. However, for a Halloween party at the military base, he bought a “woman’s bathing cap and glued sequins on it and covered white overalls with artificial snow,” to create a costume inspired by a popular laundry soap.
The flamboyant costume caught the eye of a corporal who reported Spires to their superiors, suspecting he was gay.
Spires remembers being rounded up, interrogated and threatened that he would be court martialled if he didn’t admit his sexuality.
He was forced to sign a paper conceding that he had “passively participated in homosexual acts” and was discharged for “undesirable habits and traits of character”.
Receiving the so called ‘blue ticket’ meant Spires was denied veterans’ benefits, the possibility of a college degree via the GI Bill and a military funeral when he died.
It wasn't until 2010— when the US Military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy was repealed— that Spires and his partner began researching in an effort to get the status of his military record changed.
With assistance from the Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic, he was able to file a law suit late last year.
Although Spires nearly died from pneumonia during the legal process, he says that when a settlement was reached and his discharge status was changed to ‘honourable’, it was just the tonic he needed.
“The negative thoughts that have plagued me for seven decades have been banished forever. I can go to my grave with my head held high,” says Spires.