Stories From the Frontlines: A Love Letter to a G.I.

Jim Burroway

May 28th, 2010

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) kicked off its “Stories From the Frontline” series as part of a campaign specifically targeted toward adding the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Authorization Bill, which the SLDN saw as the best opportunity to repeal the ban on gays in the military. With yesterday’s votes in the Senate Armed Services Committee and in the full House of Representatives, that strategy has come to fruition.

And so it is fitting that on the day before Memorial Day weekend, the SLDN’s final letter is in the form of a love letter written during World War II, on the occasion of their anniversary. The letter was originally published in the September 1961 issue of ONE Magazine. (You can read about ONE Magazine and the amazing contribution it made to furthering freedom of speech for LGBT people here.)

The letter, as published in the September 1961 issue of ONE Magazine. (Click to enlarge)

Dear Dave,

This is in memory of an anniversary – the anniversary of October 27th, 1943, when I first heard you singing in North Africa. That song brings memories of the happiest times I’ve ever known. Memories of a GI show troop – curtains made from barrage balloons – spotlights made from cocoa cans – rehearsals that ran late into the evenings – and a handsome boy with a wonderful tenor voice. Opening night at a theatre in Canastel – perhaps a bit too much muscatel, and someone who understood. Exciting days playing in the beautiful and stately Municipal Opera House in Oran – a misunderstanding – an understanding in the wings just before opening chorus.

Drinks at “Coq d’or” – dinner at the “Auberge” – a ring and promise given. The show 1st Armoured – muscatel, scotch, wine – someone who had to be carried from the truck and put to bed in his tent. A night of pouring rain and two very soaked GIs beneath a solitary tree on an African plain. A borrowed French convertible – a warm sulphur spring, the cool Mediterranean, and a picnic of “rations” and hot cokes. Two lieutenants who were smart enough to know the score, but not smart enough to realize that we wanted to be alone. A screwball piano player – competition – miserable days and lonely nights. The cold, windy night we crawled through the window of a GI theatre and fell asleep on a cot backstage, locked in each other’s arms – the shock when we awoke and realized that miraculously we hadn’t been discovered. A fast drive to a cliff above the sea – pictures taken, and a stop amid the purple grapes and cool leaves of a vineyard.

The happiness when told we were going home – and the misery when we learned that we would not be going together. Fond goodbyes on a secluded beach beneath the star-studded velvet of an African night, and the tears that would not be stopped as I stood atop the sea-wall and watched your convoy disappear over the horizon.

We vowed we’d be together again “back home,” but fate knew better – you never got there. And so, Dave, I hope that where ever you are these memories are as precious to you as they are to me.

Goodnight, sleep well my love.

Brian Keith

(Reprinted with permission of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, www.onearchives.org, ONE Magazine, September 1961)

Aaron

May 28th, 2010

I’m crying a bit, and writhing in frustration at out government.

I love my country too much not to tell them continue in blissful ignorance while we suffer.

Mark F.

May 28th, 2010

It takes a lot to get me to cry, but that did it. Further comment would be worthless.

MJC

May 28th, 2010

Equally moved…All I can say is thanks for the post. Coincidentally, I am reading _An Army at Dawn_ which is about that campaign in North Africa.

Coxygru

May 29th, 2010

Was this written by “the” Brian Keith, the movie and TV star? Clicking over to Wikipedia, the article on him indicates he served in the Marine Corps from 1942–1945.

BarbaraYuki

May 30th, 2010

Thank you for sharing this, it’s so moving! I wonder if anyone writes letters like this anymore. What a gem this is, and what a wonderful day to share it.

Mark F.

May 30th, 2010

Was this written by “the” Brian Keith, the movie and TV star? Clicking over to Wikipedia, the article on him indicates he served in the Marine Corps from 1942–1945.

I highly doubt that. No actor would have outed himself in 1961. Probably a fake name.

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