Gay vet honourably discharged after 70 years: ‘I can go to my grave with my head held high’
A 91-year-old veteran who finally received an honourable discharge from the Air Force after 70 years has said he can “go to his grave with his head held high”.
Hubert Edward Spires had signed up to the Air Force aged 20, serving from 1946 to 1948 and earning the rank of sergeant.
However he was dismissed for “undesirable habits and traits of character” as part of a homophobic witch hunt, after his superior officers took exception to a sparkly Halloween outfit and interrogated him about his sexuality.
Writing for the New York Post, Spires says: “Hearing that the discharge status had been switched to “honorable” was the tonic I needed. I felt unburdened. 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.”
He remembers in the column being told by the master sergeant: “If you don’t tell us whether you are gay, we will court martial you!”
“With the help of students from the Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic, I filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court last November.
“It asserted that my rights had been violated after I encountered unreasonable delays in the Air Force review because some of my records had been destroyed in a 1973 fire.
“There was added urgency because I contracted pneumonia that same month and spent 10 days in the hospital intensive care unit. A priest gave me the last rites. Against the odds, I recovered.”
Military veterans were able to apply to have their discharges overturned following the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy in 2010, however Mr Spires was told he was not able to get his ‘undesirable’ status changed because records of his discharge had been lost in a fire.
In November Mr Spires launched a lawsuit aimed at getting the Air Force to overturn his dishonourable discharge, and this week a settlement was reached as the Air Force changed his discharge to honourable.
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The Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records confirmed that the request for an honourable discharge has now been approved by the Air Force Review Boards Agency.
Spires, who is in poor health, will be afforded a military burial thanks to his new discharge status.
The Connecticut resident told the Hartford Courant: “My first thought was, ‘It’s about time’ I can lift my head again.
Democraic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who has battled on Spires’ behalf, 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.”