Narrator: Navy veteran Joseph Patton joined the military as a 17-year-old gay man in 1955.
Joseph Patton (JP): My dad told me going in the service would help me be a man, but I chose the Navy because I like the uniforms (laughs). They were tight and cute with bell bottoms. Lord have mercy.
Narrator: For StoryCorps in 2019, Joseph looked back on what it was like to serve in silence during that era…
JP: We were in San Diego and we went to a gay bar. I was exploring my sexuality but
they had military police walking around to check and see if there were any service men
in any of these gay bars. You could not be gay in the service at that time.
There was a group of us that hung out together. We drank together, we played cards, we became friends. But when these two guys told the commanders that they were lovers, everybody that were close friends with those guys was arrested. And I was kicked out of the service for being friends with a homosexual. They gave me an undesirable discharge. That was the worst time in my life.
To be in the service for my country is the greatest thing I thought I did. I was a perfect sailor. I did my job very well. So that whole period is almost like a dream. A lot of it I didn’t want to think about because it hurt so much. And I was so ashamed.
But you know, I can’t live in the past; I gotta be right here right now. Minute to minute sometimes, hour to hour, I have to remind myself that I’m loved by me and others and by God.
Love has no limits in my life and love surprises me all the time. Right now I see it outside because the sun is shining and it’s been gray all day. I’m 81 years old but sometimes I get up and dance. I shake my ass with life. Yes. (laughs) And I’m blessed that I can feel like that.
Narrator: That’s Joseph Patton in 2019 for StoryCorps in Santa Monica, California.
Decades after his undesirable discharge from the military… he was able to get it changed to honorable.
Joseph died in 2020 at the age of 83.