[The following appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on 17 Dec. 2007.]
"Lighten up on 'don't ask, don't tell"
EDWARD F. PALM
Call me "Les."
My real name is "Ed," but I was always Les to the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division when I was a major serving on his staff in the late '80s.
The recent news reports about 28 retired admirals and generals calling for an end to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy have led me to reflect on how I came to be Les. Personally, I think it is long past time for the Department of Defense to lighten up on this issue, as I learned to do in the 1st Marine Division.
The entire time I was on active duty as a Marine officer, there was only other officer named Palm, and he was always at least three ranks ahead of me. His name is Les Palm.
Now, the Marine Corps, compared with the other services, is a small place. Senior officers tend to know one another -- by reputation, if not personally. Les Palm enjoyed a superb reputation throughout the Corps. Ed Palm -- "not so much." This was mainly because of my own career choice. As an enlisted man, I had served in Vietnam as a rifleman and patrol leader with the Combined Action Program. But later in life, as an officer, I became an "adjutant," a professional administrator.
The general clearly had me confused with Les Palm. Whenever I would brief him, he would close the briefing with "Thank you, Les." Or, when I would encounter him in the hall or in the club, he would say "Hi, Les."
For the most part, I was content to be "Les." But one day I did ask the division adjutant, an ironic young captain, if he thought I should set the general straight.
"Hell no, sir!" my young friend replied. "Les Palm is a heterosexual -- an artillery officer. You're just an adjutant," he reminded me.
"The confusion can only do you good!"
I retired -- still a major -- in 1993 and went on to an academic career. Les Palm would go on to become a lieutenant general. We never actually met. But my young friend was right; the confusion did do me a lot of good. It prompted me to think seriously about whether having gays serving openly would really be a detriment to good order and discipline.
Later, in interviewing for academic jobs, when people would ask me where I stood on the gay ban, I knew just what to say. I told them that I had seen far more boy-girl problems than problems caused by gay Marines.
I told them that, gay or straight, we have an obligation to keep our sex lives private and separate from our professional lives. And I told them that, should the Department of Defense change the policy and allow gays to serve openly, not only would we adjust but we would lead the way, just as the Armed Forces had done with racial integration in the '50s.
I still believe that. I also still wonder if anyone anywhere has ever confused Les Palm with Ed Palm the adjutant turned academic.
Edward F. Palm is dean of social sciences and humanities at Olympic College in Bremerton.
- Edward F. Palm
- Forest, Virginia, United States
- A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)