Young boy and girl on beach

Don’t Be a Douche

by Bi Janus

edited by vwl, aka rec


The reader may find this list of acronyms helpful:

FOB Forward Operating Base
GPR ground-penetrating radar
IED improvised explosive device
Capt Captain
KIA killed in action
PFT physical fitness test
PLC Platoon Leader Class
RPG rocket propelled grenade
Noncom Non-commissioned Officer; in the USMC, Corporals and all grades of Sergeant
PFC Private First Class
DADT don’t ask don’t tell
Cover the military term for a cap (also an object behind which you hide)
CO Commanding Officer


FOB Sabit Qadam (formerly Jackson)
Sangin District
Helmand Province


We can patrol only in single file with a dog or GPR in the lead—very slow going, but if you step out of line, you’ll probably lose your legs, your genitals, and perhaps die. We know that the Taliban communicate our departure from the base and our movements thereafter with everything from radios to mirrors. The most common sound now is the thudding of IEDs, and I’m the one who has to send my platoons out.

Tommy Allread, Capt, USMC
Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines

* * * * *

My younger sister taught me how to shake hands both with men and other boys and with women. We lived on the beach but not at the wealthy end of our barrier island on the west coast of Florida. Our house on the road running adjacent to the white-sand beach was modest, but my sister and I thought we were well off. We were fatherless, but Mom had a good job as the executive legal secretary to the senior partner of an important law firm. I thought she was a little flaky, and she was of no use in teaching a boy what was necessary to become a man. I’m not even sure how well she did with teaching Alena how to become a woman.

At fifteen, I was not homely, but I was scrawny with little muscle and was painfully shy. Alena was what my male schoolmates described as an early developer—precocious and stacked—at thirteen. She wasn’t above teasing boys her age and older, but she never had a serious relationship with one. I never had a relationship, casual or serious, with a girl. I was afraid of them, and I had none of the rabid curiosity exhibited by my peers about their bodies and what could be done with them. So, I was never love-struck or pining for any of the girls with whom I went to school, but then I was afraid of the boys, too.

Nothing attracts ridicule like lack of self-confidence. Once when Alena and I were at the beach, me in my board shorts looking like a stick figure, and she in her bikini looking more like a sixteen-year-old than a middle schooler, one of the senior boys from the high school showed up. Skinny I may have been, but a lifetime of living at the beach had allowed me to become a good swimmer. As I left the water, I saw the paragon of male beauty, wearing a Speedo that didn’t conceal much of his anatomy, marching toward me. I almost ran back into the water.

“I can’t believe a dweeb like you is related to that fine specimen,” the hulk said, loud enough for my sister to overhear.

She left the water and seemed to float over the sand toward the newcomer. “Why don’t you just get your ass out of here?”

“Your sister fighting your battles, Allread?”

As I stood paralyzed and unable to respond, Alena motioned to the boy to follow her until they were twenty feet away from me. The guy was looking at Alena as if she was a piece of meat and he was a Rottweiler. Then she touched the side of his face, almost pulling him closer to her. As he was about to make some kind of move, her knee came up, and she crushed his nuts. He dropped to his knees gasping.

“If you don’t get the hell out of here, everyone at your school will know that you were put down by a little girl. And if you bother my brother in any way, the same thing will happen again.”

I was mortified, embarrassed, ashamed…and thankful. We never spoke of the incident afterwards.

* * * * *

FOB Shamsher
Sangin District
Helmand Province


I’m glad to be out of Qadam—no peace there, and the place was a palace. Every day we held parade and read off the names of the KIA followed by a prayer.  Guys would drop from the heat, and these guys are in the best shape of their lives. I had a knockdown with the battalion commander about me needing to move here. Here we just patrol, fight, and return to the mud-walled compound. We’re really just bystanders in a drug war in which two tribes fight for the poppy fields. The Brits, who were here before us, had the right idea: leave the poppy fields alone. The crop is the only source of subsistence the natives have.

But no. We’re Americans, and we’ll let you and your families starve before we let you grow poppies. No wonder they go to the Taliban.

It's interesting to pass by the locals, who think we can’t understand them and hear their conversations. The dialects are different, but thank goodness for Cal-Berkeley.

Tommy Allread, Capt, USMC
Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines

* * * * *

High school was like purgatory—no fires of damnation but no real joy, either. I’d say my experience was average for kids who aren’t popular or athletically gifted. I kept my head down and burrowed into my math and science courses. I had a part-time job as a grocery bagger at a local Publix, which, of course, increased my cachet dramatically. Instead of trying to save for a car, I saved the money I earned in a savings account. Mom was pleased with my grades.

As my sister grew up, I was continually surprised that she didn’t collect a boyfriend. Alena went on group outings where she wasn’t part of a couple. It wasn’t as if the boys weren’t trying. I suppose part of my high-school experience derived from our relationship; it wouldn’t do to piss Alena off by fucking with her brother. I figured that she was avoiding the teenage octopuses that surrounded her. Quite a few boys who wanted to date her sought my advice, which, of course, was nonexistent. I got a few points with some of the girls in my class because I appeared chivalrous. Actually, I was only bewildered.

I had friends—mostly other guys interested in math and physics—and I belonged to the Science Club. An occasional girl would approach me, but I was too dense to read the clues, and besides, I was still afraid. Alena did her best to get me to go out with a girl, but she wasn’t insistent, and she didn’t seem to think any the less of me when I didn’t follow her advice. I helped her with her homework, but only a little. Alena was bright, and we both read a lot.

I sucked at PE except for pull-ups and rope climbing. PE teachers were agog at how fast I could shinny up the rope and ring the bell at its top. The secret was simple: when you don’t have much weight to hoist, it doesn’t require a Hercules. I tolerated the gang showers, where I kept my eyes down and didn’t waste time. My muscular, athletic peers just stood and shook their heads, but they thought no better of me.

In my senior year, Alena had joined me at the high school, and I had discovered another talent. The guy that had the best GPA in the science curriculum besides me was John Zhang. We had developed a friendly rivalry and often studied together. John was on the track team, and one day, as we studied in the school library, John asked if I would run with him after school on the track. I shook my head that day and for a few days after when he repeated the request, but eventually John guilted me into running with him.

Alena found out what I was doing after school and began to nag me to join the track team. John started doing the same thing, but I knew I had no talent. I could run because, again, I didn’t have very much weight to haul around the track. I had fun running with Johnny, and after we finished, he would occasionally throw his arm around my neck as we walked from the track. Alena once gently asked if I thought John was cute. My look of confusion must have discouraged that line of inquiry because she never asked again.

As my senior year wound down, I began to develop a plan to cure my ills.

* * * * *

FOB Shamsher
Sangin District
Helmand Province


I’ve been writing letters this evening—letters to parents and spouses of the guys in my company who have been wounded or killed (fortunately only one of those). They didn’t train us very well for this responsibility. I try not to write in platitudes and to include personal reminiscences about each of their loved ones. I can’t ease their pain or prepare them for the years ahead, but I want them to know how much their brothers cared for the ones they’d lost and how much we will miss them.

Replacements come from other units. Sometimes they fit right in, and other times they are resented because of whom they replaced. We depend on each other so much that eventually everyone supports everyone else. My platoon leaders are first rate, and I try to give them encouragement, correction when they screw up, and help as they work their ways up the chain as I did. It’s been five years for me. I never imagined staying this long. I’ve already decided that this is the end of the chain for me.

Back to the letters.

Tommy Allread, Capt, USMC
Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines

* * * * *

I did really well on my SATs—98th percentile in math and mid 1500s with the verbal and writing thrown in, and I was nearly perfect on the subject test in physics. I applied to three schools and was accepted at all three—MIT, Princeton, and Caltech—with full-boat scholarships. I chose Caltech because of the math and physics faculty: Gukov, Ramakrishnan, Jansen. Besides, I wanted to look at the other coast. I also thought putting my plan into action in California would be easier; Mom wouldn’t be able to lock me in my room until I came to my senses.

My grandmother was thrilled with my educational plans and bought me a nice, late-model used car. That meant my savings were preserved. As soon as I turned eighteen, I put my plan into action. I went to a US Marine Corps recruiting station and applied for Officer Candidate School on the Platoon Leader Class track. I didn’t think that the Marine Corps would magically transform me, but I hoped the Corps would instill in me some leadership skills and a different way of looking at myself. I thought the experience would either make or break me.

The recruiter, a young sergeant, was very happy to help me, but he reminded me that I’d have to pass a physical-fitness test. Fortunately, the test was mainly about upper-body strength demonstrated by pull-ups and running a mile in the required time. The snag was that I thought I would be able to train in California at Camp Pendleton, but OCS programs are all conducted at Quantico, Virginia. Although the Corps paid travel expenses, I’d have to fly across the country for the training, which occurred during summers between two of my class years at school. Okay, I could manage that.

I took the written tests, was interviewed by a selection officer—a captain—got my references in, and was selected after I had passed the PFT. I had told Alena what I was doing before I submitted my application. For a moment, she looked as if she wanted to strangle me, but only for a moment. Then, she hugged me and asked, “Are you sure?”

I told her I was but that I didn’t want to tell Mom until it was a done deal. She agreed not to rat me out to Mom. The summer went on as usual, and I continued to run with John. When I was ready to tell Mom, I realized how much I would miss her and Alena…and John. We sat down at the dining-room table, and my mother looked at me expectantly. She was absolutely unprepared for what I told her, and for three days she was alternately furious and teary. Once she saw that I was determined and had made a commitment, she relented, but the sense of worry never left her. I saw it when she looked at me, and I felt forlorn that I was causing her this pain.

* * * * *

FOB Shamsher
Sangin District
Helmand Province


We are still taking it to them. The locals tell us they have no interest in schools or hospitals; they want security. The few of them—those who aren’t Talibs or police who run the drug trade—are trying to make a living growing corn or raising goats. My Marines are between the devil and the deep-blue sea. To give them security we have to wreak havoc; to keep my men safe, I have to fight as little as possible while performing our mission.

When I first got here as a platoon leader fresh out of OCS and advanced training, I took my platoon sergeant’s advice: don’t be a douche. I saw a lot of firefights. The Taliban knew our combat doctrine and tactics as well as we did: fire and maneuver. They littered the places with IEDs to which we would normally move when they started a firefight. They effectively nullified our tactics, and we had to fight in place, a non-tactic that put us in peril. We switched gears and instead of retreating as many of the forces here before us had, we fought like hell. One captured Talib said that we ran toward their bullets. Confusion to the enemy.

We followed them into their compounds and into homes and even mosques where they hid. We laid everything low. Our battalion has a surveillance and target-acquisition platoon, whose whole job is to smoke out places where Talibs congregated and then call in airstrikes, artillery, or us. We used the hell out of them, and whenever I’m tempted to bemoan my lot in life, I think of them. At first the Talibs mostly attacked at night with RPGs and small arms, or they tried to run us off in the daylight with head-on attacks. They failed and lost a lot of their strength. That's how you eventually get security, and we paid the locals for the damage we caused. Now, the Taliban are less active because they know we’ll find them and kill them—fewer firefights but more IEDs.

We send two squads on each patrol instead of one because it takes a whole squad to get a wounded Marine to safety.

Tommy Allread, Capt, USMC
Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines

* * * * *

Caltech was wonderful. The first term I felt overwhelmed. The talent level among my peers was amazing, but I held my own. After the grades came out, I got a note from one of the faculty geniuses. I knew that Lucas Jansen was gay before I went to see him, and he offered to let me work with him (mostly doing scut-work calculations, but hey). Of course, I took his offer, and he told me to call him Lucas, as he would call me Tommy. I was so glad I had come here.

Since I knew where I would head after graduation and training, I wanted to study Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, or Pashto in my spare time.  Caltech had only a smattering of language offerings available and none of them the ones I wanted. In one of my meetings with Dr. Jansen, we were talking about my plans, and I mentioned my disappointment. Three days later, I got a call from the head of the Near Eastern Languages Program at Cal-Berkeley telling me that I could audit classes in the languages I wanted without charge.

I called home every few days and although I always talked to Mom, my longest conversations were with Alena. She wanted to know everything I was doing, and I regaled her with tales of Nobel laureates and Millennium Prize winners. She asked if I was seeing anyone, and I always said I was working too hard, especially with my language classes at Berkeley. Then, I’d turn the question around and ask it of her. One time near the end of my second term, she told me she was. I asked what his name was, and she changed the subject.

As I finished exams and prepared to leave for Quantico, I was invited with a few others to a cookout at Dr. Jansen’s place where I met his partner, who is a wonderful artist. I was the only undergrad there, and the cookout gave me an opportunity to meet a number of grad students in both math and physics, many of whom said that they had heard good things about me. To these people, I was neither uninteresting nor weak.

As I packed for the trip to Virginia, using the recommended list, I realized that my attitude about myself had changed. I thought I could succeed. Of course, I had no idea what I was in for.

* * * * *

FOB Shamsher
Sangin District
Helmand Province


I just finished a meeting with a PFC on a disciplinary problem.  Such a meeting is unusual.  The company is organized by platoons—three rifle platoons and a weapons platoon. The platoons are divided into squads or teams. Even the lowest-level element has a leader. So, before a problem reaches “the Old Man,” a lot of leaders have tried to solve it, and in a way, failing to solve the problem is a failure of leadership. Not many corporals or sergeants want to admit that kind of failure.

Most of these kids joined the Corps because of some notion of the glory of combat, not with a plan, as I did. They had no idea of what they were in for. The Corps made them interchangeable parts of a machine.  The Corps hadn’t succeeded in doing that to me.

Marines who come before me for discipline realize that I can make their lives miserable, and generally they’re scared. I try to remember what my first platoon sergeant told me: don’t be a douche; but I can’t let a knucklehead endanger the rest of us. I think this is why I was promoted, because I seem to able to get to the root of problems while maintaining command authority.

I spoke with the Marine alone for a few minutes and discovered that he wasn’t sure he could do what he needed to do as a machine-gunner in the weapons platoon. After the poor guy left my office, I talked with the first sergeant, the top noncom in the company, and we agreed to reassign the guy to a rifle platoon. Until he proves himself, unfortunately, the rest of the guys on the line will distrust him.

One of my platoon leaders is ill, and I’m going out in his place on a patrol tomorrow night. I guess I am old compared to most of the line Marines in the company. Fortunately, my first sergeant and many of the platoon sergeants are older and more experienced than I.

Oh, I’ve been meaning to ask if you ever see Johnny.  We wrote to each other a couple of times a few years ago, but then…. Just checking. I think about him now and then.

Tommy Allread, Capt, USMC
Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines

* * * * *

How to describe OCS? It’s a little like a British public school: strict hierarchy and expectation to obey orders. I managed to get to Quantico on time, and the first week was hell. But, I had felt that kind of pressure before, all through middle and high schools, except that my baby sister was no longer there to run interference. The first summer is more about bookwork and retention of a million facts about the Marine Corps, its structure, its history, and mission. Oh, the session is also about physical fitness.

We were divided into platoons and squads. My class started with 380 guys. I was still skinny and not that tall, but none of the instructors suggested that I was unfit on that score.

The approach seemed to be to disorient the candidate and then ask him to solve problems under pressure. I was determined to succeed, and when I realized that the instructors were looking for your maximum effort no matter your starting place, I gave just that. I could have done my three-mile run fairly easily with a good score, but I made sure I was gasping for breath when I finished, and my score went up each time I repeated the test. It was the same for the other activities on the PFT.

The instructors didn’t want automatons, but they did want leaders who could obey orders without overthinking them. Candidates who spent a lot of time bemoaning how little sense some of the orders made began to drop away. I just kept my head down and pushed myself as hard as I could. Some of my platoon mates had trouble with the academics, and I tried to help them. Our squad posted high scores because we helped each other. This kind of help was especially important for the swimming and obstacle courses. The swimming wasn’t in chlorine-sanitized pools but in brackish water of the Virginia countryside and in marsh pits.

Gradually, the way my squad mates related to me changed, and the instructors saw them coming to me for ideas and with problems. I just behaved as I did in civilian life. I showed up on time and prepared, just as I had for Dr. Jansen’s tutorials. Our cumulative scores were posted for each squad and platoon, and we were always near the top. When the guys started to get cocky, our instructors told us to keep our heads down because things were always going to be harder the following week.

That was a big message I took away from both summers: things were going to get harder tomorrow and next week. When I got to my first assignment, how true that turned out to be.

I was evaluated and continued in the program. Back I went to Caltech.

The second session was tougher on me because it was more about overcoming self-doubt. The instructors deprived us of sleep and relentlessly put us in the field. My attitude didn’t change, but my judgement about whether I could make it through did. I put on some muscle without becoming muscle-bound—more lean, long muscles of a runner than anything else. The same ethos about teamwork that we developed in the first session was sharpened in the second. No one gets left behind.

I made it through the second session and returned to Caltech to finish my degree. Then I had to decide whether or not to be commissioned. I decided yes, and off I went to The Basic School where I learned to be a combat Marine. After I completed TBS, I was off to a rifle platoon in Afghanistan, where eventually I was promoted to first lieutenant and after four deployments to captain. There I learned from a lot of fine sergeants and company commanders how to survive and to be sure my men survived.

* * * * *

FOB Shamsher
Sangin District
Helmand Province


I’m just finishing up paperwork before we go out on patrol tonight. Some of the locals have told us that the Talibs are pressing them to fight for them or to make their houses safe for them. We haven't seen this kind of organized recruiting for a while, so we’ll go out and remind the Talibs that we're here and not leaving soon; we’re as much security as the locals get.

I’ve been thinking of our motto, Semper Fidelis. For me, it has nothing to do with patriotism or politics—or for that matter the senior leadership of the Corps or the Corps itself. Semper Fi means staying faithful to the guys in my company, the guys who go out in harm’s way because I order them to go.

By the way, I was beyond happy to get a letter from Johnny. We’ll stay in touch.

Before I go on patrol, I have to give myself a mission briefing and check with the senior corpsmen to be sure he sends a good medic with us. We rely on Navy corpsmen. And, I need to check that our machine-gun and mortar teams from the weapons platoon are set.

I'm going to get some sleep now before we go.

Tommy Allread, Capt, USMC
Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines

* * * * *

Here’s what I remember:

We were in our walled compound, where I was briefing the guys for the mission. They were asking sensible questions, and there were occasional jokes. Then I heard a plop in the sand about ten feet from us.

A nice little bomb had been thrown over the wall. Without thinking, I yelled, “Down!” and then I went toward the device, which promptly blew me across the compound. I guess I should have followed my own advice, but I wanted to shield those kids. There was nothing heroic about my action; Semper Fi. I was blinded by white light and burned by the heat.

I was conscious of a world of pain in my left leg, and I was having a little trouble breathing. It was a good thing that we had taken to patrolling with tourniquets already placed loosely on our thighs. Amid the cries, I felt the corpsman put the tourniquet on my left leg to use.

I whispered, “Get a casualty report.”

Then I passed out. Later I learned that one other guy took some shrapnel—he was not quick enough to obey my shouted order. After I regained some semblance of consciousness as I was loaded into a Blackhawk, the first sergeant told me that everyone else was okay. I nodded.

Then he said, “I will personally find those responsible and end their existence as slowly and painfully as possible.”

I grabbed his arm and whispered, “Don’t be a douche.”

* * * * *

I went to Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield, where the trauma surgeons tried to do what they could for my leg, removing the shrapnel from my legs, arms, and face. I was evaluated for traumatic brain injury. Then, when I was stable, albeit short one leg below the knee, I was shipped by cargo plane to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

On that flight, I discovered the wonders of Demerol. I floated in and out of awareness and complained about the pain in my non-existent foot. The Corps leaves no Marine family behind. Before I was in surgery at Bagram, my mother and sister were informed of my injury and condition. Mom asked Alena to make the offered flight to Germany. I think Mom didn’t want to chance seeing me dead.

The second day of my hospitalization at Landstuhl, I woke from an opioid dream to feel someone holding my hand. I looked to see which nurse was attending me only to see Alena.

With tears running down her face, she said, “You stupid SOB. I should never have let you go.”

I smiled for the first time since the explosion. “Think of all the pity I’ll get.”

“Think of all the girls you’ll get.”

I’m not sure why I said it, but I did. “I think I’m gay.”

This was in the days of DADT. “You’d better not say that to anyone else here. By the way, me, too,” she said with a big smile, and then added, “So is Johnny, and I think he’s waiting for you, but you’ll have to figure that out.”

We were in Germany for a while because I developed an infection that caused a clotting disorder. Fortunately, nothing else fell off, and eventually Alena and I flew to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, which was then still separate from Walter Reed. There, I was given therapy and fitted for a prosthesis, all courtesy of the Corps. I had approached physical therapy with the same attitude I had approached PLC.  Alena went back to Florida and graduate school.

I was sitting beside my rack without my prosthesis at the hospital one day when a Marine colonel came into my room. I tried to stand on my good leg, and he said, “Captain, you stupid son of a bitch, sit down.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Your battalion CO, who’s a good friend of mine, thinks you walk on water. He personally recommended you for the Bronze Star. The guys in your company all wrote letters. You’ll get it.”

“If it’s all the same, sir, I’d rather not.”

“Well, you can decline the damn medal, I suppose, but that would be an insult to the men you commanded and your CO. Still, you could tell them to fuck off.”

“No, sir. I’d never do that.”

“Didn’t think so. I wish we could keep you, but unless you want some desk job, we’ll separate you after you get to Pendleton.”

“Yes, sir. That’s probably for the best.”

“Maybe your best, but not ours.”

* * * * *

After six weeks in Bethesda, I found myself on a flight to Camp Pendleton, where my Marine Corps career would end. I wore my Class D Blues—no tie, short sleeves. I was required to wear all the ribbons and crap I received, the first and only time I wore them, and to wear my white cover. I could walk now with very little indication that I wore a prosthetic leg—only a little hitch as my left knee brought the thing forward for a step. The legs of my blue uniform trousers covered it in any event.

As I boarded the aircraft, the pilot was standing outside the cockpit door.  He looked at my uniform and the ribbons, one for the bronze star with a V insignia. “Afghanistan,” he said.

I nodded, and he shook my hand and thanked me for my service. I made my way down the narrow center aisle and into a center seat. When almost everyone was onboard, a flight attendant came to my row and said the captain wanted me to move to First Class. I was about to refuse when I noticed the pleading look on her face. So, I excused myself as the guy in the aisle seat grumbled, and I went forward. I felt embarrassed as I thought of my guys back at FOB Shamsher. I was out of harm’s way, and they were not. I hoped their new CO was not a douche.

* * * * *

In seven hours I was back in California. I was separated, and now the VA was responsible for my medical care. I checked back in with Dr. Jansen at Caltech. He treated me as if I had never left and asked if I was interested in keeping on. I was so flummoxed by the question that I took a few seconds to answer. Finally, I said, “Yes. How do I apply?”

“Let me worry about that. You can pick up next term.” Then he asked about how I was doing, and I found myself telling him about the explosion and then about realizing I was gay. I was embarrassed that I had told him. He just smiled, and said, “Very exclusive club. Welcome. Who’s taking care of your medical care?”


He winced and asked, “How’s the prosthesis?”

“Okay for walking, but I’m going to have to get something else for running.”

“Running? Really?” I nodded, and he said, “Let me look into it.” Nice, but I didn’t think he had any pull with the VA.

Then, with my future apparently settled, I headed back to Florida in my little car.

The world I inhabited now was foreign. People were unfocused, impolite, and showed little regard for one another. The fact that people wouldn’t jump when I gave an order didn’t faze me; how easily people let others remain behind did. It took me a long time to learn to live in this world without bitterness.

As I crossed the causeway to our home on the beach, I wondered how I’d reconnect with Johnny. At the house, Mom came out to greet me in tears. She hugged me until I had to plead fatigue, and then Alena embraced me for a moment and stepped aside. There he was. I stepped toward Johnny with my hand extended, but he brushed it aside and embraced me. That felt so right that I knew we’d find our way.  And over the next year, we did make our way.

We dated, often with Alena and her girlfriend, over the next month, and I learned about sex; if John was being honest, I became quite good at it. Physical therapy hadn’t covered how to make love without a lower leg. I approached learning that just as I had the thousand problems I had solved in Afghanistan.  John was very patient with me as I adjusted to my new world. Then, he deeply surprised me by moving to California with me when I resumed school. I was happy as I caught up on what had happened in academic math while I was gone, but my heart wasn’t in my work. John helped me understand what I really wanted: first to get my experiences down on paper; and then to go back to Near East Language study at Berkeley. John was a programmer, and he supported us while I went to graduate school.

Even though I had ditched math, Dr. Jansen helped me get an excellent blade prosthesis so that John and I could run together again, which we did regularly, me in my Marine Corps running clothes. Being gay in Berkeley was no big deal, and John and I became part of a new community, although when some people found out I’d been a Marine, they stopped associating with us. Semper Fi.

When my company’s first sergeant, now back at Pendleton, came to visit me, I introduced him to Johnny as my partner in a way he couldn’t misunderstand. He was a Marine Corps lifer with twenty years in already. Without hesitation, he said, “You may be gay, but you’re no douche. You’re the best damned CO that ever worked for me,” and then he turned and shook John’s hand.