May 9, 1995 I was visiting my paternal grandfather, Arlin Fell. He served in World War II in the U.S. Navy as a Seabee. For the first time in my life he talked to me about his experience in the Navy. He pulled out his photo album. There was a letter to his mother where he described being attacked by Japanese Kamikaze pilots. It was the first time we had a real conversation as adults. The last thing he said to me before I left was “NEVER JOIN THE NAVY!” Two weeks later on May 24 he passed away.
It should not surprise anyone that knows me, not only did I not listen to him but I did exactly the opposite of what he told me not to do. On February 6th 1996 I raised my right hand and said”
I Keith Allen Turner, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear truth faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
At that moment I was officially enlisted in the U.S. Navy and become Seaman Turner. I got on a plane and spent the next year and a half just outside of Chicago, nine weeks in boot camp and the rest of the time in training.
Boot Camp was nine weeks of hell. I found ways to survive and adjust to difficult circumstances successfully. That experience has played a big part in my life, giving me confidence I would not have had otherwise. After I graduated from boot camp my grandmother told me my grandfather would have been real proud of me. I am sure that she was right.
January 21, 2003 after a long series of events I broke the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” rule and told my commanding officer I was gay. In hind sight I was very lucky. My command at the time S.I.M.A San Diego made sure I was discharged in the best possible way. They called the military JAG office and made sure that my discharge was processed as an honorable discharge. During that time in the military there was a lot of dishonorable discharges for breaking the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Rule.
On March 7, 2003 I received an honorable discharge – reason for discharge: Homosexual Admission.
My seven years as a sailor was a pivotal time in my life. It was the beginning of a long exploration of me being me and discoveries about myself which has continued to this very day.
Today on Veterans Day I am taking a moment to remember the importance my military service has been to my life and how it has helped shape me into the person I am today. Those seven years were the best of times and the worst of times. I fell in love with the sea and ultimately it lead me on a journey where I fell in love with myself.
In the end it was the one thing that finally created a connection between me and my grandfather Arlin.
For at least two reasons there will be a couple of posts about my trip back to the United States. The first reason is that I wanted to write these posts while I was there and the second reason is that at least one of my regular followers has requested such a post. Today’s post is about Christmas, specifically with my family in Idaho.
My very first memory of Christmas is having dinner at my grandmother’s (father’s mother) house. My sister is a part of that memory so I must have been three. My present was a stuffed animal which became my constant companion for many years. His name is Henry. He kept me safe at night. I gave him baths. I even gave him vaccine shots consisting of water and what ever else I thought to mix into the concoction. Of all the possessions that have come and gone in my life Henry is still around. He has now become the companion of my daughter. Those memories are infused with the smell of cigars from my great-grandfather and the taste of cherry chocolates, his gift he would share with me as I was sitting on his lap. Things change. Gone is the smell of cigars and the taste of cherry chocolates. We now gather at my aunts house and this was the second Christmas without my grandmother.
The one thing that remains constant is that in our own different ways we accept and love each other. So to me that is what Christmas gathering is all about. We do not all have the same political affiliations or religious beliefs. Somewhere along the line the traditional turkey or ham was found wanting and replaced with sirloin steak. A much better option if you ask me. Jello or any concoction made from jello appears to have finally died. With that I silently shout a loud hallelujah. (Jello in its various forms is a much beloved non-food food item in many a households in the Utah / Idaho region of the United States.)
It was great to see my family members who were able to come. And with that no family gathering is without some form of entertainment. this entertainment was certainly not planned but those are sometimes the best kind. And so I present for all the world the Clucking Aunts Dancing