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"The military chaplain system was my first exposure to ecumenicity. And that has been a valuable experience for me." (Audio Interview, 58:12)

   Kenneth T. Martin
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War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: 501st Field Depot
Service Location: Fort Knox, Kentucky (basic training); Khorat, Thailand
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Chaplain's Assistant Kenneth Martin, who served in the Vietnam War, carried a secret during his time in the Army. He had realized at an early age that he was gay, but he stayed in the closet after being drafted in 1966. Stationed in Thailand, Martin was grateful to have a boss who showed compassion to men who had been outed and were being discharged. He had one dramatic encounter counseling a soldier on leave; he told Martin he was grieving for a fellow soldier, also his lover, who had been killed just before they were to come to Thailand. Being exposed to religions outside his Southern Baptist upbringing, including Buddhism, gave Martin new perspectives. After leaving the Army and graduating from a seminary back in the States, he came out, much to the dismay of his father, siblings, and his wife. He never reconciled with his father, but he did re-establish communications with his brothers and his ex-wife, who with her second husband were members of Martin's congregation at the time of the interview.

Interview (Audio)
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 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
Began pastoring churches at 18; in conflict, knowing he was gay in a conservative religious setting; though hiding that fact, he had had a lover in high school; they double dated with girls; when he went to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, he tried to put all those feelings behind him. (03:53) Drafted while he was still in school; he had just got married and was a pastor, which he thought would mean a deferment, but there was a big need for manpower in 1967; several members of his draft board later indicted for illegally drafting some men to fill quotas and giving deferments to men with wealthy parents. (01:56) Thought he might not get shipped to Vietnam, so when he was assigned to Thailand, that was a big relief; was a chaplain's assistant to chaplains in the Army and Air Force; because of his experience, they turned over a lot of duties to him; worked in communities and also with Baptist missionaries. (03:11)
Ministering to troops on leave from Vietnam; encounter with a grief-stricken soldier who had lost a buddy, who was also his lover, just before they were to go on R&R in Thailand; he had not been given any training in counseling gay soldiers; strange dynamic in that there were homophobic jokes among the men and yet there were also gay men serving fairly openly; dealing with men being discharged for being outed; seeing how upset they were about coming to the chaplain's office where they thought they would be preached to and yelled at; he and his open-minded boss had a tacit agreement not to let that happen. (11:56) How his experience in Thailand opened him up to other ways to approach life and his sexual identity; his background was so narrow and conservative; being exposed to Buddhism was part of that; flying around Thailand and into Vietnam to do memorial services exposed him to the trauma of war. (04:47) Getting "short," as in his tour winding down; last several weeks were a blur of parties; his chaplain let them happen; coming back to San Francisco; an emotional trip across the Golden Gate Bridge with a taxi driver; living in a radically different culture made readjustment difficult. (03:32)
Dealing with his homosexuality, after having a baby with his wife and going to seminary; he even had thoughts of suicide; mother died of cancer in his first year of school; coming out devastated his wife and her family; his father told him it was easier to think of him as being dead; they never spoke after that, and he died ten years afterwards; estranged from his brothers for a time, but they came around; his wife remarried and her husband wouldn't let them have contact with him; seven years ago, she called and they are now in contact, as well as his son and his two children. (04:39) Despite being drafted and thinking at the time it was a tragedy, serving in the military proved to be a positive experience because of how it broadened his perspective. (02:02) 
  
 

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  October 26, 2011
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