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Interview with Kenneth T. Martin [7/12/2004]

Steve Estes:

This is Steve Estes, and I am in Rohnert Park, California. Today is July 12, 2004, and I'm interviewing... Rev. Ken Martin.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Ken Martin. I'm in Austin, Texas.

Steve Estes:

Ok. When and where were you born. Ken?

Kenneth T. Martin:

I was born in Jackson, Mississippi February 25, 1944.

Steve Estes:

Did you grow up in Jackson?

Kenneth T. Martin:

I lived there - actually lived in a small town outside of Jackson until I was fifteen years old, and then my family moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Steve Estes:

Oh - so you and Paul [Dodd?] actually lived pretty similar...

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yes, Paul and I were actually fratemity brothers in college.

Steve Estes:

Oh were you!

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yes

Steve Estes:

He didn't tell me that.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yes, we were.

Steve Estes:

Hehe. Ok. What did your parents do?

Kenneth T. Martin:

My father was - when I was young and we lived in Mississippi, my father and my uncle owned a sort of general merchandise store together, and then when I was fifteen and we moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, my father went into the insurance business. My mother was a homemaker, um, until we moved to Arkansas, and then she went back to school and then became sort of a secretary/administrator.

Steve Estes:

Ok. Tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up in Jackson.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Um, actually I grew up - I was born in Jackson, but actually grew up in a small town called Raymond, which was just outside of Jackson, sort of between Jackson and Vicksburg. Very rural - my grandparents, aunts and uncles all lived around us. So even A r~ ^ 1 ^. I /. when we lived in this little town of Raymond, which we moved to when I was six - before that we lived somewhere out in the country where the school bus would not come get me - so when I started school we moved into this little town of Raymond, but my childhood was really spent in a very rural - on farms - in fact spent every summer with my grandparents who always lived on a farm, so it was a very rural upbringing.

Steve Estes:

Do you think that - well, I won't prejudice your answer actually. Why do you think you decided to go into the military?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Actually, I was drafted.

Steve Estes:

Oh, you were drafted.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yes

Steve Estes:

Ok. Well since that didn't happen until '77 - is that right?

Kenneth T. Martin:

That's right.

Steve Estes:

Maybe we should back up a little bit and get you to college.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Ok

Steve Estes:

So, why did you decide to go to college where you did?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Um, I went to high school in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. My family was always - I grew up in church - very religious family, um, several uncles who were in the ministry and so forth. Because of some of the gifts that I began to display, talents and so forth - even as a child people always said "Oh you're gonna be a preacher: don't deny it", and I'd say "I'm not! I'm not!" I went to high school in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and Washetaw Baptist University is a state - a Baptist university in the State of Arkansas, and I actually went to that university on a fixll music scholarship.

Steve Estes:

What did you play?

Kenneth T. Martin:

As a vocalist

Steve Estes:

Oh. Ok

Kenneth T. Martin:

.. .And so that was my reason for going there.

Steve Estes:

Well its good to be a good singer if you're going to be a preacher.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yeah it is. (chuckling) h

Steve Estes:

Especially in the South. Ok: so what was Washetaw like for you?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Urn, very good school. I began actually pastoring churches when I was eighteen years old. When I went to Washetaw as a freshman, I began immediately, and I pastored churches all the way through my college career. You know, being - knowing that I was gay from the time I was young and trying to hide that, and being in a very religious culture, that was a real conflict; always. But for the most part it was a good experience. It was a good school, and I made lots of friends there. Um, got married while I was there, and so -just in terms of the overall experience, it was a good experience, although I was in pretty great conflict at that time over being gay.

Steve Estes:

Right. So take me back a little bit: when did you first realize you were gay?

Kenneth T. Martin:

I think that I actually realized I was gay - um, I'm sure this is going to sound like a nice version, I realized I was different at a very young age, and I was about eleven or twelve when I really began to realize what the difference was; when the hormones started kicking in, you know. That was my first awareness of any kind of erotic, same-sex attraction: from the about the age of twelve I think.

Steve Estes:

So, you said you were conflicted when you were at Washetaw - well, obviously conflicted since then because of your religious upbringing. Can you talk a little bit about how you dealt with that while you were at Washetaw, in college?

Kenneth T. Martin:

I dealt with it deeply, deeply in the closet. (laughter) I really was in denial. I'm not in denial about being gay, but I just really, really was in the closet. At that time, even socio-culturally, I had no idea that living as an openly gay man would ever be an option for me. You know, that political, and social, and cultural and religious milieu that I grew up in was so conservative, very conservative. So this was something I knew from the time I realized it that I had to hide. And so I got very, very good at that, and just, you know, intended to spend my whole life hiding the fact that I was gay.

Steve Estes:

Yeah. So did that mean no sexual contact with men, or was that something you just kind of had to hide?

Kenneth T. Martin:

It was something that sort of- well actually, in high school - I look back on it now - I actually had a lover in high school. I never would have thought of it in that way at that time, but there was - another guy and I were very sexual with each other for about two and a half years. We had a, a really - when I look back on it now, it was really quite a loving relationship. Um, and then when I went to college that stopped. Up until that point, he was the only person that I had any kind of sexual contact with - male. I did have sexual contact with several females, and that was a part of me trying to be something ^V7 else, you know. But I dated girls and I always had a girlfriend - in fact, he and I both had girlfriends when we were juniors and seniors in high school, we'd double date and would then go spend the night with each other. Um, but then when I went to Washetaw, that very religious, restrictive kind of atmosphere - you know, and at that time I sort of made this kind of conscious decision "You gotta put this behind you: you gotta buckle down".

Steve Estes:

Right

Kenneth T. Martin:

So I really wasn't sexually active at all while I was in college.

Steve Estes:

So, did you major in voice while you were at Washetaw?

Kenneth T. Martin:

I started out as a voice major and majored in voice for a little over a year then switched my major to theology.

Steve Estes:

Tell me about some of your preaching when you were at Washetaw; I mean, you were really, really young.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yes, um, well you know - we were Southern Baptists, and my expression for it now is 'they really pick you green when you're Southern Baptist' (Steve laughs). I could sing, I had speaking ability, um, I had developed a number of skills, really sort of as a way of excelling at something so I wouldn't have to play sports, I think. So when I went to Washetaw, I was immediately sort of handpicked by some people and began pastoring little rural churches, as a number of students did. And so I was actually ordained when I was eighteen years old. And um, I served churches in other capacities for maybe the first year or year and a half I was a minister of education in one church, and in another church I was a minister of music, and one summer I spent as a minister of youth programming in a church. But then I started pastoring churches, and I pastored little churches and many of us, especially after I switched to theology - most of us who were clergy students, we would be at school during the week and then on the weekends we'd take off to [inaudible] these classes. On Friday we'd drive to these little churches and we'd spend the weekend there and then come back. And so that's really the way I spent my college years.

Steve Estes:

So I'm not - you were in a fraternity, but it wasn't a lot of partying every weekend: it was more like praying every weekend.

Kenneth T. Martin:

That's right. Yeah - the fraternities were really different. There was partying going on, but we didn't actually - most of us didn't take part in a lot of it. Paul and I were in the same fraternity, but - and we knew each other: knew each other quite well in fact. Neither of us had any idea that the other one was gay...

Steve Estes:

Right

Kenneth T. Martin:

.. .until we met again about five years ago. LS2

Steve Estes:

Wow. So, when you went, were you on a - were you an itinerant preacher? In other words, did you travel to several small churches?

Kenneth T. Martin:

No actually I pastored churches for a number of- one of the first churches I pastored was in CoUins, Arkansas, and I pastored that church for I think about a year, a year and a half The second church I pastored was in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Um, and so it wasn't really itinerant; it was actually, you know, being the pastor of the church.

Steve Estes:

Right. Now what years are we talking about, roughly?

Kenneth T. Martin:

We're talking about like '62, '63, '4, '5 in there - got married in 1965.

Steve Estes:

Ok. Now, when you got married and you graduated, where was your first pastorage?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Um, actually my - the first pastorage I had after I was - what I did - I was drafted while I was still in school.

Steve Estes:

Oh, Ok

Kenneth T. Martin:

So there's like a break in there. I was drafted while I was in school. This was when the huge levies were coming down, you know, for Southeast Asia.

Steve Estes:

Right

Kenneth T. Martin:

And what I did was dr- I was pastoring a church at that time and had just recently gotten married. And so this church wanted me to be there a little bit more, hke one more day a week. And I was married now and used to making more money, and so I dropped my hours, thinking the fact that I was pastoring a church would be enough of a deferment, and in those days they were grabbing everybody they could any way they could. And so my draft board was actually in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Um, and so I got drafted.

Steve Estes:

Ok. So this is 1965.

Kenneth T. Martin:

No, actually I was drafted in 1966, and went in in 1967.

Steve Estes:

Ok. Um, so how did your wife and family feel about you being drafted?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Uh, not good (laughter). Everybody was very surprised, although a lot of people my age doing the same thing - I was doing work and drafted. It was a very difficult time right then, with the war in Vietnam. And it's another whole story, but actually, about three or four years later, several members of my draft board were indicted by a federal grand jury...

Steve Estes:

Really!? lI^~-

Kenneth T. Martin:

.. .for illegally drafting people. And my father said, "You might have actually been illegally drafted." They were taking money from rich people to keep their kids out of the military...

Steve Estes:

Ah

Kenneth T. Martin:

.. .1 never did know what the story was really, but, you know, a lot of people were surprised they were being drafted at that time, thinking they had deferments.

Steve Estes:

Yeah

Kenneth T. Martin:

But they had huge numbers that they had to fill, quotas and - so that's how I ended up being drafted.

Steve Estes:

Now, I have - well, I have two questions; I should only ask one at a time, that's kind of a rule of oral history. The first one is: had any of your relatives served in the military?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yes, my father served in the military. My father was in the Air Force in the Second World War. He was a pilot; he was stationed - actually he spent most of his time flying back and forth between South America and Africa. I've never really known what that was about. They were transporting people and things - he was never in combat, but he was a pilot in the Second World War.

Steve Estes:

Uh huh. So was he proud of you?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yeah, he was. Um, he was upset - my whole family was really upset because I, I was sort of on a career track. I was not unlike a lot of [popular?] overachievers in trying to make everybody happy. I was sort of everybody's golden boy, and I was really on a career track, and everybody really saw me going somewhere, and this - this just felt like a huge interruption in my life. So he was very unhappy about that. But he was proud of me, in the sense of - we had a lot of talk about it when I was drafted, and he said, "You know, I served when I was called, and now you gotta serve because you've been called."

Steve Estes:

Uh huh. So, take me through - once you were called - once you reported, you went to boot camp I imagine?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yes. I went in in January 1977. I was actually inducted in Jackson, Mississippi, that's where my family lived; my parents lived at that time.

Steve Estes:

'77 or '67?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Oh, I'm sorry - (thinks for a sec to make sure) - '67.

Steve Estes:

That's ok.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yeah, '67, in January. So I made a ride to be inducted there, and I did my basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, in January and February. Um, then when I came out of basic training, I was assigned to the headquarters company there at Fort Knox, and I was there until I received orders to go to Thailand, which was in October of that year. And then I was in Thailand until October of '77.

Steve Estes:

'67?

Kenneth T. Martin:

'67. (laughter)

Steve Estes:

That's all right. The decade got lost. Lets see - so what was basic training like for you? You said - you kind of impUed that you weren't a big sports fanatic, so I imagine basic training was tough.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yeah, it was tough. Um, I'm not a big sports fanatic, but I, I've always been physically pretty strong, and certainly in terms of, of endurance -just sort of the way I grew up; I grew up very physical, outdoors, hunting and fishing, those kind of things. Even though I wasn't into the team sports, I grew up, you know, in a very physical - working on farms, and so forth. So it wasn't that tough for me in that way. Because of my education, um, I was immediately made a squad leader, and there were some privileges with that. It made it a little less tough. But the toughest thing on me was it was at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in January and February, and it was freezing cold, and I don't do cold well. And so actually the toughest thing about basic for me was the fact that it was cold and snow on the ground most of the time.

Steve Estes:

Uh huh. Um, now, so when you found out you were going to Thailand and not to Vietnam, was there a sigh of relief there?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Oh yeah. I actually had thought that I was going to make it through without going overseas, and then I got the order, and they were to Thailand, and in those days, that was a huge reUef

Steve Estes:

Uh huh

Kenneth T. Martin:

You know, guys that got those orders for Vietnam, you know it was really bad about that time. And I was in a combat support unit in Thailand, but we were not in combat.

Steve Estes:

Right. Now what was your rank at the time when you went over to Thailand?

Kenneth T. Martin:

I was an E4 when I went over - I became an E5 immediately when I got there.

Steve Estes:

Uh huh. What were your first impressions of Thailand when you got there?

Kenneth T. Martin:

I loved it. I always loved it. In fact it was a great experience; I wouldn't take anything for it. My military duty there was not hard - a lot of people had really, really difficult duties there, but I was the chaplain's assistant for the two chaplains of the armed ^83 forces in Thailand: the Army and Air Force. And I - my duties, the things I had to do - I worked hard, but they were all things that I enjoyed doing. They were things that I had experience doing; things I was good at. And so that part of it was not difficult. The other thing was that I had the opportunity to travel all over Thailand, so I really got very familiar with the culture, learned quite a bit of the language, and so I - it was a great experience for me.

Steve Estes:

Now you said that the, the job, or the duties that you had, were things that played to your strengths, your skills that you already had. Could you just run through some of those duties?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yeah. I was a chaplain's assistant, so I worked in the chapel system the whole time. Which means that I would be working for the chaplain. Because I was already an ordained minister, because I already had a lot of training in theology and experience pastoring churches, these chaplains just sort of turned stuff over to me. I preached a lot in the chapels; I led classes - I did all kinds of things that most chaplain's assistants didn't do. And so that's what I meant by it was just - it was things that I was doing and was good at and enjoyed doing, and also I worked with some people to people programs. The chaplains at that time in Thailand, had a program that was sponsored by the government, by the military that was called People to People, where we would go out into villages and we would meet people and talk to people, and there was medical personnel who would do inoculations and evaluate educational programs, and all that kind of thing. And so it was an effort to win the hearts of the people. So I really enjoyed that; I got to travel quite a bit doing that. I also worked quite closely with a number of missionaries while I was there. There was an American Christian church in Bangkok... can you hold on a sec? I think there may be somebody at my door.

Steve Estes:

Sure (Tape stopped, then restarted)

Steve Estes:

Ok. You were talking about working with some of the Christian missionaries; American missionaries.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Right. The church in Bangkok - there were a number of Southern Baptist missionaries in Thailand at that time, and as a matter of fact my - a couple of them had some contact with a couple of my uncles and so I spent quite a bit of time in their homes, got to know their families real well. I preached in that American Baptist church in Bangkok several times. There was a Southern Baptist sort of retreat center south of Bangkok, and at one point - most of the missionary children all went to school in Bangkok and they all went to this church, and at one point I took all the missionary's children down there for a youth retreat. So I was in the military, but actually I was sort of connected, doing all kinds of different things. r?-

Steve Estes:

Now, I have a strange question to ask you, and that is, is there any conflict of working in the military and also doing missionary work at the same time? What do you think about that?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Being in the military and doing missionary work?

Steve Estes:

Yeah

Kenneth T. Martin:

I didn't feel any conflict. I might have felt conflict if I weren't already working in the military religious system.

Steve Estes:

Oh, right

Kenneth T. Martin:

But actually, the military really encouraged this: it was really good P.R. It was good P.R., you know, to have a connection to the American civilians who were in Thailand. There were a number of civiUan contractors. For example, I was stationed in [Karat?] [Inaudible] which is sort of in south central, at Friendship Base, which was a huge combination Army/Air Force base. And so there were a lot of civilian contractors around all the time, and their families; most of them moved their families over there. And um, the military really encouraged a sort of fraternization among the Americans who were there, and so good P.R. for the military, and so there - I never did feel any conflict with that.

Steve Estes:

Let me see - did you minister to troops who were on leave from Vietnam?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Um, a couple of times. A lot of times troops in Vietnam who were going on R&R would come thorough, because it was such a big Air Force Base, and the few times that happened there. A couple of times when I was in Bangkok, there would be troops on R&R there who would come to the American Christian church. So I had contact with some G.I.s from Vietnam there. Um, one of the most poignant things that happened to me - one of the things that really moved me most deeply the whole time I was there - this is a whole story, but we - I would often be assigned to drive my chaplain from Karat down to Bangkok for meetings. And then when we got to - which was about a five-hour drive - when we would get to Bangkok, I would check the jeep into the motor pool, and then check into the Prince Hotel. There were a number of hotels in Bangkok that the military used, and this was the Prince Chulalongkom Hotel and military had sort of taken it over so you just showed your order and checked in. And I, I checked in there, and sometimes I would just be on my own in Bangkok for three, four or five days, you know, while chaplains would have meetings and so forth, and I didn't have anything to do until I'd pick the chaplain up. One time I was in that hotel, and I remember a guy who was on R&R from Vietnam and he was going to Tatiya. Tatiya was a big resort area down in the Gulf of Siam - lot of guys went down there for R&R. And I was at the Prince Hotel, and I was - these rooms were, almost all of them had twin beds in them, and one night - I either was asleep or had r, f/-^ just gone to bed or something, and most of the time there wouldn't be anybody else there but sometimes you had a roommate, and a guy came in and I decided to just sort of be asleep. And this guy went to bed and he started crying. And I could hear him crying, and he cried and cried. And finally, I just sat up in bed and asked him if he was all right. And he was coming from Vietnam and he was going to Tatiya the next day, and he was supposed to be on R&R with his buddy from Vietnam, and his buddy had been killed two days before they were supposed to leave...

Steve Estes:

Oh my God

Kenneth T. Martin:

.. .and this guy just outright told me that they were lovers. And he, he was - this guy was just distraught. I'd give anything if I knew what happened to him. He, he talked about committing suicide, he talked about going AWOL, um, he was just distraught, and he didn't want to go on R&R after his lover was killed, but they made him because it was all arranged and set up and all that. And we talked for hours it seems like. And then when I woke up the next morning he was gone. And I have no idea who that guy was or what happened to him, but that was one of the most grief-stricken human beings I have ever encountered in my hfe. But he - that was probably just in terms of trying to minister to somebody from Vietnam the most dramatic thing that happened to me. In fact, that may have been the most dramatic thing that happened to the whole time I was there: Its something I've never been able to forget.

Steve Estes:

Now, I mean - that's kind of your training, right?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Oh yes

Steve Estes:

.. .to listen and to console?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yes, yes. And I've had a lot of training and experience in pastoral counseling.

Steve Estes:

Now, when - if somebody had come to you in a more official capacity like that, what was the policy where you worked or military-wide?

Kenneth T. Martin:

In terms of homosexuality?

Steve Estes:

In terms of- basically, admitting that they were gay?

Kenneth T. Martin:

I, I was never given one word of instruction the whole time I was in the military about that.

Steve Estes:

Huh

Kenneth T. Martin:

Uh, nothing. Um, there was a lot of- have you been in the military?

Steve Estes:

No I have not.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Ok, it - at least then, and I suspect now as well - it was a very, it was a very strange thing, because it was a very homophobic culture in the sense of lots of gay jokes and things like that. At the same time, there were a lot of gay guys, and some of them were actually pretty open. And there was this strange thing where most of them were totally accepted. Um, there's something about that - you know, that's a really interesting phenomenon in itself about that bonding that happens in the military and in combat zones especially I think. But even where we were, because we were - our base was adjacent to the Air Force Base and those bombers were going out of there every day; there were [sorties?] going out every day three, four, five times a day, bombing Vietnam and probably Cambodia, and some of them didn't come back, and we were always aware when planes didn't come back and there were always planes coming back in that had been hit and several times they'd crash on land and explode and all that. So we were around death all the time even though we weren't in combat. So there was just something about that bonding thing that's really real but I never - I don't think I ever heard any one person being singled out and derided or persecuted or anything like that. We actually had a - in the unit I was assigned to, that was the 501^' field [F.O.?] in Thailand, and it was a Vietnam combat support unit, and we had a guy in the company, in my company there, who was gay and he was sort of a small guy, kind of frail - very, very nice guy, very likable guy, and when I think back on it now, he - everybody knew he was gay. Everybody knew he was gay. They even kidded him about it. Um, there was a - in Karat, there was a park called [Katoi?] Park. Katoi is a Thai word which probably really translates more literally as 'transvestite' or 'drag queen', but it was called Katoi Park because all of the young Thaian guys would go there, you know cross-dressers and drag queens and so forth. But Katoi became a word which sort of became synonymous with being gay for the G.I.s, and they started calling that - I can't remember what his name was, but I remember he was from Tennessee - they started calling this guy katoi, and then they just shortened it to 'toi, and the whole time we were there he was just "toi". And the other guys, instead of picking on him, they were actually very protective of him. Um, there was a lot of affection there. So it was a very strange thing that there were gay people all around us, we were aware of it, sometimes there was talk about it. There were certain people that I think everybody... (End of Side One) (Side Two)

Steve Estes:

Ok. You were talking about, kind of the culture of homophobia, but also homosexuality and kind of openness when you were in Thailand.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yeah. There were - when I - I've thought about it since, especially since I've come out, and I'm a totally openly gay man now, but - and I was very, very closeted then. I may have been much more sensitive to others just because I was a gay man and so I was just sort of tuned in to it. But there, clearly even apart from that, there were a lot of people who were gay and a lot of sort of general knowledge about many of them. The only exception to the statement I made about getting the training - I really didn't get any trainer instruction or anything - was that as assistant for the chief chaplain of the armed forces in Thailand, when soldiers were discharged for homosexual behavior, every soldier who was discharged from there had a processing sheet, and they had to go - there were a number of different places on the post that had to sign off for them, to clear them before they could leave, and the very last place was the chaplain's office: they had to come to the chaplain's office and be cleared and signed off there. And of course when they came, anybody who was discharged, the reason for their discharge was right there on the papers.

Steve Estes:

Right

Kenneth T. Martin:

So when soldiers were being discharged for homosexual behavior, um, most of 'em were a wreck already, (speaks quieter) because it was probably going to be disclosed to their family and all that kind of thing, and so many of them were very emotional and, and (trails off, then goes back to normal) but they were especially upset about having to come to the chaplain's office.

Steve Estes:

Why?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Hehe, because they thought they were gonna get condemned, were going to get preached to, they were gonna get yelled at.

Steve Estes:

Oh right

Kenneth T. Martin:

You know, and so I - I would always get that paperwork usually three or four days before they were coming through, and I'd make the appointment for them to meet with the chaplain. And um, um, the chaplain was a really great person. He was aggressive theologically, he was a liberal - he could care less. And he would never do anything, say anything to these guys that would make them feel worse about what was happening to them. And knowing that - this was not like an instruction I had from him, but knowing that, I really think - I've thought several times that probably the most valuable thing I was able to do the entire time I was in the military was that as soon as I had my first contact with these guys, and knew, you know, why they were being discharged, I could assure them that this was not going to be any problem for them at all to come to the chaplain's office. Most of the time, a lot of the time, he'd be gone and I'd just stamp for him and you know initial and sign off anyway. Um, but that was the only - and it wasn't instruction, it was just a tacit agreement, and the agreement was that we were not going to bother these guys.

Steve Estes:

Uh huh. Now was the idea that you would counsel them, or...

Kenneth T. Martin:

The idea...

Steve Estes:

I mean, why were they sent to you... 0:

Kenneth T. Martin:

The idea - everybody, regardless of why they were being discharged from there, had to come through the chaplain's office. And basically that was just to clear - a lot of these guys, um, a lot of the D.I.s overseas came through the chaplain's office at some time for some reason. You know, if they got into trouble, if they had problems. A lot of times they were trying to get permission to go back home for some kind of family emergency or something, they would come through the chaplain's office. Many of them came to the chaplain just for counseling and help and so forth. And so the idea was that we would check to see if we had a file on them, and if we had a file on them were we clear with that or was there anything we needed to clear up before they left. So that was the main reason for coming through the chaplain's office.

Steve Estes:

Ok. Now, I have another kind of strange question, and that is: if the chaplain that you worked for was really progressive and liberal, and you came from a very conservative Southern Baptist background, was there any conflict there? I mean, at the time, were you more conservative then you are now, or than he was?

Kenneth T. Martin:

I may have been a little bit more, but by that time I had already been exposed to a lot of different kinds of theology, and I had akeady moved my own personal theology by the end.

Steve Estes:

Uh huh. How do you think that - well, we'll get to that actually. I was going to ask about how congregations felt about your moving to the left in terms of theology, but perhaps we'll get to that when you leave the army. Um, let me see - are there any really memorable experiences of when you're in Thailand, other than the one that you said; not necessarily related to sexuality, but other things that you think - when you think back to your time there, that's one of the things that bobs through your mental rolodeck: an image of an experience.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Um, just for me personally?

Steve Estes:

Yes

Kenneth T. Martin:

Um, yeah - it was a really important experience for me in terms of my own personal formation as a human being. I had grown up in such a, such a narrow, provincial, conservative kind of background. The idea of a little white. Southern Baptist boy from Mississippi being picked up, moved halfway around the world and set down in a Buddhist country is, you know, pretty transformative. I had a lot of contact with Buddhism while I was there: the Buddhism of Thailand is called Theravada or [Hanayana?] Buddhism and is a particular kind of Buddhism, and I spent a lot of time with Buddhist monks. I spent a lot of time visiting temples and shrines, learning as much about Buddhism as I could, even so much so that when I came back and went to seminary comparative religions became my major.

Kenneth T. Martin:

And so that was a really broadening personal experience for me. Just being exposed to a different culture, a different rehgion - that's really where my life sort of opened up, and it was really while I was there also that even though I had already begun to be exposed to a different kind of theology than just the fundamentalism that I grew up with, it was really there that that whole religious structure, that monolithic religious structure that I had grown up with, just really fell apart on me. I mean one day there was a big crash, and I looked down, and it was lying around me. (Steve chuckles) It just really fell apart, and that's really when I started rebuilding my own personal theology, and just my own personal philosophy and that's why I say it was such an important experience for me because if I had just grown up and continued living with the influences I had lived with up until that point, I don't know if that ever would have happened to me or not.

Steve Estes:

Uh huh. How much of that do you think was the war in addition to being in Thailand?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Oh a lot of it. Um, a lot of it in the sense that I wasn't just in Thailand, I was in Thailand during the war, and that changed that whole culture as well. And I was very aware of that as well while I was there; I was very aware of the whole 'ugly American' thing while I was there, and that, just in terms of my own conscience and values and so forth - that was working on me. Um, also just my exposure to war, you know, was just another thing that just was something that my naive hfe up until that point just never would have even been able to comprehend. I - there was a chaplain, an Air Force chaplain, who was on the Air Force side there, and he sort of was the person who flew around the country when G.I.s would be killed, and in different ways doing memorial services for their units, and he would always take me with him. And so I flew around in [inaudible] small military aircraft all around Thailand, and we actually flew into Vietnam two or three times too, just to do memorial services. And so I was, even though I was not in combat, I was very much aware of what was going on just in terms of the war, and I also think that I have a lot of that phenomenon - I experienced a lot of that phenomenon that a lot of people do who are in those settings where hfe is just inordinately intensified, to such an extent that when you - that you really do have some separation problems, you know, when you're leaving. When I came back from Thailand, I spent about a year really in a sort of a personal struggle of "What am I going to do with my life? Where am I going to go?" Because its very, very different when you're watching planes crash and people dying and stuff, and then you come back to the sedate life of preparing to be the pastor of a church, you know. So, yeah: just the fact that I was there and part of a war which was very intense at that moment in '67 and '68, um, you know that was a big part of that as well.

Steve Estes:

Now, let's see: you were there from October in '67 to October of '68, you were in Thailand when Tet [Offensive] occurred in - was that February of '68? I don't know.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yes 08

Steve Estes:

My chronology is a little off Did you feel any of the shocks from that, as far away as you were?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Uh, yeah, we felt, not just Tet, you know, but - Tet was huge here in terms of what it represented in terms of the whole war, but we would feel those kind of things all the time. We could tell what was going on in Vietnam by the numbers of bombers that were taking off every day.

Steve Estes:

Oh right

Kenneth T. Martin:

And so we, when it got really intense - also because there was an insurgency in Thailand called the Thai-Kong, and we - there were several times when in the middle of the night we'd be called out to our posts on the perimeter of our base with our weapons, because the report would be that the Thai Kong was going to shell us or something. And while I was there, there were two or three times that shells would get fired at our base, but there was never anything that would really, you know, that you would really consider dangerous. I got shot at one time, when I was driving from Karat to Bangkok. There was an area called Kaliai: it was a large mountain and there were a lot of villages on this mountain, and apparently, if I remember correctly, the Thai Kong had really infiltrated this area. And the villages around this mountain were terraced, and there was a lot of rice there, and the villagers were growing rice and storing rice for the Thai Kong. And one time when I was driving there, we got shot at and my jeep actually got hit, but it was just like a - just one round.

Steve Estes:

Right. Did you actually get hurt?

Kenneth T. Martin:

No, not at all.

Steve Estes:

Um, let me see - did your opinion of the war change while you were there?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Um (thinks) yeah. I (phrases carefully) - if I had been in a family and a culture where I thought I had permission to do it, I would have been a protestor and I probably would have even gone to Canada when I was drafted. But I didn't feel like I could do that, just because of my family and I was married at the time, and what was going on and all that. But I was - while I was there, I really became aware, as many other people did in this country and there as well, that this was a losing effort: that we were losing, and there wasn't any way to win it.

Steve Estes:

Did you - were you active at all in anti-war stuff when you came home?

Kenneth T. Martin:

No, not at all.

Steve Estes:

Um, let's get you home. When you were a short-timer do you remember that? I mean, was it as big a deal as it was for folks who were actually in Vietnam?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Probably not because their lives were on the line every day. )fc~

Steve Estes:

Right IQVI: But it was still a big deal. When you got short, it was a big deal. You know, you started counting those days, and everybody started celebrating with you, and you know, I actually had a lot of really good friends there: civilians and military and among the missionaries and all that. So when I got short, it was, you know - in my life, probably three or four weeks there were just parties. There were several big parties [inaudible] in Bangkok, and I was entertaining while I was there as well. I sang in the officer's club there a lot, and so there was a big party for me in the officer's club and all that. And so it's a big deal when you get short. It really is, and because I had so many different circles of friends and so forth, my last month there - and the chaplain was great about it, you know: he didn't care, he just let it happen. And so, it gets very, very intense and my last three days, my three best friends there took R&R, and three days before I left Bangkok, we all flew down to Bangkok and spent the last three days together there.

Steve Estes:

Uh huh. So when you left and landed back in the United States, what was that like?

Kenneth T. Martin:

That was (pauses) very emotional. In fact, I landed in Oakland and processing out at that time was really a mess. I sat in a gym for like forty-eight hours; I sat on bleachers for like forty-eight hours, we just waiting to get called to process out. Couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't do anything. And so by the time I finally got processed out and free to leave, I was physically exhausted. We had flown for like eighteen hours back and then just sat and waited and waited. And so I took a taxi over to San Francisco, and this was another very emotional experience and one that I'll never forget: I started - when we got to the Golden Gate Bridge, we actually - this taxi driver actually circled me around, and he said "Would you like to go over the bridge?" And I said "Sure". I said something - the bridge was in the sun and I said, "The bridge looks so beautiful", and he said "Would you like to go over the bridge?" and I said "Sure". And so we started to go over the bridge. And I started crying: I just could not help it, I just started crying. And this taxi driver turned the meter off and he said, "You're not the first one" and "welcome home", and he was just so nice and he said "Would you like me to just drive you around for awhile?" And I said, "No, I'd just like to get to a hotel where I can go to sleep." And he took me to a hotel and he didn't charge me a penny.

Steve Estes:

(quiet for a few seconds) That's powerful

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yeah. But it was very emotional. It was very emotional coming home. Even though a year is really a short amount of time, when you live in a culture that is so radically different, ever)1;hing looks like you've never seen it before.

Steve Estes:

Right, (pause) Did you head back to Pine Bluff? Or where was your...

Kenneth T. Martin:

No, immediate - my wife - by that time my family had moved. When I graduated from high school, my family moved back to Jackson. And so, for the year that I was overseas my wife lived with my parents. (Steve chuckles) Exactly. And so I flew back - I went to San Francisco, slept for a couple of days actually: checked into a hotel and woke up like a day and a half later. Um, and then I flew back to Jackson.

Steve Estes:

Um, and you said that for a year or so you were fishing around for what you were "going to do with your life"? What did you decide to do with your life?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yeah, it actually wasn't the question "What was I going to do with my life": that was pretty much set by that time. It was more "How am I going to deal with these feelings?" You know, "What am I going to do with this - whatever this is that's churning around on the inside of me?" Um, and um, it really was a question of "Am I going to acquiesce to this life course that I had been on for years and years, and am I going to stay on it, or am I gonna bolt?" Because by then, the fact that I was gay was really, really beginning to become a real ethical crisis for me. Um, and uh, so I spent that year probably - you know I came back, went back to school, had a child in that year that I got back, the first year I got back. Um, and that was really my crisis, and at that time I made the decision "You know, I just gotta stay on the course that I'm on now", and then went to seminary. And it was really like three, four years later, that that ethical crisis became so intense that I got very suicidal - I got very depressed. And it was either - "I've got to either" you know, "I'm either going to take my life, or I'm gonna come out as a gay man. But I can't live like this."

Steve Estes:

I'm sure that that was difficult for everyone in the families, you and your wife. When you came out and made that decision - I mean, I guess the hardest question would be how did you survive? It was kind of touch and go, it sounds like.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yeah, it was very touch and go for a while. My mother died of cancer my first year in seminary. My father - I had two brothers, both younger, um, both of them were married with families by that time. Um, my wife and I were living in Louisville, Kentucky where I was in seminary. Um, I was the associate pastor of a very large church across the river in New Albany, Indiana. Um, and when it hit, it just hit: everything I had been trying to repress and [inaudible] and everything else for a long time hit me, and I began to realize as I got closer to graduating from seminary, I began to reahze "This is it. There isn't anything else to do now, you know, except just from here on in, you're just locked in." And it became really, really critical, and so I finally just came out: I had to do it. And, um, devastating to my wife, to her family. Um, my - it was devastating to my family. Uh, my father, um, just said "It is easier for me to think of you as being dead."

Steve Estes:

Wow

Kenneth T. Martin:

"And so I don't ever want to see you again." And so I never saw my father again. He died ten years later, but I never saw him again.

Steve Estes:

Oh my God

Kenneth T. Martin:

Uh, my brothers felt very much the same way. However, ten years later after my father died, they both - they're both wonderful men, and they really came around. We ,/;'. were raised to be such bigots you can't even believe it. I mean we were racist, just everything. But my brothers also, their lives began to open up and they began to realize, and so we had been reconciled. Uh, my wife and I divorced, and she got custody of our son who was - and then she remarried, and the man she remarried took them away and never wanted me to see them again. And so for eighteen years I had no contact with them. I didn't know where my son was, I mean nothing. Uh, seven years ago, after - I lived here - my partner Tom and I have been together for twenty-nine years.

Steve Estes:

Congratulations

Kenneth T. Martin:

Thank you. And Tom had already been here in Texas for several years, and I picked up the phone one day and it was my ex-wife. And now my whole family is reunited.

Steve Estes:

Wow

Kenneth T. Martin:

My ex-wife and her husband are now members of the church that I pastor here in Austin.

Steve Estes:

No way!

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yes

Steve Estes:

Oh my God!

Kenneth T. Martin:

And my son and his wife - my son is a college professor within an hour of where I live. I have two of the most beautifiil little grandchildren who are down here all the time. And uh, so now my whole family is reunited.

Steve Estes:

That's amazing.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yeah, it really is.

Steve Estes:

Where does your son teach?

Kenneth T. Martin:

He teaches at Baylor.

Steve Estes:

Uh huh. Uh, I don't know [inaudible] but I went to Rice as an undergrad.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Oh did you?

Steve Estes:

Yeah. So, how did you become pastor of the community church?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Um, well I came out in 1974. Um, my - you know I was in a real personal crisis then, and um, and I happened to find this book written by Troy Perry, who was the founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, and it was a very little church at that time. It had been founded in Los Angeles with the purpose primarily just making sure r.f-,- that there was a safe spiritual home for gay and lesbian people. Um, and so I - and of course to that book when I found it, the closest one to me was Chicago, so I went to Chicago, and I found that church and it was this tiny little church and um, I moved there and I joined it, and within a year I became the pastor of that church, and I pastored it for several years, and that's where I met Tom. He was already a member of that church when I moved there. And then, in 1980, Tom and I moved to Los Angeles, and I pastored an MCC church in North Hollywood there for ten years. And then, I was called to this church in Austin, and we have been here now for eleven years.

Steve Estes:

Oh wow. So, I want to back you up into the '70s, and this - one of the more famous military folks who came out came out around the time that you did actually, in '75. His name is Leonard Matlovich...

Kenneth T. Martin:

Oh I knew Leonard well.

Steve Estes:

Yeah, so how did - I mean since you were out, and he also a veteran - what was your reaction to him coming out?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Uh, I was really excited, and that was a big deal for us when Len came out. Um, actually, Tom and I - I was invited to speak in Washington D.C., and that's when Len was living in Washington D.C., and he was our host. And Tom and I stayed at his apartment with him for three days. And my biggest memory of that was when he found out that I was from Mississippi, and he [inaudible] himself, he - one morning, he woke us up with breakfast in bed and he had cooked us grits.

Steve Estes:

Oh (Laughs) That takes a lot...

Kenneth T. Martin:

And I've got an autographed copy - when his picture appeared on the cover of Newsweek, I've got an autographed copy of that for me.

Steve Estes:

Nice. Um, so, let me see - I'm just looking at my questions to see what I've missed - one of the last questions I ask people is to sum up how military service affected their hfe. Could you do that?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Yeah, um - even though I was drafted and even though I thought it was a tragedy at that time and all that, it actually was one of the best experiences of my life. It was very good for me in many ways - the experience of being in Thailand, for all the reasons I've already cited. Uh, just the military was actually very good for me. I learned a lot about discipline in the military, and there were a lot of aspects of the military discipline and so forth that have served me well in the rest of my life. Professionally, it was very good for me because the churches - after I came out, um, at the MCC churches that I pastored in Chicago and North Hollywood and here in Austin - these are very ecumenical churches. In other words, people come from all kinds of religious backgrounds into these churches. And having grown up in such a fundamentaUst, narrow. Southern Baptist culture, I had not really been exposed to other faith expressions. And so the military chaplain system was my first exposure to ecumenicity. And that has been an invaluable experience for me. tp'-^:? It prepared me for my ministry in MCC. Knowing what it means to be in a faith community that is made up of people who come from every possible spectrum of the Christian church: theologically, liturgically, you know in every way. And so, all in all, even though the military was not easy for me in the sense that it felt like an interruption in my life - you know, if I had the choice, I probably wouldn't have done it - but I look back on it now, and it was a very positive experience for me.

Steve Estes:

Ok. Um, well, is there anything I didn't ask you about that you would like to talk about, in terms of your military experience?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Um (pauses) not that I can think of, Steve.

Steve Estes:

Ok. Usually, that's where people say...

Kenneth T. Martin:

It must have been pretty thorough.

Steve Estes:

Every once in awhile people will say, "Oh! You know, there was this one thing", and of course if you remember something that you want to put in later, you can write it down and we can deposit it at the Library of Congress with this.

Kenneth T. Martin:

Sure. Ok.

Steve Estes:

So I guess I'm going to turn off the tape recorder, but I have a couple other things to ask you, ok?

Kenneth T. Martin:

Sure

Steve Estes:

Thank you very much: I want to get that...

Kenneth T. Martin:

Oh you're very welcome.

Steve Estes:

Hehe. All right... (End)

 
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