Skip Navigation and Jump to Page Content    The Library of Congress >> American Folklife Center  
Veterans History Project (Library of Congress) ABOUT  
SEARCH/BROWSE  
HELP  
COPYRIGHT  
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Nat Butler [4/2/2003]

Marcie Hebert:

Okay, it is April 2nd.

Nat Butler:

Right.

Marcie Hebert:

And I am doing an interview with Nat Butler.

Nat Butler:

Correct.

Marcie Hebert:

He is a US Navy Vietnam-era veteran.

Nat Butler:

Correct.

Marcie Hebert:

His address is 9 Casanov Street, Apartment 2.

Nat Butler:

In Boston, Mass.

Marcie Hebert:

Boston, Mass, yes.

Marcie Hebert:

And we're going to be doing an interview for the Library of Congress History Project.

Nat Butler:

Great.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay, now ... So I'm just going to ask you some questions, Nat, but as we go along, ifthere's things you want to talk about, or stories that you have, feel free to ...

Nat Butler:

Okay.

Marcie Hebert:

Exactly, okay. The first is, what years did you serve in the military?

Nat Butler:

I served from the 26th of October, 1968, through the 29th of February 1972.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. And were you drafted or did you enlist?

Nat Butler:

No, I, I volunteered for the Navy.

Marcie Hebert:

How old were you at that time?

Nat Butler:

I was 22 years, 22 years old.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. And where were you living at the time that you went in?

Nat Butler:

Well, I signed up for Navy Officers' Candidate School when I was a senior at Harvard College, and then I took the summer off and lived in Cambridge, Mass, and then went to Officers' Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island at the end of October 1968.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. And what made you join the military?

Nat Butler:

(para)Well, in 1967 and 1968, that was one ofthe years when the Vietnam War was getting very, um ... well, it was heating up a lot. And most people who were graduating from college at that time had to make some kind of decision about what they were going to do as far as the war was concerned, either to let themselves be at the mercy oftheir draft board, or to enlist, or to try and go to graduate school, or possibly even to go to jail or to go to Canada. Now, that was back in the days before there was a lottery, and so everyone had to register with their draft board, and then everyone was at the mercy of whatever the rules the draft boards used. There were not national standards; every draft board got to make its own decisions about who was going to get drafted or not.(end para) (para)So you really lost a great deal of choice if you did not take some positive step either to choose the branch of the service you were going to be in, or make some other kind of alternate choice that was going to keep you from the service, although it wasn't guaranteed, if you wanted, if you went to graduate school for instance, that you were going to get a deferment. There were some jobs, such as teachers, I believe, it's hard to remember now, it was so long ago, that meant that you would not get drafted, but essentially you were leaving yourself vulnerable to losing your choice about what would happen to you if you didn't sign up. And I thought that, well, my father had been in the Navy, and actually a, an ancestor of mine, John Glover, General John Glover, who was in the Revolutionary War, he was the person who outfitted the ships at the time of the Revolutionary War, that were the first ships in what became the United States Navy. So I felt that I had a--(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

A history, yeah.

Nat Butler:

Right, a connection to the Navy. It also seemed to me to be the safest service. I didn't really like the idea of serving on land in the Army or Marines, or flying in the Air Force, so I chose the Navy.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay, all right, thanks. Now, I'm just going to ask you, I mean, again, this is looking back, but do you recall some of your first days in the service and what that was like?

Nat Butler:

(para)Well, one of the first things I recall was, before I even got into the service, was I had to take a physical exam that was at South, in South Boston at a military station there, where people who were signing up had to go for a physical to see whether or not we were physically qualified. And I remember filling out a form as part of that physical, and at the end of a long list of physical illnesses was a question about homosexual tendencies, and I felt that I had to check "no" on that form; otherwise, I wouldn't get in. And the irony has not been lost on me at all in the, at the time and since then, that I was lying in order to enlist in the military and serve my country, while there were some of my contemporaries who were lying to avoid serving in the military. But I remember that very distinctly.(end para) (para)I also remember the first day in October of 1968 when I arrived at Officers' Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, and how disorienting an experience that was, to go from being a civilian to being in essentially Navy boot camp for, for being an officer, and immediately having to have my hair cut all off, and to get uniforms and have to wear them, and to start waking up at 5:30 in the morning to get into formation to march over to breakfast, and study the various subjects that we had to study for the 4 months that I was at Officers' Candidate School. Yes, I, I do remember how unpleasant that was, and how cold it was, because we were there from October through March and um, in the winter months, Newport, Rhode Island is very, very windy, and we would have to stand in formation for 5 to 10 minutes before we could march over to breakfast, before it was even light out. And even though 5 to 10 minutes may not seem to be very long, since we weren't supposed to be moving at all-we were supposed to be standing at attentionnyou had an opportunity to get very, very cold. And I have very strong memories of that, even 35 years after the fact.(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

Was it at all what you expected it to be?

Nat Butler:

I had no idea what to expect, so I can't say that I was measuring this experience against any expectations that I had. I really didn't know what to expect. However, it certainly was very different from anything I had experienced before.

Marcie Hebert:

Sounds like it. How would you say you got through boot camp? Often times people say that that's a change ... ?

Nat Butler:

Well, I kept, I kept focusing on the fact that it was only 4 Y:z months. And after the first 3 weeks, we were allowed to leave on weekends from about noontime on Saturday until 7 o'clock on Sunday evening, and I was able to get out of Newport, Rhode Island every one ofthose weekends, and get up and visit friends in the Boston area or see my family who lived just north of Boston. And also, for the 2 weeks at Christmas time the base was, the program was shut down, we were allowed to leave for 2 weeks at Christmas time, so there was a break in the middle, essentially, for me. And, you know, it wasn't so horrible. I mean, there were people there that I liked I felt that were contemporaries of mine that I became friends with and so forth. I mean, I certainly had to work to hide being a gay person; that wasn't something that I was flaunting or talking with anyone about. That was somewhat uncomfortable. But I felt that I fit in and was able to get by, with the courses that we were studying there. I didn't do very well in the courses, because I wasn't all that motivated to study hard, but I managed to get through, adequately.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay, okay. Let me ask you this: You said at the time you were a gay man in the military ...

Nat Butler:

Right.

Marcie Hebert:

Trying to get by, trying to ... At that time, you said before you even came in, you kind of had to make a decision about how to go about doing that. I mean. you said on the form when you had to fill out the form for your physical that that came up.

Nat Butler:

Right, right.

Marcie Hebert:

Had you thought a lot about that before even enlisting?

Nat Butler:

Well, I had thought about it, and it was something that I was concerned about, and I even went to speak with one of my professors at Harvard College, whose name was George Goefels, who was actually the son of the man who helped build the Panama Canal, and he taught a course in psychology. And I went and I told him that I, I don't know that I said I was gay, but I said that I had sexual attraction towards men and I was very concerned about what happen, what might happen to me, and he tried to be reassuring and said that, first of all, it wasn't so uncommon for someone my age to have those feelings, and that it didn't necessarily mean that I was gay, even though I felt pretty sure that I was. But he also said that if I needed to get counseling while I was in the military, that that was something that I could probably avail myself of. Although, I think, having gone through the military, after he said those words, I'm not sure that the reception that I might have had with aN avy physician or any other kind of counselor would have been very welcoming or, or helpful. But nevertheless, he did try to reassure me before I went in. But I also thought, well, this was something I was simply going to have to cover up while I was, while I was in the military.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay, okay. Um, now, you said that, other than the form, you were asked specifically or by anybody overtly about your sexual orientation?

Nat Butler:

No, I was not.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay, okay. At any point during your service were you asked?

Nat Butler:

Um, no, I don't remember being asked that question. No, I don't.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Now, you said you served during the Vietnam ... ?

Nat Butler:

That's correct.

Marcie Hebert:

War, yeah? Did you end up going overseas?

Nat Butler:

(para)I did. After I got out of Officers' Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, I served for 2 months at the nuclear weapons school at the [inaudible] base in Albuquerque, New Mexico and then went to serve on the Us.s. Ticonderoga, which was an aircraft carrier that at that time was stationed off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea, and was serving as a platform for jets that would go and bomb in Vietnam.(end para) (para)And so I got to the Ticonderoga by flying overnight from Travis Air Force Base in, outside of San Francisco to Hong Kong, and meeting the Us.s. Ticonderoga in Hong Kong in June of 1969, I believe, and then was off of the coast of Vietnam for about 6 weeks at the end ofthe deployment ofthe, ofthe aircraft carrier at that time. And then in September of 1969, we came back across the Pacific to San Diego, and then were in Long Beach for not quite a year, undergoing an overhaul. And then after that, in October of 1970, I went to Vietnam and served in country, Vietnam, in a base about 10 miles outside of Saigon for about 16 months, from October of 1970 through February of 1972.(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

Okay, okay. Um, let me ask you this, when you first went overseas to Vietnam, offthe coast of Vietnam? What was it like? Tell me.

Nat Butler:

(para)Well, um, we were on a ship. We were on the aircraft carrier offthe coast of Vietnam, so we didn't get even close enough to even see the coast of Vietnam most ofthe time. So I was out in middle of the ocean for the most part, and I had never been on an aircraft carrier in the middle ofthe ocean. That was quite a new experience for me. I had never seen jets being launched from an aircraft carrier. That was quite a remarkable experience, not only to see the jets being launched, but also to see them coming back and landing, which is even more daunting, because as the jets land, they have a hook at the end ofthe jet, at the, in the rear ofthe jet, which has to catch on one of 4 or 5 cables on the rear ofthe, aft ofthe, the aircraft carrier, and if the cable doesn't catch, if the hook doesn't catch on one of those cables, then the jet has got to immediately, the pilot has got to immediately rev the engines of the jet and take off again and come back for another pass. And so, it's, it takes a great deal of skill, and as, as difficult as that may be during the daytime, it's even more difficult at night when there's very very little visibility, so that was really quite remarkable to actually see that.(end para) (para)And there was one time when we had quite a scare, when there were some, we were told, incoming Russian planes, and we weren't quite sure what that meant, if anything, and so we had to go to general quarters, and they flew over and nothing happened. But for a few minutes anyway, we, I think, were all wondering whether we were about ready to be attacked, and that was, that was scary.(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

How about the second time when you went over?

Nat Butler:

(para)The second time I went over was, um. um ... Well, first of all, perhaps I will explain how I got over there the second time, because that, that is an interesting story. When I was on the US.S. Ticonderoga, I was division officer for the guided missile division there. Even though I had studied nuclear weapons, I had nothing to do with nuclear weapons once I got on the aircraft carrier. I was assigned to the guided missile division. And there were about 20 men in that division. And in the first couple of months that I was assigned there, I fell in love with one ofthe men that I was division officer of, which was an extremely unsettling experience. And he was straight, even though we did, um, we did go to bed together once, but as time went on, this really became intolerable situation, because I couldn't get away from him since I was, he was in the same division that I, I was assigned to.(end para) (para)And so, after a while, I decided that the only way I could think ofto get away was to volunteer for another assignment, and I thought, well, I'll, I'll, in volunteer to go to Vietnam I'm sure to get that assignment, so I called up the person in the Pentagon who was in charge of assigning people in my group, and I said that I would volunteer to go to Vietnam if I could be guaranteed to have a non-combat job over there. And so, he said that would be easy to arrange, and so I was assigned as the educational services officer of the Naval Support Activity, Saigon. And that's how I actually came to leave the Ticonderoga and to get over into Vietnam.(end para) (para)Now, before going to Vietnam, we had to go to Camp Pendleton in California and have a couple days' worth of training, for learning how to use a weapon and trying to get some kind of orientation to what it was going to be like to be in Vietnam, and then I remember again flying over from Travis Air Force Base outside of San Francisco, and stopping in Alaska and Japan, and Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, and finally getting to Saigon. I don't even remember how long it took. It was a long, long time, it may have been 18 hours altogether from the time we left in California to the time we arrived in Vietnam, and I was petrified thinking that I was going to get off this plane and maybe get strafed by machine gun fire you know with the Tonsanook Air Force base in Saigon where we landed. But, you know, we just got offthe plane, it was hot, it was muggy, and there was someone there to meet me, who was the man, the officer that I was going to be replacing, and then I went to a barracks and stayed overnight for getting processed to actually be in Vietnam, and then I went out to this naval base at Nha Be, N-h-a b-e, two words, a Vietnamese fishing village which had been enlarged to include this, this naval base. And that's where I was assigned for 14 ofthe 16 months I was over there, and then the last 2 months I was actually in Saigon, and we were all moved into Saigon for the last couple of months that I was there.(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. So during this time, it sounds like you didn't actually see combat.

Nat Butler:

I never saw combat.

Marcie Hebert:

Never saw, okay.

Nat Butler:

Most of the people in Vietnam did not see combat. I think only about 20 percent of the people in Vietnam saw combat. The other 80 percent were support people. There were about a thousand people on the base that I was on, and most ofthem were Navy staff people, because there wasn't enough room in Saigon for all these people attached to the admiral's staff. And then there were also some Army helicopter pilots who were there as well. Um, so, but it was mostly a Navy base, but there were a large number of Americans on this base. There were about a thousand of us on this base. It was quite large at the time that I was there, anyway. But most, some but not, most of the people were not engaged in fighting.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay.

Nat Butler:

Although I do remember meeting one man there, which was quite a strange experience. He was a, I think he was a Navy, a Navy man, and he was involved in combat, and he came up to me one time when I was walking on the base and asked me if I ever was in Harvard Square, and I was kind of struck by his question, because of course I had spent a lot of time in Harvard Square. I went to Harvard College. But I didn't recognize him, but he started to talk to me, and he talked about how much he liked being in the Navy, and how much he liked his job, and how he would get up in the morning and go to work, as he called it, and his work was killing people, and then to prove that he had done his job, he would cut off their ears and bring them back at the end of the day and give them to whoever his superior was. And I thought, well, if this is a true story, this is kind of bizarre, but nevertheless this is wartime and I guess this is what goes on. And so I just, you know, went along with what he was saying and certainly remembered his telling me that. That was quite, quite an experience.

Marcie Hebert:

Yeah, and a strange opening too, having said he saw you in Harvard Square.

Nat Butler:

Right, right, right, yeah.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Now, it sounds like you, you did have subordinates then while you were there.

Nat Butler:

(para)Yes, while I was in Vietnam, I had an office of about half a dozen men. And we were, our job was to run the promotion system for enlisted men, which involves taking correspondence courses as well as taking multiple choice exams, which are administered twice a year.(end para) (para)And this was a fairly complex logistical operation, because these multiple choice exams are all numbered serially, and I was the person responsible for making sure they were all under lock and key until the day that they were to be administered. And most of the people would take these exams at central locations, but some of them I had to mail out to various units in Vietnam, and then retrieve the exams after they had been administered or get documentation that they had been destroyed. And since we were having to administer these exams for probably 500 to a thousand people every 6 months, and since 1/12 ofthe people were coming and going every month, because everyone was only in Vietnam for a year, so every month 1/12 of the people were new and 1/12 of the people were leaving, and the time lag between when people were nominated for these exams and when they actually got to take the exams, meant that about 25 percent of the people who were nominated for the exam were no longer in Vietnam on the, on the date of the exam, and another 25 percent of the people who were going to take the exam hadn't even arrived yet, and so we had to try to anticipate the exams that we might need and then mail out the exams that were going to be for people who were going to take them somewhere else. And it was not rocket science, but it took some, some organization to make sure that all ofthis happened the way it was supposed to.(end para) (para)However, I enjoyed the work quite a bit, and we worked 7 days a week over there. We worked every holiday, and the only break we got on Sundays, for instance, or holidays was we came in at 8 o'clock instead of7:30. So, the idea was to keep people busy over there, so that they wouldn't spend too much time drinking or taking drugs, or otherwise getting into trouble, I think. I mean, it's not that we we had to keep that busy, but the idea was to make sure that we were occupied.(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

And under control.

Nat Butler:

Yeah.

Marcie Hebert:

Um, let's see ... sounds like you've already told me some ofthe memorable experiences. What would you say is the most memorable experience you had, while you were in the service?

Nat Butler:

Um ...

Marcie Hebert:

Or was it one of the ones that you already--?

Nat Butler:

(para)Well, I, I don't know that I would say that there was one memorable experience, but I must say, as someone who entered the military without any real appreciation for it, and as someone who does not consider himselfto be a militaristic person, I have a great appreciation for how well-organized the military is. It's really quite remarkable when you think that it is several million people who are stationed throughout the world, they are constantly moving around, the military owns or operates a huge amount of real estate throughout the world, a gigantic amount of equipment-ships, planes and so forth-and it's extremely well-organized and extremely well-run.(end para) (para)And I also feel, having served in the military, that it's a very good idea in a democracy to have members of the democracy serve in the military so that we all know what it's like. And even though the volunteer army seems to work fairly well, as far as accomplishing the mission is concerned, I feel uncomfortable when I see that most of the people in the military seem to be people of color or people from the lower social-economic classes. Because I think that everyone ought to serve the country. It may not necessarily have to be in the military but some, there should be some public service that everyone as a citizen should have to, have to do, because we live in a really great country and we ought to understand what that really means. And so, that's not anyone experience that I had, but it really is an appreciation that I have, and that I, you know, didn't have before, before I was in the military.(end para) (para)Now, I'm not an apologist for the military. I mean, I do remember being in Vietnam and hearing one career person say "Well, we should be grateful for this war, it's the only one we have." And, you know, that certainly is not what I subscribe to. But I, again, think that that is a good reason for there to be people who are going into the military and serving for 2 or 3 years and then leaving. Because they will have a different perspective from, from people who have decided to make the military a career. And so that is, I think one, of the strongest impressions I have, or beliefs I have, from my time in the military, although it's not a particular experience which really impressed itself on me.(end para) HEBERT. Right, it's important in lots of [inaudible[

Nat Butler:

Right, I think it is, yeah

Marcie Hebert:

All right, now I'm going to ask more kind of specific questions ...

Nat Butler:

Sure.

Marcie Hebert:

... about while you were in the service, and just to get a sense of what it was like for you during that time.

Nat Butler:

Sure, sure.

Marcie Hebert:

Just basic things like food, what was the food like, in terms of your social life, what you did, I mean, sounds like you were pretty busy at least when you were stationed in Vietnam.

Nat Butler:

Right.

Marcie Hebert:

Just in a general...

Nat Butler:

Right.

Marcie Hebert:

Maybe what the food was like.

Nat Butler:

(para)Well, there, I really have to separate them into two, two parts. There was the time when I was on the Ticonderoga, on the aircraft carrier. I mean the food there was fine. I was an officer, so we had people cooking for us. The food on the ship was fine. I mean it wasn't gourmet food, but so, it was fine. We, I think that's where I really came to like soup. We always had soup before every meal. And I love soup to this day, and I think I got that habit from, from the Navy.(end para) (para)The conditions were Spartan, you know, living in, the ... The Ticonderoga was built in 1944, and so it had very little air-conditioning. I was assigned, when I was there, to a very small room, which I shared, with bunk beds, with one other officer, and we were located right beneath the port catapult ofthe aircraft carrier. So as the jets were operating 12 hours a day, and when they were operating from noon until midnight, or 6 in the evening until 6 in the morning, they were going off all night long, sometimes, and I was sleeping about IO feet under them, so there was a huge amount of noise.(end para) (para)In addition, the room was not air-conditioned, and so even though we had a vent which vented air into our room, it was hot air, and so I either had a choice of having hot air blow on me, which was full of black dust, so that I would wake up sweaty and covered with black dust, or turning the vent off, closing the vent and having no moving air at all, in which case I woke up drenched in sweat, because it was so hot and humid. So I would try to find someone who had a watch in the middle ofthe night and ask in could sleep in their bed for 4 hours, simply to ... because there were some areas of the ship that were airrconditioned, but they were people who had higher rank than I did. And so that was the least comfortable part of, of living on the ship.(end para) (para)But I, you know, it was kind of an adventure for me. I mean, it was 2 months when we were actually out at sea, and it was kind of an adventure to see what that was like, so that was fine. Once we got back to Long Beach, and we were in drydock for 10 months or whatever it was, a long time, at first I lived in an apartment near, by the ship, but I really had so little money that I couldn't afford to do that, and so I then moved back on the ship, and I lived in my tiny little room, but at least the air-conditioning wasn't a problem, you know, at that, at that time.(end para) (para)And socially, I had some friends that I knew from college who lived in the Los Angeles area, so I was able to see them, and I had some friends from the ship, but I also, this, this man I had fallen in love with, I did spend quite a bit oftime with him, although that was, was difficult, because we really weren't going to, he was married, and so we really weren't going to have any kind of romance, and so even though I had a social life it was really kind of a conflicted social life, and you know, as I, as I said, over time it just became unbearable, and that's why I volunteered to, to go to Vietnam.(end para) (para)Now, once I got to Vietnam, the daily life there was, again, fairly Spartan, but not disagreeable to me. There was a barracks there that was not air-conditioned, we had very tiny sleeping spaces, but I didn't spend very much time there. I mean, we did have to work 7 days a week, our offices were air-conditioned, so I would usually, you know, get to the office at 7:30 in the morning, the work day was until 5:30, then I'd usually go and have some dinner, and then come back, and in didn't do more work, I would read, or I would otherwise stay in my office until it was time to go to bed. And then I'd just go over and go to bed. And then the next morning I'd be back in the office.(end para) (para)So, even though it wasn't elegant you know, it was perfectly comfortable, roomy, I liked the people that I worked with, we got along well, there were other officers there that I was friendly with, and ... You know, the, the one of the strange parts of living on this base at Nha Be, was that for 2 plus hours every day we were allowed off the base, from 5:30 until 8 o'clock in the evening. And I didn't usually leave the base during those 2 plus hours, because where you got to go for those 2 plus hours was the civilian fishing, fishing village, the Vietnamese fishing village, which was right outside the gates of the, of the base, and this was a tiny fishing village, and the attraction for the 2 plus hours when we could leave the base were that all the prostitutes from Saigon came down for their first shift of the evening, and then at 8 o'clock they would leave and then go back to Saigon and they'd have their second shift of the day. But when I first got to Vietnam and the end of the work day came, one ofthe people in my office asked me in was going to go out to, outside the base for a "short time."(end para) (para)And I said, "A short time? I don't understand." And he said "Well, you know, these women, they're busy. You don't get a long time with them. You get a short time." [Laughs](end para)

Marcie Hebert:

That was the code word for ...

Nat Butler:

(para)That was the code word for having sex, for the prostitutes. Because they would try to have, you know, 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 or however many tricks they could have in 2 plus hours and then they'd go into Saigon and have more. And this had no appeal to me whatsoever, and I don't know if any of the men thought that I was strange. I mean, I think they were, we were friendly, so they didn't sort of, you know, ridicule me, really, but they may have wondered why I wasn't partaking of this, because everybody else did, but in any case, I didn't. It wasn't for me.(end para) (para)Um, and um, but that was, it was very much a routine. A few times I took advantage when I could, trying to go to Navy bases or locations in other parts of, of Vietnam, just to get out of the base, and to sort of see what it was like. I didn't make a lot of trips like that, but it was interesting to helicopter around, and to fly over Vietnam and see what the country looked like, at least from high up, or to drive through it. You know, again, you know, you would, I would, anyway, worry because you were never quite sure if you might be shot at, or what might happen to you, even though people seemed to be quite casual about moving around at least. I don't think I ever got probably more than, you know, 100 miles or so from Vietnam or from Saigon. So I traveled in a fairly circumscribed area, but anyway, it was interesting to, to, you know, see, see what was going on there.(end para) (para)I, I didn't feel that we were adding a lot to the quality oflife ofthe Vietnamese, from what I could see, um [shrugs] ... my observation.(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

Mm-hmm, okay.

Nat Butler:

And then, as I said, for the last 2 or 3 months I was there we were moved into, into Saigon, and that was a somewhat different working and living experience. I mean, we still worked 7 days a week, but we worked much closer, in much closer physical proximity to the admiral and his staff, and there were more senior officers around, one of whom really didn't like me too much, and so he made my life kind of difficult, and um, but living right in Saigon and being able to walk the streets of Saigon was certainly different from seeing the fishing village, which is where I had lived. And I didn't find out until after I'd gotten back to the States and after I'd been discharged that there were actually gay bars in Saigon where some of the gay GIs hung out, but I didn't know about them ...

Marcie Hebert:

[inaudible]

Nat Butler:

(para)... at the time. I did have a couple of gay-related experiences when I was in Vietnam. One was when I sat on an administrative board, which was deciding whether or not to discharge someone who had been accused of having a gay experience with another man. And I felt that based on the evidence that was presented, that I had to vote to have him discharged, dishonorably, I think it was, probably, from the military, but I remember also feeling that if I didn't vote to have him discharged, that I might be looked at askance and maybe considered to be gay myself, so that was, that was a somewhat uncomfortable experience to go through.(end para) (para)There was another time when, another kind of experience when ... We, we did do quite a bit of drinking over there, because there was a lot of alcohol around, it was quite cheap, and we got bored. And there was one night when I was kind of drunk walking around the base, and there was a sailor there that I saw that I thought was extremely attractive physically, and it's kind of hard to describe this ... There were various bunkers around the barracks where we could go if we had to, in case we were attacked. I don't remember them ever being used, but in any case there were these, there were these small bunkers. And they were outside the barracks where we lived. And the barracks themselves, the sides ofthe barracks were not fully enclosed, because they wanted to try and allow as much ventilation as they could, and so the sides of the barracks were screened entirely, which you could look through, of course, and then there were wooden slats that were put at a 45-degree angle so as to keep out the rain when it rained, but if you were to look up through the slats, so to speak, you could see into someone's room.(end para) (para)And so I was, in my drunken stupor, was up on one of the, the bunkers looking into this guy's room and watching him undress, and some of the base patrol came by at that time and saw me, and asked what I was doing and "get down from the bunker" and so forth. And then they recognized who I was and they said "What were you doing," and I said, "Oh, I was just up on the bunker," and I didn't really think anything of it. And a day or two later the person who was my commanding officer asked me what I had been doing, and I said, "Well, you know, I was drunk, I was walking around the base, I climbed up on a bunker, I mean, you know, I, you know, shouldn't have been doing it but that's, you know, what I did."(end para) (para)And he said "okay," and he kind of let it go. And I thought that was really the end of it. But I found out from one of the people I had served with on the base again, a year or so later after I had been discharged that someone at least was thinking that I was gay and that's why I was looking into this person's room, and, but my commanding officer, who liked me, just squashed the investigation and nothing happened. But, but if it hadn't, if he hadn't liked me or if it had gone the other way, then I conceivably could have been discharged myself for that incident. So, um ...(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

Had other people, or had anybody else known about the relationship or the situation with the other man, the one you had fallen in love with? BUTER: I didn't tell anybody, no, I didn't tell anybody about that, certainly not in Vietnam, and I don't remember telling anybody else about that in the Navy, yeah.

Marcie Hebert:

The time that you two spent together, was it off base, was it?

Nat Butler:

Yes, it was off base, right, yeah.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay.

Nat Butler:

'Cause he lived with his wife.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay.

Nat Butler:

So he had an apartment off base.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Well you talked a lot about some of the questions I wanted to ask you. some ofthe other just logistical questions that they have on here, um ...

Nat Butler:

Okay, sure.

Marcie Hebert:

One of the things they ask is did you do anything special for good luck?

Nat Butler:

For good luck? [Laughs]

Marcie Hebert:

Before you went over, you know ...

Nat Butler:

No, I'm not, I'm not really very superstitious that way. I guess I was young and kind ofna'ive, and I, I really didn't anticipate that anything bad was going to happen to me. And, you know, volunteering for Vietnam, I was, I really was so desperate to get out of this situation on the ship I was on with this, with this straight man that I had fallen in love with, I was so focused on getting myself out of that situation, that I really didn't .... Getting to Vietnam was like a relief to me, it was really a relief, as strange as that may sound. So I wasn't really thinking that I was putting myself in harm's way.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Just as an aside, if there's any time you want to take a break, [inaudible] just tell me to stop the videotape.

Nat Butler:

Sure, sure, yeah.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. One of the things veterans talk about in the service pulling pranks and doing funny stuff to each other. Were there any pranks you remember people pulling?

Nat Butler:

The only thing I remember was, when you cross the Equator there is a ceremony that happens at sea and I can't remember what it's called. Somehow I didn't get pulled into that, I think because I joined the Ticonderoga at the end ofthe, the, its cruise in the South China Sea, but that's, that's something that ships participate in. People who have been across the Equator before get to ... It's got a mild kind of hazing.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay.

Nat Butler:

And people have to wear crazy costumes and stuff like that, but other than that, I don't remember any kind of pranks. I mean, in Vietnam, people weren't really interested in pranks. I mean, they were interested in getting high, or going on R and R, you know, outside of the country, or, or leaving, you know, getting through with their 12 months and getting, getting the hell out of there. So people didn't really, and, you know, also we were working 7 days a week too, so there wasn't sort of really encouragement for any kind of pranks that I can remember.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay.

Nat Butler:

Yeah.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Do you have photographs from your time?

Nat Butler:

I've got a few photographs. I don't have a lot of photographs.

Marcie Hebert:

Who's in the photographs that you do have?

Nat Butler:

Well, I did take, I think I only have a couple of photographs left now and a couple ofthem have me only, and a couple ofthem are the base that I was on in Vietnam. I don't remember taking photographs when I was on the aircraft carrier. But when I was in Vietnam I made a audiotape that I sent home to my family and accompanied it with photographs, so that I could show my family what it was, what a day was like, what I saw in my room, what I looked at when I walked out ofthe barracks, what it was like walking around the base, what my office was like, and so forth. Just so that they would have some kind of an idea of what my life was like over there. But I don't, I don't know what happened to the audiotape, and I don't know where most ofthose photographs are now.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Did you keep a diary?

Nat Butler:

I did not keep a diary, no.

Marcie Hebert:

What did you think of your, you sound like you, you said you pretty much got along with most of your fellow officers

Nat Butler:

Right.

Marcie Hebert:

and most ofthe people that you ...

Nat Butler:

Yes.

Marcie Hebert:

Are there people you still keep in touch with?

Nat Butler:

There were some people I kept in touch with for a while. There was one friend I had from officers' candidate school who I saw a few times after I had been discharged from the Navy. He lived in Wyoming and then he lived in California; I saw him a few times in Wyoming and then in California. I had another friend who lived in Texas, who was from Texas and moved to California; I saw him once. The guy I fell in love with I actually saw a couple of times afterwards. We kept in touch for a while. But I don't know where he lives any longer. I sent him a letter, I think, and it got returned, and I, you know, I don't know where he is. So there ... And then there's one other friend from Vietnam that I still am in touch with from time to time. So yes, I did make some friends over there that did last for a while beyond my, the term of my enlistment, but only one that I, that I'm still in touch with.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Now, this sounds like specifically while you were serving in the military, you didn't know any other gay officers or anybody else who ...

Nat Butler:

No.

Marcie Hebert:

You had talked with, just this one person you had this relationship with ...

Nat Butler:

Right, right

Marcie Hebert:

That you feel in love with

Nat Butler:

Right, right. Well I may have known people who were gay who didn't tell me they were gay. That's possible.

Marcie Hebert:

Who didn't self-identify.

Nat Butler:

Right. No one did at that time, either, and also, this was, this was, Stonewall occurred in June 1969. I was in the South China Sea in June of 1969. You know, the effect of Stonewall was not getting to Vietnam, you know, in the early 1970s when I was there. So it wasn't ... And I do remember watching "Boys in the Band" in Vietnam, and I think there were, I mean, they would rotate the movies, so that the enlisted men would get to see the movie on one ... There was segregation of ranks in the military, enlisted men saw movies together, the chief petty officers saw movies together, the officers saw movies together, and so the same movie would get shown 4 different times to 4 different groups on the same base. And I remember the night when I went to see "Boys in the Band," which was, you know, quite racy at that time.

Marcie Hebert:

Yeah, I'm surprised they actually played that.

Nat Butler:

I was surprised, too, and I think there were only 3 or 4 of us, you know, who were actually watching the movie. Everyone sitting, you know, like five chairs away from the next person so that no one could, you know, be accused of touching anyone else during that movie. That was a weird experience to see that movie on that base, you know, at that time, being a, you know, closeted person as I was then. So, I don't know, you asked a question that brought back that memory, but I can't remember what it was, but in any case that, that happened to me when I was in Vietnam.

Marcie Hebert:

Yeah, I think I'd asked if you knew of other people who were gay.

Nat Butler:

Oh, right, right, yeah. So, even though I was at that movie, I didn't meet anybody, seeing that movie at that time. I don't remember meeting anybody who was gay, and if someone had actually come up to me and, you know, said "I'm gay," or tried to proposition me or whatever, I probably wouldn't have gone along with it. I probably wouldn't have.

Marcie Hebert:

Did you self-identify yourself at that point? I mean it sounds like you ...

Nat Butler:

Well, I was, um .. .I certainly knew that I was attracted to men, but I think I was still fighting it, because I do remember, once I was discharged in February of 1972, I had been to Bangkok a couple of times on R and R while I was in Vietnam, and I went back to Bangkok on my way home-I traveled around the world on my way home-and actually went to a straight bar up there which catered to the sex trade in Bangkok, and made an arrangement with a prostitute and spent the night with her, and had sex with her, and, you know, performed, but didn't enjoy it. And so, you know, I was kind oflike trying to encourage myself to be interested in women sexually, but it just, it's not my thing. [Laughs] It just didn't .. .I mean, it worked, mechanically, physically, it worked, but it just didn't feel right to me. So ... where was I? You know, I don't know exactly where I was, but I certainly knew I had an attraction to men.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Okay. Now, it sounds like you have, kind of after the fact, you heard there was somebody who was at least suspicious or had some feeling or was making assumptions about the fact that you might be gay.

Nat Butler:

Right.

Marcie Hebert:

Do you know of anybody else who suspected or thought that you might be, or had any--?

Nat Butler:

Not that I'm aware of. I mean, people may have come to conclusions of their own. Well, actually, now that you mention it, I do remember, a couple of weeks before I was discharged from Vietnam in February of 1972, the person, the officer who was going to replace me had already arrived, and we, a bunch of us went out one night drinking, and he was fooling around with one of the prostitutes in the, in the, in the bar we were in, and he was married, and I was thinking, well, or I may have even said to him, "So, you might have sex with this woman even though you're married?" And he said, "Yeah, I might." I was kind of shocked, actually, I mean, not that I should have been, perhaps, but um, but then, you know, he encouraged her to, to fool around with me. And she had her hand on my cock and was trying to get an erection, and I wasn't getting an erection at all, and, you know, she sort of went back to him and said, you know, "He's not, he's not getting turned on here," and I think that seemed strange, you know, to people, so .... Again, I don't know if anyone came to any conclusions or not, but I do remember that incident.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay.

Nat Butler:

But that was, I mean, you know, that was like 2 weeks before I was leaving. I didn't really care. At that point, I didn't think I was going to get discharged on the basis ofthat incident. I mean, it wasn't like I was approaching anybody, and so, but I do remember that happening, that felt kind of uncomfortable.

Marcie Hebert:

I guess that would be an interesting thing to [inaudible]

Nat Butler:

Right, right, right, right.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Let's see ... So, I mean, I'm guessing the answer to this would be "no" but I'm just going to ask anyway, because maybe since this time, since being discharged you've talked to people who were gay and in the military or people you had served with. Do you know of anyone who was in a cover marriage at the time, sort of married but --?

Nat Butler:

No, certainly not at the time, and I don't know of anyone that I've met since then who was. Um ... [inaudible]

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Let me talk, ask you a little bit about life afterwards.

Nat Butler:

Okay.

Marcie Hebert:

Just, what was it like once you were discharged? What did you do, how did it feel, where did you live, that kind of stuff?

Nat Butler:

Um, actually, even though the tours in Vietnam were only 12 months long, I extended for four months, because I wanted to earn some extra money so that I could take a trip around the world after I was discharged. So I arranged to be discharged in the Philippines, rather than coming back to the United States, and then in the Philippines I started a trip of about 3 Y2 months that took me to Indonesia, Singapore, a train from Singapore up to Bangkok, then India, three weeks in India, went to Iran for a week, I think, and then was in Turkey, and then went to Egypt, and went down the Nile, and then I went to Greece, and spent several weeks in Europe, and then came back, so ...

Marcie Hebert:

Did you do this on your own?

Nat Butler:

I did this on my own.

Marcie Hebert:

Wow.

Nat Butler:

(para)Yeah. And so I was out of the country for almost 2 years, leaving in October 1970 and returning in June of 1972, and a lot had gone on the United States in those 2 years. I remember coming back and seeing people with longer hair and wearing bell bottoms and all this kind of stuff, and I really felt quite out of it. And I came back to my house, my family's house. My mother had died when I was very young, so it was my father and my brothers who were there, and feeling kind of disoriented being there. And so after 2 weeks, only 2 weeks of being home, I bought a car, and I drove around the country and visited friends for the summer, because I was there and I got home in June. And so I was gone for probably a month or two, I can't remember for sure, and I visited a number of Navy friends, actually, as well as other friends who hadn't been in the service, but Ijust felt I didn't have, I had money, I had time, I didn't have anything I was planning to do, and I felt, you know, kind of, you know, rootless in a way.(end para) (para)I remember going through mail when I came back and getting a letter from, a form letter from Richard Nixon, saying how grateful the nation was that I had been in Vietnam, and I remember thinking, "This is bullshit, this is absolute bullshit." And I was really angry at getting a letter like that, when it was so clear that people were not grateful. And so I, you know, remember that, you know, very strong reaction.(end para) (para)Um ... and then after I got back from my trip driving around the country, I worked as a mental health worker at McClain Hospital in Belmont, Mass, because I had been interested before in trying to see whether I wanted a job in a mental health, you know, field, and I thought, well, let's try it out see, what it's like, and so I did that for a year and decided it really wasn't what I wanted to do. And I applied to various graduate schools and got into Harvard Business School, and so I went to Harvard Business School for 2 years, and then started working at Massachusetts General Hospital. Because even though I went to business school, I really was doing that to get a credential in management rather than a credential for business and I was thinking actually I would go to business school and then go into government, but I couldn't find a government job in Boston, so I learned of this opportunity in Mass General Hospital so I went there, and I ended up working there for 12 years, actually.(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

What were you doing? BUTLER I worked in the social work department, as a manager, in the social work department. And I helped to create some programs for long-term care for people, elderly frail people to be able to live in community settings rather than to be in nursing facilities. And so that was very interesting work, I liked the people I worked there a lot. So it was a big change from being in the Navy.

Marcie Hebert:

Did you use the GI Bill?

Nat Butler:

I used the GI bill for Harvard Business School, yes, I did. That was a great benefit.

Marcie Hebert:

Yeah.

Nat Butler:

Yeah.

Marcie Hebert:

Good thing to take advantage of.

Nat Butler:

Right, right, right, right.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Um, oh, question, related to the friendships you had post-military, people that you continued to stay in contact with, or at least the one person that you did, but maybe the others too. Did you end up coming out to them? I mean, did they ...

Nat Butler:

(para)I did end up coming out to them, yes. The ones that I stayed in touch with long enough, I did end up coming out to them, and that was, you know, I mean, as I became more comfortable with myself, you know, I certainly was comfortable coming out to those friends. And as time has gone on, I feel very, very strongly that the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy is just a despicable policy and that gay people should be able to serve openly in the military. And I think that people raise the morale issue, "How can gay people serve in the military, it would be horrible for morale." I think that that is such a, a, a horrible argument. That it's crap, that's just bullshit.(end para) (para)People in the military obey orders. That's what the whole hierarchy ofthe military is about. If you don't obey orders there are very serious bad consequences, and what ought to be punished is inappropriate sexual behavior. If a straight person is inappropriately approaching another straight person sexually, they should be punished. If a gay person is inappropriately approaching another straight or gay person, they should be punished. It's the behavior that should be punished. The orientation should be totally neutral.(end para) (para)And I think that the, the valid comparison is with blacks in the military. It used to be that blacks were segregated, and that there were black units and they were segregated from white units. And Harry Truman ordered the de-segregation of the military, and no one today would even think for a millisecond that that was an inappropriate thing. People obey orders, you know, if you act, if any kind of racial, racially inappropriate words spoken or actions taken, there will be punishment for it, and it should be the same model for, for sexual orientation.(end para) (para)When Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I wrote him a letter, and I said that I was very much in favor of gay people being able to serve openly. I thought that it was unconscionable for a black man, who was a member of a minority, who was able to advance in the military because ofthe desegregation policy of the military, that it was unconscionable for a person like Colin Powell, to perpetrate segregation, well, worse than segregation, the really, not allowing gay people to serve openly in the military. I feel very strongly about that. I think that that's just wrong in our country, for that policy to be in effect, and I hope that sometime during my lifetime that it will be reversed. I really feel very ... That I had to lie to serve my country really makes me angry to this very day.(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

Well, related to that, that might, this might hopefully speak to that argument, which is, was what was the reaction from the people that you did tell?

Nat Butler:

They ... didn't bother them. But they were, I mean, most of them were fairly liberal anyway. I mean, a lot of people, you know, who ... Well, I mean, there were a lot of people in Ivy League colleges in the 60s and 70s who were joining the military because they had to. I mean, they were facing unpleasant choices ifthey, if they didn't. That's not the case today, I'm sure. I would be very surprised ifthere are a large number, I'm sure there are people who graduate from Ivy League colleges, but the point I'm trying to make, I guess, is that the people I was friendly with were people who were peers of mine, who, you know, had kind of the same value systems that I did, those were the people I became friends with, and so they weren't likely to be shocked.

Marcie Hebert:

[Inaudible]

Nat Butler:

Right, if I told them I was gay.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Makes sense.

Nat Butler:

Even the straight man that I, you know, fell in love with, even he and I were friends. Uh, you know, he wasn't shocked, either, but in any case, I mean, I think the morale argument, you know, is just totally false. And there are other reasons, there's prejudice, that's, that's why the military brass, that's my opinion, is that it's prejudice that is keeping this, this rule forbidding gay people from serving openly in the military. That's my belief

Marcie Hebert:

How do you think the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy compares to what it was like when there wasn't this policy?

Nat Butler:

(para)Well, it seems to be worse. I mean, there seem to be more people getting discharged now, until just, the most recent article that I saw, more and more people have getting discharged for being gay than were discharged before that policy went into effect. I don't know why that is, but that policy doesn't seem to have made things better.(end para) (para)And, you know, when you look at other countries, in particular Israel, which allows gay people to serve openly in the military. No one is accusing Israel of having sissies in their military. You know, no one wants to fight the Israeli armed forces, and they have gay people serving openly there. There's no reason why that can't happen in this country.(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Let me ask you this, related, a little bit related to this. Now, it sounds like you've had some, you're involved in various organizations, and .... How, how involved are you, say, with veterans' organizations, or are you at all?

Nat Butler:

I haven't been involved with veterans' organizations. I mean, the veterans' organizations that I'm aware of, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or the other veterans associations, were never ones that I felt, you know, I wanted to belong with. I mean certainly being a gay person, they didn't seem comfortable places for me. Ifthere are, and I'm not aware of any gay veterans' organizations, at least not in the, in the Boston area. Um, but that would be an organization that I might at least be interested in joining or, or going to some kind of gathering and seeing, you know, who was there.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. How active are you in the LGBT community?

Nat Butler:

Um, well, um, I have done a fair amount of stuff with LGBT stuff. I went to Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and for 10 years I worked at the school to try and help the whole community of the school, the alumni as well as the students, to be more comfortable with lesbian and gay issues. I've spoken to the student body a couple of times, I've worked to have alumni events that were for gay and lesbian alumni, and I've spoken to smaller student groups up there as well as to the school as a whole. I have worked with a group in Boston that is trying to develop a residential community in Boston for older gays and lesbians. And I've worked on the aging project for gays and lesbians also, which is related to the project to have a residential community, but it's a, it's a separate project. So, I have worked in a couple of different areas on LGBT issues.

Marcie Hebert:

During any of those experiences, have you come across or met other LGBT vets?

Nat Butler:

Um ...

Marcie Hebert:

I guess in particular the aging.

Nat Butler:

Yeah ... um .. .I may have met some veterans who did not identify as veterans. I haven't met very many gay Vietnam veterans that I know of.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay.

Nat Butler:

But I don't meet many, very Vietnam veterans. period.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay, okay.

Nat Butler:

I know there's some out there. But I don't know that there are, when you consider the number of Vietnam veterans there are, compared to the entire population, you know, that's not a gigantic percentage. It's not like you're going to run across people in the course of your daily life, if you don't know them already. I mean, I do know some peers of mine who served in Vietnam, none of them gay, and occasionally we'll talk about what it was like to be in the service, but mostly not.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Okay. Well this, let me ask you this question then, and it might be more about the LGBT community. Do you, I mean, how much do you talk about being a veteran, your war experiences, and to what extent do you feel accepted by the LGBT community as a veteran?

Nat Butler:

As a veteran?

Marcie Hebert:

Yeah.

Nat Butler:

Well I was, um, if it comes up in conversation, I'm not reluctant to talk about it. Because, as I was saying before, I think that, in our country, it's really important that people serve in the military, or do some other kind of public service, so I'm not, I'm not reluctant to bring that up. When the article was published in the local gay newspaper here, the Bay Windows, I, first of all, I didn't know that it was going to include a picture of me, a photo of me on the front page, but you know, maybe a dozen people came up to me at the gym that I go to, and said that they enjoyed reading the article, they found it inspiring and so forth, and so I was, had my 15 minutes of fame, you know, for a while, that ... So I did not at all feel that this was a mark against me, I felt this was really a mark in my favor, so ... But I think most people, for most people the military is really a foreign country, and they just don't understand, because they haven't had the experience. I didn't understand either before I'd been in, and that I think another reason why it's a good thing for people to see what it's like, because it's a, it's really a different way of thinking, a different way of kind of organizing your life for the period of time that you're in the military. But for people who haven't had that experience, it's very hard to, to convey what it's like simply in words, simply by describing it.

Marcie Hebert:

It's a good point, yeah, it's true. Um, do you receive any benefits from the VA?

Nat Butler:

Not now. I did for the 2 years that I was in Harvard Business School. I did get a monthly check for the GI, for the GI Bill, but now, no.

Marcie Hebert:

Have you ever used a Veterans Hospital or-- ?

Nat Butler:

I have never used a veterans' hospital.

Marcie Hebert:

No, okay.

Nat Butler:

And am probably not eligible to use it now because I have too much income.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. What prevented you from before, was it just that you had other services, or .. .like, as far as doctors? BUTLER Well, I always had health insurance.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay.

Nat Butler:

And also, I don't have any service connected disability.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay.

Nat Butler:

So ... yeah.

Marcie Hebert:

So I guess then you probably haven't been discriminated against by the VA [inaudible.]

Nat Butler:

Uh, no.

Marcie Hebert:

Okay. Um, all right, these are just, I'm just going to ask kind of general wrappup questions. One is, how would you, I mean, I think you've spoken to this pretty well already, as far as I can tell but, how would you say just overall, having been in the service has changed your life or what sort of impact has it had on your life in a general sense?

Nat Butler:

(para)Well, I think that the military gave us an opportunity to have a lot of, well, quite a bit of responsibility depending on whether you go in as an enlisted man or, or, or an officer. You get a lot of responsibility at a very young age, more so than you probably would get, at least as an officer, more so than you would get in civilian life. You could be a 22-year-old and be flying a jet, or being in charge of navigating a, an aircraft carrier with three thousand people on it. I mean, that's a lot of responsibility for someone who's 22 or 23 years old. Now, certainly you may be under supervision, in the sense that there are other officers around you. But still, that's an awful lot of, of responsibility you're probably not going to get in civilian life something, you know, that kind of equivalent. So I think that is something that I got out of it.(end para) (para)Also, you know, you really have to develop a sense of self-reliance. You know, and again, you have a supportive setting where people are ... .1 mean, you may not think of the military as being a supportive setting, but there are a lot of people around who are, who are there to help you, if you need help. They're also there to reign you in, discipline you ifthat's what you, you know, need, too. But there are other people who are there, you're not entirely on your own and you also, you know, are getting out and seeing the world in a way that you're not going to see it, you know, in other ways.(end para) (para)I mean, I went to, from Newport, Rhode Island to Albuquerque, New Mexico to California to Hong Kong to the South China Sea to Japan back to California to Vietnam. You know, I went on R and R to Sydney, Australia and Thailand and so forth. I did a lot of traveling. I met a lot of people from all walks of life in the United States, from the hillbillies from North Carolina, who chew, you know, would chew tobacco and offer me some tobacco and so forth. I never would have met these people if I hadn't met, if I hadn't been in the service. And that again, I think, is in our country where there are so many different kinds of people, I think it's good for all of us to be exposed to each other, so that we get to know each other as human beings and not as stereotypes. So I. . .it's like, you get a sense of, you have to think more about what is the United States all about? Why, why do we have a military? What does the military do that is so wonderful? Or what should it be doing, what should it be protecting that is so wonderful? You have to think about these things more because you're in the military, or at least you have an opportunity to do that. And that is a very good experience for everyone who is a citizen of this country, in my opinion.(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

Um, how would you describe, or in what way did the military influence your coming out or your sexual identity?

Nat Butler:

Well, I'm not sure that it, it certainly repressed me from, you know, you know, you know, revealing my identity, my sexual orientation, but that was partly, I think, a reflection ofthe time, too. I mean, because the sexual revolution was just really sort of starting then, if you take Stonewall, you know, in 1969 as the start of the, you know, gay sexual revolution, anyway. Um, if I were to be in the military today, I think I would find ways of having a gay sexual life that was separated from the military. I was boyfriends for a while in the, around 1980 with someone who was in the Air Force, and, you know, I certainly heard of his experiences being able to be a gay person, you know, in the Air Force and, you know, get away with it, and I would probably have been able to manage that if I had gone into the military 10 years later, but I did, but I didn't. So, I think maybe, the Navy kept me from being openly gay for 2 or 3 years more than I would have been otherwise. But, you know, other than that I don't think that it had a huge effect.

Marcie Hebert:

Is there, I mean, this is your opportunity to kind oftell your story [inaudible] Is there anything else about your experiences, this topic, the kinds of questions I've asked that we haven't talked about that you think are important, and you've shared ... ?

Nat Butler:

Well, I've done a lot of thinking about my time in the military, not just in preparation for this interview, you know, but in general. I mean, from the time I was in the military, you know, 30 years ago, 35 years ago, until now. And I feel strongly about it, and it was a positive experience for me overall, I would say, quite a positive experience. You know, I do feel strongly about the gay issue, that gay people should be able to serve openly in the military. I feel very strongly about that. But I also feel very strongly that, without being sappy, that we live in a wonderful country, and we have a responsibility back to the country. And that public service, one type of which might be serving in the military, is something that, that people should have to do, and should, people should want to do. So, that's, I guess, kind of my summing up, is that it was a, I'm very glad that I had the experience, I'm very glad I had the experience, personaIIy, and I wish, sometimes I feel that other people, you know, have missed something when they haven't had this experience. Because it really is, is an eye-opener in a, in a good way.

Marcie Hebert:

Let me ask you just an additional question.

Nat Butler:

Sure.

Marcie Hebert:

What kind of advice would you give to a Nat Butler today, who is considering the military, considering going into the service? I mean here we are wartime, again.

Nat Butler:

Right.

Marcie Hebert:

What kinds of advice would you give to that person?

Nat Butler:

(para)Well, um, I would say that first of all, that I think that it is an important thing to consider as a citizen ofthis country, and that if you want to go into the military, you certainly might be concerned about going to a war zone and getting killed. And if you are, there are ways of reducing that risk or eliminating that risk, by making certain choices about what you would do in the military, because there are people who go into the infantry who are going to be on the front lines, and there are a lot of people who do support kinds of work, making sure supplies get to where they're going to get to, or other kinds of jobs that do not involve actual, actually having a machine gun and being on the front lines.(end para) (para)If the person were gay, I would say, I would do a lot of thinking about that, because while you're not going to be asked if you're gay-that's illegal now, or at least it's not the policy-if you're wanting to have some sort of gay life in the military, you've got to be careful about how you do that. And if you're not thinking about making the military a career, you know, that's one thing, going in for 2 years or for 3 years. But if you are thinking about making the military a career, then that's a whole 'nother set of considerations, whether you really want to, I mean, you don't have to decide right on the first day that you're going to spend 20 years in the military. You can say see, well I'm going to do it for the first 2 or 3 years and see what it's like, that's, you know, that was my approach, anyway. I never thought I was going to spend time in the military.(end para) (para)I think you should learn a lot about what is out there, but not listen to stereotypes necessarily, about what the military is like, but really try and have an open mind and see it as an adventure and as a way of participating as a citizen in the country.(end para)

Marcie Hebert:

Thank you.

Nat Butler:

You're welcome.

Marcie Hebert:

Again, this is Marcie Hebert interviewing Nat Butler on April 2 and this is the conclusion of our interview.

Nat Butler:

Great.

Marcie Hebert:

Stop.

Nat Butler:

You want to run any of that back just to make sure that it. ..

Marcie Hebert:

Yeah.

Nat Butler:

Just to take a preview and see if it taped okay?

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us