Vernon E. 'Copy' Berg III Discuss Growing up Gay

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

Been thirty years since I started interviewing LGBTQ trailblazers and allies for making can get history book. Not Everyone. I spoke with left a lasting impression. Some of the people I met with faded from memory and didn't come back to life until I listened to the old recordings recordings not so copy Berg in my post interview notes. I wrote quote. I was thoroughly charmed by copy. Actually I was smitten. I vividly remember sitting across from the handsome former navy. Man on a December afternoon in his artist's loft in New York. City's Soho neighborhood. We were warned by what must have been one of the few remaining wood-burning Stoves Manhattan copy was no stranger to be interviewed in the mid-nineteenth seventy he'd been the subject of fierce media scrutiny. That's because he was one of the first people to publicly challenge the military's ban on allowing homosexuals to serve copy was born Verney Berg the third in nineteen fifty one. He got his nickname because he was so much like his father. Navy chaplain Vernon Vernon Burge. Junior copy was the oldest of four a clean cut kid boy scout student body president of his high school member of the Optimist Club Bob and the junior chamber of Commerce he attended the US Naval Academy in Annapolis where he sang in the choir and Glee Club. He was also gay in the the summer of Nineteen Seventy Five the Navy Investigative Service confronted copy about his sexual orientation copy admitted to having had homosexual relationships and offered to resign. But as you'll hear that was just the beginning of the story. I asked copy whether he had a sense when he was growing up but he was different In hindsight I now know that I had a lover when I was in high school at the time he was just my best friend and we were in boy scouts together and we did things at school together and we went everywhere together but that meant sharing a sleeping bag and having sex and at the time my impression of homosexuals was. They were somebody who wanted to be a woman across Dresser And so I knew that we we were having sex but to me it was just play new. You didn't talk about it but you didn't talk about sex at all so David and I had sacks lots of it for almost four years But at the same time I was still dating women I mean David and I would double date with women and dropped the girls off and go home and have sex and so that continue all through high school until my senior year and I got mononucleosis which knocked me out of school for six months and it sorta ended the relationship with David because because by the time I came back to school I was very focused on graduating getting to Annapolis and to do that I had to go off to military boot camp. That was when when you were in I graduated from high school. Nineteen sixty nine and then went to boot camp and sixty nine June of sixty nine while men were walking walking on the moon. I was in boot camp pretty hot political time. Oh yeah there was foment everywhere and you were you aware of what was going on on. Well yes and no I mean. I was living in a military environment. All my friends were military juniors Their parents were career military military people and I went off to Annapolis and yes. We read about peace demonstration in the newspaper and yes. She read about drugs in the newspaper but they were all still considered sittard fringe. Those were the days when we still believe that Richard Nixon was a great guy and he hadn't done anything wrong. There was no sense that the government was against us. The way we know now it was so you could still tell yourself that all right in the White House and And that the fringe groups were wrong when you aware that they were gay rights groups that were part of the fringe are that was no that was beyond my experience. My initial official experiences were mostly the military versus the peace demonstrators. When I was in the academy we were told which is completely against ends policy that we were not allowed to wear the uniforms off base in normal times like now you always appear in uniform whenever you're traveling and military functions or going someplace or even traveling overseas to duty assignments well those days? They didn't even allow us to go off the base in uniform because we were sub subject to violence and at the hands of Demonstrators to use a broad general title title Vietnam was very unpopular. And if you walked down the streets in uniform you were subject to abuse. Having been through that experience agreeance I then graduated from Annapolis and my first duty assignment was in Italy. I was with the NATO forces and I was a an assistant chief of staff device Admiral Turner on the six fleet staff for public relations. What off officers were you? I was an incident at the time I just graduated. Spent a year in the fleet and And that's when things broke How did how did that? How did well no no? I didn't plan on. Its distinction. I I make frequently as I didn't start this People accused me of being disruptive. None of us start these things. Somebody else does but once provoked I responded. How did it happen? How do we don't what was what were your circumstances that Nick? I was right right when I was in Italy. I was called in by the Naval Investigative Service Officer on board the ship. What they what was the base? Like June of Nineteen seventy-five June July and I didn't think anything of it because the guy was a friend of mine worked on other cases is with him involving other people and I thought he wanted to talk to me about one of my men and they said we're here to talk about your homosexuality. I said what homosexuality they said Mr Berg. We're not naive. There's nothing you can say. That will surprise us and they proceeded with what I call the good guy bad guy scenario. Good cop bad cop one. The Guy Screams at you and then he leaves the room and the guy says he's in a bad mood If you'll cooperate things get better. There was actually another person involved at the time. There was this civilian teaching English on board the ship and they had him in another room and Lawrence and I did have a relationship and they would go from room to room and say Mister Gibson has just said this do you deny it and then they would take what I said and go back to him and say Mr Burgas just said this. Do you deny it. So essentially the short form is I gave them a confession. I said that yes I was gay. I'd had sex with these people on these occasions and I guess I never answered the original question and that is why did all of its start. I ended up on a list. Somehow I don't don't know really how the Naval Investigative Service maintains that they had a confidential informant What he had found that was that you were in relationship with another man? No they didn't know that. Actually I went in thinking that I was guilty of that but it turned out that they have my name on a list with many many other names of people at the Naval Academy so it seems that the investigation somehow it started at Annapolis because is the the list that they had when they confronted me was professors and students and officers at Annapolis. Most of whom I didn't know no. They wanted to believe that I knew these people and that I was guilty of colluding with them to They still believe that all of us know each other and that is is is wonderful underground network and we all talk to each other and we all fuck And I was mortified as I'd never been confronted by that kind of tactic I mean now I can tell you a great deal about it because it's so thoroughly predictable but at the time I was pretty buffalo by it Predictable in what sense. But they all all the investigations take on the same characteristics and they always produce the same rationale in the same results On the sexual conspiracy right and the homosexuals enemy theory McCarthy started the whole thing when he said that they were homosexuals in the State Department and then he said they were homosexuals in the army and the whole federal establishment was put on the alert to find homosexuals in fair here at them out and prosecute them. Because at the time a McCarthy you could say a homosexual was a communist and equate the two and everybody believed it and and I think people fail to make the connection with McCarthy I mean most other things have been discredited out of that period but this attitude that the homosexual is an enemy has been maintained at any rate. The list had names of people that I'd heard of but I was so upset by The implication that I'd had sex with all these people I decided the only way to establish credibility in other words to be able to deny what was not true. True was to assert what was which was so I told him yes. I'm gay and I've had sex with these people And then denied the rest of it. What were you thinking about the your relationship with another man given that you were in the military knowing that the military knowing with military's views on this where do you think about it life? I guess I handled it the same way. I handled my relationship in high school. And that was the It wasn't something you talked about. We're very highly closeted closeted. But it wasn't something. I was ashamed of something I enjoyed. And I was happy in

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