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Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer


Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer

Margarethe Cammermeyer

© Margarethe Cammermeyer

Margarethe Cammermeyer: Gays in the Military:

Margarethe Cammermeyer is the highest ranking military official to come out while in the service. Prior to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" she challenged the military policy banning gays and won the right to serve.

Margarethe Cammermeyer's early military aspirations:

Margarethe Cammermeyer family grew up in Oslo Norway while the country was under occupation of the Nazi army. Her parents sheltered resistance fighters and smuggled weapons to fight off the Nazis. She credits their actions with her wanting to fight for the freedom in the United States military.

Immigration to America:

In 1951, Margarethe Cammermeyer's family moved to Boston for her father's job. Margarethe was nine. She attended college in the U.S. for nursing and became a U.S. citizen in 1960. In 1961, she joined the U.S. Army's Student Nurse Program.

Active Duty as a Soldier:

After completing her B.S. in nursing, Cammermeyer reported for active duty. It was stationed in Germany that she met her future husband Harvey Hawken. They married in 1965 and were transferred to Fort Lee in Virginia.

Margarethe Cammermeyer in Vietnam:

Margarethe requested a tour of duty in Vietnam. She spent 14 months serving as head nurse at a medical unit. Her husband joined her in Vietnam and she was soon pregnant. According to military rules, this meant she had to leave the military. She and her husband moved back to the States, near Seattle, Washington.

Margarethe the Military Mom:

Margarethe Cammermeyer had four children with her husband. In 1972 the U.S. military changed its rules barring mothers with children to serve and Cammermeyer returned to service in the Army Reserves. Her husband began to resent her time away from the family and she filed for divorce in 1980.

Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer:

Margarethe Cammermeyer was promoted to Colonel in 1987. She went on to earn her Ph.D. in nursing and became Chief Nurse of the Washington State National Guard.

Col. Cammermeyer Comes Out:

Margarethe began dating a woman and began to accept herself as a lesbian. Unaware of the strict policy about gays in the military, in 1989 during a review for security clearance, when she was asked a question about homosexuality, Margarethe admitted she was a lesbian. Discharge proceeding began.

Openly Gay in the Military:

Margarethe's discharge hearing did not take place until 1992, prior to that she had been serving in the military as an open lesbian. She was honorably discharged, but filed a suit to challenge the decision. In 1994 a judge ruled that it was unconstitutional to ban gays and lesbians from serving in the military. Cammermeyer was reinstated. She retired in 1997 with full military privileges.

Margarethe Cammermeyer: Fighting for Gay and Lesbian Rights:

Although Margarethe Cammermeyer was allowed to return to service, other gays and lesbians are not so lucky. The military's rule of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" bars openly gay or lesbians from serving in the military. Margarethe Cammermeyer has continued as an activist to fight for the rights of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

In 1994 she published her autobiography Serving in Silence, which was made into a TV movie starring Glenn Close. The movie won a Peabody and three Emmy awards.

  • Margarethe Cammermeyer earned a Bronze Star for her service in Vietnam.
  • She was the Veterans Adminstration Nurse of the Year in 1985
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