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Hundreds of LGBT activists and allies gathered at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery to watch Lt. Dan Choi, an Arabic linguist who was discharged from the Army for being gay, dedicate a wreath to gay and lesbian soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty.
"There's so many soldiers that haven't been able to be recognized for so long, so many service members that continue serving in silence," Choi told The Advocate following the ceremony. Asked what was going through his mind during the solemn dedication, Choi added, "All of the messages that I've gotten from people saying that they don't know how to go on while they're still serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is for them."
The event was considered an official military ceremony, and it was not the first time gay and lesbian veterans have been recognized at the site. Michael Bedwell, who helped assemble the application for the wreath laying, said gay vets groups hold a similar event every year on Memorial Day.
Nonetheless, Capt. Michael Rankin, a retired Navy officer who participated in the ceremony with Lieutenant Choi, called the event "incredibly moving."
Rankin served for 32 years -- closeted throughout his entire tenure. "I was gay the whole 32 years," he said with a smile. "I reported to a Naval Academy in 1964, and to imagine then what this was all about today is just unbelievable. It's very encouraging, because there were so many young people here who came out and said, we're the next generation and we're going to win this battle."
One of the next generation included a 15-year-old straight ROTC student, Cadet Master Sgt. Daniel Torres Jr., who traveled from New York for the weekend. "I wanted to pay respects to those who have fallen and have not been found yet or are prisoners of war," he said, after getting his picture taken with Choi. "And I believe that what Lieutenant Choi has done is honor the spirits of them and I feel very moved and touched that he would do such a thing."
Anthony Woods, who attended West Point with Choi and recently lost a congressional bid in California, said he was particularly proud of the message Choi continues to send even after being discharged. "The thing that is so powerful about Dan is that most people, once they get kicked out of the military, feel like, 'I was kicked out of the military, it was taken away from me, I'm no longer a veteran,'" said the 29-year-old Woods, who was also discharged under the gay ban. "I think Dan is doing a good job of -- and I'm proud to stand by his side as he does it -- making it known that we are veterans, we've served our country too, and that's what this wreath laying was about today."