May 7, 2010
President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Tomorrow, my family and I will mark the 126th anniversary of my grandfather President Harry Truman’s birthday. There are many reasons we celebrate his life and contributions to our nation, but in particular we are proud of his decision to desegregate the U.S. Armed Forces in July 1948, which paved the way for future civil rights advancements.
It was not easy. He faced fierce opposition from inside and outside the military. Many, including Army Chief of Staff Gen. Omar Bradley, argued that mixing black and white soldiers would destroy the Army.
My grandfather, however, was appalled that African-American service members had been beaten and lynched upon their return home from fighting in World War II. They had risked their lives to defend our nation, but were denied the full rights and responsibilities of American citizenship. Implementation of his order to desegregate wasn’t easy, but it made our military stronger and our nation a brighter beacon of democracy.
There are strong parallels between the desegregation of the military and the debate over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law that mandates the firing of a service member based solely on his or her sexual orientation. Opponents argue that allowing openly gay and lesbian service members to serve alongside their heterosexual comrades will endanger discipline and morale.
While I have no idea where my grandfather would stand on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I do know that he admired service and sacrifice. An estimated 66,000 gay and lesbian Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Coastguardsmen are willingly risking their lives to defend our nation, despite being treated as second class citizens.
I would hope that my grandfather would want his openly gay great-granddaughter and others like her to have the opportunity to serve the country they love with dignity and integrity.
Mr. President, as you have said many times, including in your State of the Union Address earlier this year, ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the right thing to do. This year is the right time to do it.
I commend you for your commitment and hope the example of my grandfather, Harry Truman, will help you lead with the same courage and conviction to ensure the "equality of treatment and opportunity for all who serve our nation’s defense.”
Clifton Truman Daniel