Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer, commonly known as Grethe, was born on March 24, 1942 in Oslo, Norway. At age 9, she and her family immigrated to the United States. In 1960, at age 18, she became a US citizen. A year later, she entered the Army Student Nurse Program and, in 1963, earned her BS in nursing from the University of Maryland. 

Grethe served on active duty for seven years with the Army Nurse Corps and, while stationed in Germany, married Harvey Hawken, a fellow soldier.  She volunteered to go to Vietnam after her husband received his orders, and served there for fourteen months, including eight months as head nurse of the neurosurgical intensive care unit. For her service, Grethe was awarded the Bronze Star for Meritorious Achievement. She and Harvey were married for 15 years. 

In 1968, pregnant with her first of four children, Grethe was forced to leave the military, since women were not allowed to have dependents and serve. When the policy changed in 1972, she joined the Army Reserves. Grethe raised her children while working in VA hospitals and earning her master’s degree and Ph.D. in nursing from the University of Washington. 

In 1988, Colonel Cammermeyer transferred to the Washington National Guard, assuming the role of Chief Nurse. She had a concurrent position as clinical nurse specialist in the VA hospital at American Lake in Tacoma, where she was in charge of the seizure clinic and sleep lab. In 1988, while visiting her aunt with her sons in Lincoln City, Oregon, Grethe met Diane Divelbess, an artist from California. It was her self-described ‘a-ha’ moment. A year later, during a security clearance interview, Grethe disclosed that she was a lesbian. As a result, she was involuntarily discharged two years later. Grethe filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense in federal court, and in 1994, federal district judge Thomas Zilly ruled her discharge unconstitutional. Grethe was reinstated in 1994. Her story was turned into the television movie Serving in Silence, produced by Barbra Streisand and Glenn Close. Glenn Close (Grethe), Judy Davis (Diane), and screenwriter Alison Cross all won Emmy awards for their efforts on the film.

Grethe was retired from the military in 1997 after 31 years of service. She then turned her energies to fulltime advocacy for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. On December 22, 2010, surrounded by hundreds of advocates for repeal, Grethe led the Pledge of Allegiance at President Obama’s signing to finally repeal DADT.

Today, Grethe and Diane live on Whidbey Island, Washington with their two rescue dogs, Bella and Stryder. They have wonderful relationships with Grethe’s sons and their grandchildren. In person, Grethe is tall, strong, and very direct – the kind of person one would want as an ally in any campaign for justice.

Mason Funk: [00:00:00] Fantastic. Let me just pause and ask you to state and spell your first and last names.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Okay, my name is Margarethe Cammermeyer, I go by Greta. It's M-A-R-G-A-R-E-T-H-E C-A-M-M-E-R-M-E-Y-E-R.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:00:30] My preferred nickname is Greta, also Grethe, spelled G-R-E-T-H-E.
Mason Funk: Great, okay. Great. Please tell me when and where you were born. You probably know this already, but if you could incorporate my questions into your answers, so that we don't need my question to understand what you're talking about.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Sure. Well, I was born in Oslo, Norway during the Nazi occupation in 1992.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] I'm sorry, 1942.
Grethe Cammermeyer: 1942. Yeah, I was born in Oslo, Norway under Nazi occupation in 1942, and was the first child of my parents. My father was a neuropathologist and my mother a nurse, and they were involved with the Nazi resistance. We lived across from Nazi headquarters
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:01:30}] and so very early on I became involved in resistance. I suppose I could tell the story that I like to blame my parents on my involvement in political activism. I was an infant and my mother would put me in a baby carriage and underneath my mattress, she would store things for the resistance forces,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:02:00] and would walk through town going to an alley. Some people would jump out, get the guns from underneath my mattress. I attribute the fact that I can sleep anytime, anyplace to having been raised on guns.Also, what I recognized as I got older was that my parents became involved in things
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:02:30] that affected their lives and the lives of Norwegians, and feeling that their involvement in the resistance force was necessary to prevent evil, even though they had lost friends and many had to flee. I think as I was growing up, it was reading other books about Norwegian women particularly, who had been influential in the resistance forces,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:03:00] and in my mind wondering would I have been as brave, would I have stood up? Would I have taken the challenge regardless of the risks? That became, over the years that became more and more something I would fall back on in terms of looking at whether I could do it.
Mason Funk: [00:03:30] Well have to pause briefly, yes. Is there a way to stop the phone from ringing?
Grethe Cammermeyer: I would have ...
Mason Funk: Maybe we can pick up because I remember you mentioning this. In your book, I think you raised this question that we all ask ourselves, how would we react? I don't know if there's ... I don't even know how to ask these questions out, but I think it's one of the really interesting things
Mason Funk: [00:04:00] that any person could ask him or herself, is how do we ... he or she respond in a time of great crisis? This is jumping forward in time, but over the course of your life, how have you learned ... maybe I should ask, what advice or insight would you offer to someone who wants to know that in a time of crisis he or she would respond as well as he or she possibly could?
Mason Funk: [00:04:30] By the way, I don't know if you were glancing at the camera lens, try to just look at me as much as possible. You can look around, but if you can avoid looking at the lens, that would be great.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Sure, yeah. I think trying to ... the reason I look back was sometimes people look at, or ask the question, who were your role models?
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:05:00] Thinking that you will do something significant or take a stand or do whatever, and I keep on wondering, will I do the right thing as time comes on? I think over my years in the military, there were times I had to challenge what I was ordered to do, that I did not think that it was ethically correct.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:05:30] Even though it may have been policy wise correct, but it was not ethically correct for me as a nurse. Every time I withstood the challenge, I felt a certain satisfaction as, well, I did the right thing. I was willing to take the consequences for that. I think sometimes the more you do that, and you realize that the world does not fall apart if you say no, that gives you a belief
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:12:00] that doing the right thing ends up with the right consequences.I think that's a little complicated way of saying it, but I could give examples, but it's learning to say no to things you don't believe in. There's a wonderful book called Pulling Your Own Strings by Wayne Dyer, and essentially, telling you how to say no
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:12:30] and not feeling that you have to feel guilty about not wanting to do something. I guess the aside is that you try something, it works and then it gives you more courage to try it again. Then, you just have to keep on believing in yourself and that you are doing the right thing. I think there's a difference also in terms of what the purpose is. If the purpose is for a greater good versus a personal good.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:13:00] and sometimes, that can make a difference in whether or not it's the right thing to do. I don't think I can answer the question.
Mason Funk: All of that is good insight, it's good insight. It's helpful. I wonder if there are maybe one or two examples from your life, whether it was your life in the military or your life simply in general, where you did say no and you did feel like, "Ultimately, I was saying no to one set of rules
Mason Funk: [00:13:30] in order to say yes to a higher set of rules or a higher order, or a higher belief system." Because the examples, it's the like the proof is in the pudding, a couple of examples would be very interesting.
Grethe Cammermeyer: I think, probably the first time, one of the first times I realized that I had to separate out what was ethically correct and say no, versus what I was being ordered to do,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:14:00] because I was raised under Nazi occupation and knew a lot about the Nazis and things, I couldn't help but in some small way acquainted it, would I have done what the Nazis did just because you were ordered? That is an aside and a delusion of grandeur. I was a young lieutenant, I had 76 patients, including a number that had had heart attacks and were risk of
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:14:30] dying at any particular point, and was ordered to leave the ward to go down to sign in with the Chief Nurse. It was a direct order to do that. I felt that I could not leave my patients and told them that I could not come down. They ordered me again, and I refused again. It was intimidating, because after all, I was in the military, supposed to obey lawful orders,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:15:00] and I didn't consider that a lawful order because my patients came first.Eventually, someone came and covered for me on the ward, so that I could leave to sign in and at which time, they apologized because they had not realized what the clinical situation was that made me decide that I couldn't come down. What it affirmed for me was
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:15:30] a couple of things. One was that, I would stand up for what I believe was correct, ethically and morally, and that the military would take care of its own.Because once they saw what the error of their judgment was, they were willing to back down and I wasn't punished or anything like that. Jumping forward 30 years,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:16:00] or not quite that many, but a number of years, when I challenged the military's anti-gay policy, I was honestwith a security clearance and said that, "By this time, I had figured out that I was a lesbian."Six months after my disclosure to the investigator, seeking a Top Secret clearance, I was told that they were going to discharge me.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:16:30] I was stunned, because I had been in the military for 25 years. I had served with distinction in Vietnam, and throughout my military career and went through the process then of a military hearing, always expecting. The president of the board said, "Margarethe, we consider you a great American, but because of the regulation,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:17:00] I have to recommend that your military designation be withdrawn." I was stunned, and yet I continued to believe that President Bush would see that this was an error in the decision, and that I could continue to serve. When that didn't happen, and I was discharged,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:17:30] I lost my blind belief, and yet, I knew that what I was standing for was the right thing to do. It cost me my career and gave me my integrity.
Mason Funk: In some circumstances, indeed, saying no to the powers that we can have what some people would call rather severe consequences?
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:18:00] Well, there are times when it does have severe consequences and you don't always get the resolution you want, but the vindication is a victory. Even though it took an additional 20 years for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, we won that battle. It took a long time. My career, it was ended with my discharge, essentially.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:18:30] I went into Federal Court. I was allowed to go back in the military but served in a very innocuous capacity until my retirement. I sacrificed my career, in a way, but for the greater good it accomplished what I had hoped would happen then. That was the repeal and the permission for gays and lesbians to serve
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:19:00] in the military without adverse consequences. My life took a different turn, but if I push it all together, it's like, we won.
Mason Funk: Right. A question that comes to me, many people who are on a long arduous journey, where they can't see the end, or even know if theyre going to accomplish what they are fighting for, reach points where they have to wonder if it's time to call it quits.
Mason Funk: [00:19:30] Sometimes, indeed, no one wants to be considered a quitter, I'm sure you know the story of Diana Nyad who tried over and over again to swim from Cuba to Florida, until she finally got people, including myself, telling her, "Diana, just give up. It's not possible." She refused, but when, I guess, this is, again, in the realm of general insight, you might be able to share. How does a person know when his or her fight is
Mason Funk: [00:20:00] indeed futile? Is there a place where, in a sense, giving up with dignity is permissible? I don't even know what that has to do with anything, but I just ... the question encouraged me to ask it.
Grethe Cammermeyer: I think when you start a battle, regardless of what it is, you believe in the greater good. You believe that good will come out of it, that the policy will ... it was a policy at the time that
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:20:30] the military had instituted, saying if you were gay you were mentally ... had a mental illness, that it would be bad for the unit, that sort of thing. Well, I've been in for 25 years and even though I didn't know I was gay at that time, that was just bogus. I believe that by coming out, that I would just be allowed to continue to work.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:21:00] When I was told that they were going to discharge me, I was really distressed because I had spent my entire career in the military and it would all be negated essentially. Then, I say, "Well, it's my Norwegian Viking spirit that's not going to be downtrodden just because of this.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:21:30] I had to find agreater good. The greater good became ...
Mason Funk: Oopsy. Is he barking at us?
Grethe Cammermeyer: Stryder. Just leave it.
Mason Funk: In general, also, even though if we can't see him, if he trots back and forth in the background, unfortunately, the clicking isnt going to help us with Stryder.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:22:00] No, this is not going to work. I don't know what to do with you. Can you go outside? Go outside, that's all. Just go out outside. Okay, that's all.
Speaker 2: If he decides to take a nap right there, thats fine, too. Hes quiet.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Lay down. Lay down. Lay down, yeah, but that's not going to happen.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:22:30] Let me take him downstairs and see if Marcy Marci can keep him. We were in the middle of something profound.
Mason Funk: Yes, you were talking ... it was around the theme of persistence in the face of adversity, and then if and when a person knows that it's time to desist. How a person knows if it's okay to stop fighting the battle.
Speaker 2: [00:23:00] Let's just wait until Stryder gets ...
Grethe Cammermeyer: He's just a tad excited.
Mason Funk: Yeah. This is the artwork all from travels that you and Diane did?
Grethe Cammermeyer: No, this is Diane's work, and in the hallway is some of Diane's work but she's also a collector.
Mason Funk: [00:23:30] Yeah, I saw a piece thats aboriginal on this wall right here.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Yeah.
Speaker 2: He wants you to go. He really wants you to go.
Grethe Cammermeyer: No, no, you go ahead. You go in the car. Go on. Go in the car.
Mason Funk: Do you want me to take him out? Would that help?
Grethe Cammermeyer: No.
Mason Funk: Not all the questions will be this broad and philosophical.Grethe Cammermeyer:
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:24:00] No. Let me try to at least make it so that it will flow. When I was told I was going to be discharged from the military and realized that I wasn't going to succeed inside the system, and up until this point I had thought that the military would take care of its own, and therefore, that I would be able to continue because they would look at my record and realize that I was an asset.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:24:30] When that wasn't going to happen, I went for legal advice, but had no clue where to start. I didn't know anything about the gay community or about how to get an attorney, and realized that I could not afford it. Then, serendipitously, I ended up finding out about Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. They agreed to take my case and once you make that decision,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:25:00] that you are, even though you don't know anything about the legal process or the military, then, it's like you were taking, beginning to take the step beyond your own case.Because then, it became, "We need to change this regulation for everyone." They took it on, and for two years worked with me and fought the government
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:25:30] on my discharge, and subsequently, we won. I was reinstated in the military, and one of the things my attorney said was, because I was now governed under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. She said, "Wouldn't it be a shame to have you muted because you've won your case?" Then, remembering that it was not for me that I was doing this, but trying to change the policy so others wouldn't have to go through it.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:26:00] When you start that journey, it really is lonely, because you don't know the direction that it's taken, but what happened with the efforts to repeal the military's policy was that organizations and individuals came together and created, first, the Campaign for Military Service, to try to convince
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:26:30] the Congress to overturn the policy and that gays should be allowed to serve.Once that effort failed in the long run, because there was a moratorium on discharges, but then Clinton had to agree to this compromise called Don't Ask Don't Tell. Then, this little organization that started became the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:27:00] so that all of those folks who had come out ... What happened was, I started up here as an individual. Didn't realize that there were hundreds of others who had gone through the same process, but we all ended up then being pooled together, and so it became a joint effort. There were people who were able to participate in various ... to various degrees, but you had this organization
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:27:30] that just took over. My involvement changed a bit over time because I live on the West Coast versus the East Coast, but still the efforts were there.Then, after years of effort, all of the stars were aligned properly and the right people in Congress and the right President, so that when the time came for legislative changes to take place, that they would take place
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:28:00] and we would all end up participating in the repeal process itself. I think where you get off and say you've had enough is when people stop asking, because as long as people are asking for information, that means somebody cares and it's important to someone. I have done many interviews and given many talks, but at least as long as somebody is still interested enough to learn,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:28:30] that it's ... I felt like I was an ambassador and needing to help defuse some of the myths that were there. I continued to participate in whatever way I could, and sometimes, people have financial means that they can assist a particular project,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:29:00] but sometimes it's only your name and your reputation that can assist in that.I know it's belaboring how to get from point A and why you continue to do something, but on the other side of that, having spent more than 20 years, engaged in trying to overturn and repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, when it finally happened,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:29:30] there is this coming down of, "What do I do with my life now and how can I still contribute or be significant or ... " I'm a has-been, and that can be an ego deflator on the one hand, but also makes you sit back and say, "Well, what have I done with my life? Is there something that I can continue to contribute to society as a whole?"
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:30:00] That's a real personal crisis that occurred for me.
Mason Funk: Interesting. I wanted to maybe ... I keep wanting to go back and talk about your childhood more, but I feel like with you having introduced that topic, maybe we could talk about it a little more. Just how, for you ... because I've known other people who, whether it's an athlete who accomplishes some long desired goal or a president retiring from the Oval Office,
Mason Funk: [00:30:30] there's this moment when you say, you have to face a new void. I wonder if you could just talk about that for you, that moment when you realize that your life's work in some ways, I don't know if you thought it was over, or what?
Grethe Cammermeyer: Well, it did. I did feel that.
Mason Funk: Would you start by just saying, Once Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and move there.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Yeah. Once Don't Ask, Don't Tell was overturned, there was the euphoria of the event. I was in Washington D.C. for the signing ceremonies.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:31:00] I had been asked by the White House to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. It was a big deal, and for everyone there, it was a huge deal. We cried because now, the Pledge of Allegiance applied to all of us, and the flag not only was representing America, but it was representing us. It was really a significant event. Then, .
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:31:30] once the euphoria subsides, it is a matter of, "Well, what do I do now with all this energy and all of these drive for creating a greater good?" At that time, we still were governed by the Defense of Marriage Act, so that became a bit of a distraction
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:32:00] because it's like you could say, "Well, we're not done," because service members still were treated differentlyIn some States, you had domestic partners, in other States you didn't. Some allowed for adoption, others didn't and if a service member was killed in the line of duty, they may or may not have dependents privileges for their surviving spouse
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:32:30] or partner. There was this whole muddy thing that was occurring, and I attribute the essentially, rapid movement towards the repeal of DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, to seeing that ... In society, we were seeing that people were treated differently. Here, in the State of Washington where we live,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:33:00] we preceded the repeal by having domestic partnerships. We were fighting for domestic partnership recognition. Then, when the Defense of Marriage Act was repealed, then we became part of that effort here.Diane and I were the first in our county to sit outside the door of the ... in the courthouse
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:33:30] to get our marriage license and were married on the first day possible here in the State. Three months later, we went up to the military base and Diane got her military ID card and it was all a trajectory of what started out as a repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and then to full equality. Here, in our State, that was the totality of it,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:34:00] but still, there are many States where that doesnt hold and there are still a lot of efforts and work to be done for the treatment of veterans, those who were discharged because they were gay, now, dealing with transgender issues. I was trying to find out where my journey should take me and
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:34:30] I think I had to begin to realize that my world needed to be where I was living, not outside.I had done over 125 lectures around different universities. Now, occasionally, there's one at a corporation or a college or something, but I am a real has-been. Realizing that I am a has-been can be an ego deflator
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:35:00] but it's also reality, and just coming to terms with that. I bemoan that fact from time to time, but Diane is very reassuring that I'm still okay.
Mason Funk: There's no, for you personally, you yourself, there's no part ... there's no sense of a relief in being a so-called has-been. If you had, you'd rather, you would, on some level, still be out there leading the charge?
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:35:30] Well, there is ... ask the question again?
Mason Funk: Is there, for you, personally, any sense of being a relief in being a has-been or would you really just prefer to still be out there on the frontlines?
Grethe Cammermeyer: For me, personally, as I age, depending on how involved you are in a particular issue, the rest of your life goes away. It's like,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:36:00] Diane and I have five ... no, we have 11 grandkids. Diane and I have 11 grandkids and we hardly see them, because we had been so busy with the broader political thing. For the past 11 years, I have run an adult family home here in our home, which means I am grounded, so spontaneity goes away.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:36:30] There are still ... there is a pull on some level but it's like, I don't need to be involved outside. I am getting more comfortable as my walls pull in, as I'm getting older and life moves on. The exciting thing now is that there are generals in the military, for example,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:37:00] that are gay and out and involved. They're doing what I used to be doing and I am delighted for them.Occasionally, there is a tinge of, "Well, gee, I wish I was there," but, by and large, with all of the travel and everything that is involved in that, it's time for the next generation to take over and for me to,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:37:30] not curl up and die right away, but to realize that that phase of life in society is gone, which is great, because what it means is with that personal victory, it means that life is better for so many people, including us.
Mason Funk: Great. Circling back, circling way back,
Mason Funk: [00:38:00] I wonder if you can talk about who your dad was and the letter he wrote, or the reference he made at one point. That he had three sons, neglecting to mention you at all and the beliefs he held that girls as offspring were less valuable on some level than boys as offspring. How you have, through your life's journey,
Mason Funk: [00:38:30] found ways to incorporate, heal, and grow beyond this very towering figure in your ... from your childhood?
Grethe Cammermeyer: Well, as I was growing up, I was very jealous of my ... I have three brothers whom I was jealous of because ... Well, actually, they were sickly, so they got a lot more attention.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:39:00] Besides that, that there was a sense of privilege that they had because they were boys and so I was jealous of that on a very subliminal level. When my father wrote the family genealogy, in the acknowledgement part of it, he wrote about having three children, even though there were four bodies,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:39:30] there was three children, and the three that he recognized were my brothers. Part of his way of thinking was that they were the ones that would carry the family name. If you were a girl, you got married, you no longer had the family name. You were then part of somebody else's life tree.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:40:00] I have, as I say, three brothers and there's a part of each of us that is a little bit ... takes on this a little bit differently. My youngest brother ended up getting married and having twin boys. They were so distressed by my father that one of the boys has his mother's last name and the other brother has the Cammermeyer name,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:40:30] so that if my father was trying to do a family tree, that was absolutely going to knock that out of the ballpark, but their reaction to that. My own personal reaction over the years, with my father, was two-fold. He was raised in a patriarchal society, where the husband had total control of everything. My mother never knew how to write a check.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:41:00] She had to ask for an allowance to be able to buy food for the family.I swore that I was never going to be in that subservient position, so that even when I became a subservient wife, I ended up having a bank account that was my own, just for a rainy day if I needed it. I just could not tolerate the idea of
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:41:30] that sort of subservience. The child in me was always wanting to get my father's approval. I strove very hard for that, to succeed in the military, to succeed in nursing. It wasn't until I was just finishing my PhD,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:42:00] and at graduation, my father said, "I should have gotten my PhD." I thought, "Oh, got you." That there was something that I had succeeded in that made him proud enough that he wished he had done it also. I think that what happens, of course, is, yes, that was resolved, I got my PhD.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:42:30] Parents have a way of always pushing the buttons of their kids, and it doesn't matter how old they are, that we continue to ... They find a way to get to us.He did until his dying day. His nares would begin to flutter and I knew that something was coming, that was going to push my button.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:43:00] That was the child in me. The adult in me, I don't think it ever got there when it came to my father. My own sons have a whole different way of treating their spouses, both with respect and dignity, and making sure that they don't have that subservient role.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:43:30] I have to say, the follow up to that, of course, is that when Diane and I were married, we became spouses, we did not become wives, because wives have a role. It is this caretaking of the family and that sort of thing and neither one of us felt that we were wives to one another. We use the term spouse, and that may be a sign of our generation more than anything else,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:44:00] because the younger generations, I think, have a tendency to use the wife or husband role. I just shudder because been there, done that, doesn't fit.
Mason Funk: Interesting. Now, speaking of wives and speaking of your sons, I'm reminded, and this is all over the place, obviously, jumping around, but I was very taken by the story of your oldest son and his wife, Lynette. After you and your husband divorced, and he became a Mormon and raised his sons and your sons ...
Mason Funk: [00:44:30] I know all of them did but your oldest son certainly did a Mormon mission and married a Mormon girl, yet, they showed such warmth and acceptance and tolerance for you, and seemed to be right there with you, right down to the part when she pulled out the girdle and said, "This supports a proud American." I think it was ...
Grethe Cammermeyer: I have that on the wall, in my office.
Mason Funk: Do you?
Grethe Cammermeyer: They framed it.
Mason Funk: That just makes me wonder, because I'm always curious as to how people who ...
Mason Funk: [00:45:00] how people can hold more than one reality at the same time, which to me is maybe one way of explaining how they, very faithful to their Mormon beliefs, could also be very devoted to you and supportive of your journey.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:45:30] Yeah, when Harvey and I divorced, we had both been raised Lutheran, but we're not particularly ... We didn't go to church a lot and that sort of thing. He had two siblings, both of whom converted to Mormonism in their adulthood. We thought that that was a little bit strange, but after our divorce, Harvey did the same. He became a Mormon and I have ... It astounded me, to say the least, but part of what he was
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:46:00] then wanting to do was to raise our sons Mormon. The boys were living with him and I said, "Whatever you need to do to help the boys as they grow, and that sort of thing." I didn't understand the cult at all. My eldest son became a full-fledged Mormon and went on a mission, married a Mormon girl, has raised his own children Mormon.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:46:30] It's a strange religion to me. The other three boys did the token things that they were required to do by their father while they were in high school.Then, when they left and moved in with us, had nothing to do with the Mormon Church at all. Even though each ... I think, this is what we would hope,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:47:00] I think, in many situations, where you have your own religion, but you don't impart it on other people. It's like Kennedy when he was President. He was the first Catholic President, but it wasn't the Pope that became our President in the process. The same thing seemed to happen with Matt and Lynette, my oldest son and his wife.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:47:30] After I came out to each of them, we went through that process of they had known for years and all of that. When the time came for the hearing, the military hearing, they asked to testify on my behalf. That was always a little, it seemed contradictory to me in some ways only because the Mormon Church was so anti-gay at that time.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:48:00] Matt had gone and talked to his bishop, who was a young man, as a bishop, and said, "What do I do with this situation between the Church and my mother?" This young bishop said, "You support your mother." That had become then their pathway in terms of publicly supporting us.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:48:30] They both testified on my behalf at my hearing, military hearing, where they supported me a hundred percent in terms of not my life, but my life. How I led my life, and supported them, and they had moved in with us. We were caring for them in that regard also while they were getting their feet on the ground
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:49:00] They were like character witnesses for who we were as individuals, without any judgment in terms of us being gay, because what was not part of what they were doing. I don't know how they reconciled it, but our relationship continues to be every bit as strong. Matt has worked here for me,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:49:30] for the past 13 years, with our business and estates. Somehow, they have reconciled all of that, even though I cannot reconcile Mormonism as anything other than a cult.
Mason Funk: It's not a point of contention, you just?
Grethe Cammermeyer: We just never discuss it.
Mason Funk: Right.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:50:00] The only part of it that sometimes is discussed is when we give a monetary gift, to either them or to their children, I try to say, "This is 100% for you." That's the one ... and I don't know what they do with that, but I would just assume not tithe to the Mormon Church with a gift that I gave to them, of something that they need.
Mason Funk: [00:50:30] Right. Interesting. Part of the reason I'm so curious with this topic is because I have a younger brother who is very committed, a conservative Christian. Through conversations with him, at times contentious, I learned that he and his wife felt that their own salvation could be at stake if they didn't take a hard enough line against homosexuality. I realize, it wasn't even him necessarily wanting to be mean for the sake of being mean, but because he thought, and I think a lot of people share this belief, they believe their own salvation can be at stake.
Mason Funk: [00:51:00] When you learn that, you go, "Wow. You're fearing for your own life and that's why you have to take this harsh judgmental stance."
Grethe Cammermeyer: Well, taking a hard stance against us because you were worried about your own salvation, that's a little bit, to me, I'm more worried about my military career than taking a stand.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:51:30] I don't care how holy it is, it's like you make your decisions about how you live your life and you do that both in this world and whatever other world you think there is. That would be my two cents worth.
Mason Funk: I'll take it. I dont want to tuck that away, too. Let's jump forward I am very interested, from the point of view ...
Mason Funk: [00:52:00] from your point of view as a woman, the particular stigma that was attached to women who went into the military. You wrote about this in your book, they were seen as either prostitutes or lesbians. I wonder if you can just serve as a historian briefly and talk to us about that atmosphere, that perspective that was held, kind of a pervasive perspective on women in the military. I don't know if that dates back to World War II or if that ... Okay,
Mason Funk: [00:52:30] could you just help us understand that, for those who didn't know that that's how women in the military were viewed in that era?
Grethe Cammermeyer: When I first joined the military, I was 19 years old, an immigrant to the United States. My parents were shocked that I was interested in joining the military. They would tell their friends that I was going to join the Army Student Nurse Program,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:53:00] and the military was going to pay for my education. Their parents were ... my parent's friends were astounded because of the reputation that women in the military had from when they were growing up because there was a stigma attached to military women dating to World War II, that the only women who would
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:53:30] be in the military were either whores or lesbians, which is curious. A man can join the military for country and to be a patriot and everything else, but for women to do the same, that was not even part of the discussion. That stigma carried through to the present day when I was interested in joining in 1961.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:54:00] My parents, as foreigners, they heard what their friends were saying, their American friends were saying, but they were also coming with a background from the Norwegian fighting force against the Nazis.They didn't prohibit me, but were just surprised. That was part of the culture at that time and made it ...
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:54:30] I carried some of that on a personal level with me, just wondering if I was going to be labeled when I joined the military. For me, when I first joined, I absolutely loved being in uniform. I loved the whole idea of representing America and thanking America
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:55:00] as an Army nurse. When I first went on active duty, I went to basic, that's where you first end up getting into the military life. At the time, I didn't realize that the reason young men crossed the street was because they did not want to salute a female officer.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:55:30] Part of the stigma of the time was, there were still few women in the military, in 1961, and there was just all sorts of separation and expectations of the role of women versus those of men.When I went to Vietnam, I saw it still more, where it was expected that we, as nurses,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:56:00] female nurses, were expected to go to the general's parties to be available to the men that were serving in Vietnam and also to the parties that the general was having. I guess it's a little bit like going to college, where you have a men's college and a women's college.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:56:30] The women are brought over to the men's college or vice versa, where it is to provide a social setting. The flip side of it is that it was an expectation of us as young military officers and nurses. You really felt obligated to do that. I only did it one time, and I never left the bus. I just sat in the bus and waited
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:57:00] until everybody came back, because I just did not want to participate one way or another.
Mason Funk: To us, in our day, needless to say, sexism is still rampant, but we may not realize that in that era men would cross the street, for example, to avoid saluting a female officer. Are there other examples you can give us of the pervasiveness of attitudes towards women, how they were systematically ...
Mason Funk: [00:57:30] men would not want to ... how they were seen in a very, very specific light, and certainly not as compatriots in the military by the men.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Well, I think, in war zones, women were idolized in some ways by the soldiers if they were wounded to awaken to what
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:58:00] they would call at that time, and which sounds really racist today, to the round eyes. They would awaken and there would be a nurse in uniform there to take care of them and they thought they were in heaven, as what one young man said to me. I think there was also the expectation that women were looking for sexual liaisons,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:58:30] and I myself, was so nave that I told my husband who was also in Vietnam at the same time, and I would say, "Oh, no, nurses do not engage in premarital sex." He looked at me like I was a stranger because you couldn't be that nave, but I was. I didn't believe
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:59:00] that there were sexual liaisons prior to marriage because of the risks involved for women at that time. It was before the days of birth control pills.It was when, if a woman got pregnant and not married, she was either thrown out of the military or if it was somebody in a high school, they would be sent to the Florence Crittenton School for Wayward Girls.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [00:59:30] When Roe v. Wade became the law of the land and a possibility, then life wouldn't necessarily take a real wrong turn for somebody who may have made a mistake at that time. My husband was adamant and I was equally adamant that nurses don't have premarital sex. When we came back to the States and I found
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:00:00] that a number of my colleagues had gotten pregnant and that sort of thing, it was like, "I can't believe that that's for real." I really maintained such a social distance from people when I was in Vietnam and even in the rest of the military, that I did not put myself in a lot of situations where I could have been at risk. Over the years, I have been with women
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:00:30] who were in both Vietnam and in the military itself who experienced sexual assault and rape.I think in today's society, that it has become more a topic that we talked about, is sexual assault, harassment, rape as misconduct and that it needs to be dealt with accordingly. The military is working on it.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:01:00] Colleges are working on it. The workplace is working on it, and now, even the President of Fox is out because of sexual harassment. There's, I think, more of an awareness of how people are treated in the workplace that comes from what we've experienced in the past. We don't get here of saying, "This is not appropriate,"
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:01:30] if it hadn't been appropriate at one time and then changed over time.
Mason Funk: Uh-hmm. (affirmative) Great. Just checking the time. Do you want to take a quick break? I need to take a quick break so I could and then well ...
Grethe Cammermeyer: Sure.
Mason Funk: To Vietnam. Well, I guess Ill go back a little further. You didn't set out initially to be a nurse. You set out to be a doctor, a medical doctor. Then, you had that disastrous first year of college or first semester maybe,
Mason Funk: [01:02:00] and you switched gears, and eventually decided to become a nurse. I think at that time, it seemed like a come down to you.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Oh, yes.
Mason Funk: Yes. What I wonder about is how you grew into the role of being a nurse and how you came to see the role of a nurse as more than just the emptier of bedpans?
Grethe Cammermeyer: Is that it?
Mason Funk: [01:02:30] I'm working on shortening my questions.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Okay. Ill try to do the same. All my life I had wanted to be a physician, and I think that was to meet my father's expectation, even though he never said to try to appease him in some way. It was also a point of something that I wanted to do. When I started college, it was my first time away from home,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:03:00] not under the scrutiny of my parents and I decided, of course, I was a genius, and so I took microbiology, chemistry, calculus, and zoology in the same semester. I realized very quickly that that was not going ... I didn't realize it because the classes were interfering with my social life
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:03:30] that I had never had before. My studies were pretty bad. I almost flunked out of college my first year. I ended up on academic probation and realized that I was not going to be in the situation where I was going to make it to medical school and had decided that I would quit college.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:04:00] I had worked at the National Institutes of Health one summer in a laboratory, so I tell my mother that it wasn't going to work. She said, "Oh, well, that's just fine. You can just go and work at the National Institutes of Health and wash beakers for the rest of your life." That seemed pretty far down on the totem pole in terms of the type of work that I might want to do.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:04:30] I decided that, well, I might as well try to be a nurse and considered it absolutely the bottom of the barrel in terms of work and profession. Again, that subservient male to female, husband to wife, physician to nurse role and struggled to try to find some peace with making that decision.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:05:00] I continued in school and was in my ... getting ready for my junior year where I ended up meeting a woman who was in the Army Student Nurse Program.She told me about the possibility of having scholarships, that they would pay for your schooling, and then you would be commissioned and be able to be a military nurse when you're done.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:05:30] It was like, there was this, "Uh-huh, if I'm going to be a nurse, why not be a nurse in uniform, defending and taking care of soldiers and being where the action was and giving something back?" It put meaning into being a nurse. I think that sustained me because of this uniform business and representing America.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:06:00] I did well and I ended up graduating and going on active duty, and all of a sudden, nursing took on a whole different tenor than I had imagined in a civilian world and in my own mind.
Mason Funk: Im sorry. Just one second. We should wait for this plane. We'll go back to the moment when you ... I think you just ...
Mason Funk: [01:06:30] when you said all of a sudden nursing took on an entirely different meaning. It's clear. Okay.
Grethe Cammermeyer: All of a sudden, nursing took on an entirely different meaning because I was going to be doing something important,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:07:00] something significant. When I went on active duty and learned how to wear the uniform and all of that, I think a couple of things happened. Nursing became, even though that was what my military occupation specialty was, I was also a soldier and was wearing the uniform. I was like the rest of the people in the military. Then,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:07:30] as I saw what the opportunities was, opportunities were, for me as a nurse, I worked medical surgical, I worked intensive care, I worked recovery, I became an educator. I trained people for Vietnam, even before we knew that everybody was going to be going there, so that there were all sorts of other opportunities.When I went to war, when I went to Vietnam
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:08:00] , there wasn't anything we didn't do and couldn't do because the need was there even though we were governed by different rules and regulations. My neurosurgeons were always in the operating room. When I was working medical intensive care, I had an internist who wanted me to know absolutely everything about what was being ordered. He expected that I would know every lab test that a particular client.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:08:30] or patient needed and why, so that I became educated as an internist by my medical officer there, when I did medical. When I was working the neurosurgical ward, we did all the suturing of secondary closures. I sewed up more wounds with wire than you could shake a stick at . We made life-determining decisions
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:09:00] for the patients while the surgeons were in the operating roomI saw what the potential was for nursing, never feeling that we were depart ... an equal part of the team.What was difficult was coming back to the United States and then now governed by all sorts of rules and regulations. Again, feeling
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:09:30] like, "Gee, I now have to ask permission to give an aspirin or a suppository." That was really demeaning after all of what we've been doing in Vietnam. I decided that I wanted to really become well-established and knowledgeable in a couple of areas. My focus ended up being in neuro,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:10:00] ironically, the same as my father's specialty area, but feeling that this is where I must be drawn in some way, because I had worked neurosurgery for eight months in Vietnam. I came back and worked, I was in the military for a while but then was forced to leave the military because I became pregnant with my first son.Women couldn't have dependents
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:10:30] and be in the military in those days, and I suppose if you think of another discriminatory policy, that would be it. When I first joined the military, you couldn't be married. That changed, then you couldn't have dependents, that changed, and so now, it was ... Then, I left the active military and then subsequently went back into the reserves when the policy changed, but then worked at the VA Hospital also.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:11:00] I was also able to continue to both care for veterans and service members and we had that collegiality of what we had in common. Also, then, went to graduate school and got my Master's and PhD in Neuro. The longer I was in, the more I was able to do higher education.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:11:30] In this State, nurses were allowed to have prescriptive authority, so I could write prescriptions.There wasn't anything that I couldnt do as a nurse, and I think in some ways ended up feeling that as a nurse you have more flexibility in terms of options, career-wise, than as a physician. I have a great deal more respect now for my profession as a nurse
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:12:00] and part of that came with experience, but part of it came with education, so I really could do virtually anything that I wanted to do. Nurses, by and large, can do that these days also, with specialization and writing prescriptions and things. We've come a long way.
Mason Funk: Uh-hmm. (affirmative) It sounds like both becoming a military ... marrying your nursing career with the military was one key thing
Mason Funk: [01:12:30] and also expanding the role of what being a nurse meant was another key thing. I guess you're clearly a person who always was very high aspiring, a very aspirational person, with a strong sense of self and wanting to be at the center of things.
Mason Funk: [01:13:00] I don't know how to phrase this question. Maybe I'll just go a different direction and we'll come back to that, because I'm all ... Again, I'm fascinated by what caused ... When ego, the word ego, basically ... Ego can be, is a word, that gets a bad rep, and of course, without ego we don't set out to run a marathon, or we don't set out to get a PhD at Nursing so, but well come back to that.
Mason Funk: [01:13:30] There were two incidents from your book, two different soldiers, whose stories you told, an injured, is it correct to call them soldiers? I know theres a proper terminology. One was a young man who had a neck injury and he continually cried, "Help me, help me, help me," until you had to, in conjunction with your colleagues, making the decision that you couldn't help him.
Mason Funk: [01:14:00] Do you mind telling us that story and what you took away from it?
Grethe Cammermeyer: Yeah. I had a couple of really powerful events in Vietnam, in terms of patients I took care of. He looked like a baby. He must have been 18, 19-year old, who had had a real high cervical injury in his neck,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:14:30] so that he was unable to breathe on his own. He came to us and we were not sure that we were going to be able to do anything for him, but we ended up putting him on a bed called a Stryker frame, where there is a platform underneath and another platform that is placed on top. They are turned almost like
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:15:00] you would hotdogs on a barbecue grill. He's turned from face to back every two hours or so, so that that skin doesn't break down. This young man went on a Stryker frame and we also had to put him on a respirator. He had survived his injury because the medic right in the field had begun to ambo him or put him on a face mask
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:15:30] and then just squeezed air into his lungs to get him to the hospital.We ended up putting him on a machine called a Draeger, which was a huge apparatus that went underneath the bed and it had mechanical ways of pushing air into the lungs and then letting it come out, and then pushing it in. It went, clunk, clunk, clunk, every time it was pushing air.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:16:00] We were all listening to that clunk, clunk, clunk, and every time the air went in, as he was exhaling he could say, Help me. He would say, "Help me. Help me. Help me." Day and night, while this Draeger was breathing for him. We were providing care
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:16:30] and there was nothing, nothing, that we could do other than listen to his cry and try to support him. Usually, after about three days, the swelling of the spinal cord begins to subside.What our neurosurgeons were doing was giving him enough time so that first there would be the swelling, and then would be the decrease in swelling to see
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:17:00] if he would be able to breathe on his own. Because at this particular time, in Vietnam, there was no way that we could evacuate him with the type of injury that he had and what his needs were to just keep him alive. After three days, there was no change in his ability to breathe on his own, when we tried to turn, to stop the Draeger.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:17:30] He was still crying, "Help me. Help me." The neurosurgeon said that, "There really wasn't anything more than we could do. Perhaps we could just make him more comfortable." We took him off the Stryker frame, which turned him back and forth, put him into a regular bed.Switched his breathing apparatus from the Draeger to a smaller machine called The Bird,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:18:00] which would allow us then to gradually adjust the settings on it, both for oxygen and for the rate of his breathing. That's what we ended up doing until gradually he was unable to breathe on his own, he was no longer calling out for help, because we were doing that.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:18:30] You have one case like that that stays with you forever. I see the young man, I don't remember his name, which makes me feel guilty also, and I hear the Draeger and I hear us and see us turning down this green Bird respirator. He's one that we ...
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:19:00] that lingers in my mind. Fortunately, we have another story where a young man, his name was Leroy , had come to us with a devastating head injury.The injury was so significant that he had virtually lost half of his brain. With these injuries, if there are bone fragments
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:19:30] that go into the brain, they can't be evacuated to go home until those bone fragments are removed because of the risk of infection. He had a lot of these bone fragments and ended up ... he had a tracheostomy, but he ended up, and he had lost an eye, and he ended up having to go back three times for surgery to remove more bone fragments.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:20:00] On the ward, we had one area where we had patients that we were expecting to die. He was in one of those beds, and yet he didn't die. He ended up surviving the antibiotics, the anti-seizure medications, everything, to stabilize. Then, "Well, is he ready to go home now?" Eventually,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:20:30] he didn't need any more surgery, there wasn't anything else and he wasn't dying, and so the decision was to evacuate and get him ready for evacuation.We always talk to the patients because we believe that the sense of hearing is the last to go, and so I went back and said, "Leroy , we're getting ready to send you home." There this guy who had been for three weeks, done nothing, he opened his one remaining eye
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:21:00] and looked at me and I was dumbfounded to say the least, and I continued to tell him what was going to be happening next, he was going to be sent to Japan and then onto as close to his home as possible.
Mason Funk: Hold that thought just one second.
Speaker 2: [01:21:30] Wait for the airplane, just 30 seconds. Okay.
Mason Funk: Okay. You continued to tell him.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Yeah, so as I continued to tell him about the fact that he was going to go home, he had kept his eye looking at me. Then, he took his one hand
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:22:00] that he could still use and he gave me the hi sign. It's one of those things that you just catch your breath, that this could possibly be happening. Of course, everyone else on the ward had to go and talk to Leroy now also, getting him ready to go home. When I, years later, went back to the Wall,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:22:30] to try and to look at the Wall to see if Leroys name had gotten on there or if he had made it home, was one of those things that happened, when you don't know of the names of the people that you cared for, did they make it? Are they going to be okay? Fortunately, in some of the studies that have been done on Vietnam survivors, they apparently have done exceedingly well.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:23:00] Despite devastating wounds that people would never have expected them to survive and to have a quality of life, would they have forgiven you for having helped them survive.The types of patients that you had over there just gave you life experiences that alter your way
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:23:30] of thinking about living and dying. Working on a neuro-surgical ward, I think what I took away more than anything else was that if a patient could so much as make a sound or respond to you, that meant that at some time in the future, they may be able to speak. That though they were devastatingly wounded,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:24:00] that the possibilities for their recovery and their quality of life was immeasurable because these were the cream of the crop of American youth, that had every possibility of pulling brain cells that weren't supposed to be working working and making remarkable recoveries. That's taking away ..
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:24:30] I think the big take-away was that those individuals who have had an event, and I still, to this day, use this as my way of trying to help families, is that the rest of your life starts now.It's not what has been, but it's from now on. This is day one, and so anything that
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:25:00] they are able to learn is an exciting new possibility of whether you might be able to recover. You can't dwell on the past but rather, look at the future from when you've had some catastrophic event.
Mason Funk: When you came back from Vietnam and from experiencing things like this, that you've just told me,
Mason Funk: [01:25:30] I think you wrote about how among those of you who had been there, you felt like you couldn't ... Nobody who hadn't been there could understand what you had experienced, that it's too foreign to someone who hasn't been in that environment, the location, the conditions, the injuries, and so on. Do you still hold that point of view, and if so, what is the value of talking to people about experiences like those you witnessed and went through in Vietnam,
Mason Funk: [01:26:00] that the people themselves who are hearing these stories have not experienced?
Grethe Cammermeyer: I think sometimes storytelling is good, and sometimes, it's for not. I think those of us in Vietnam, when we meet another Vietnam vet, usually what we say is, "Where were you and when were you there?" We don't go
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:26:30] much beyond that because as we know where they were, and when they were, their experience was totally different from someone else's, because the war changed so drastically over time and the reactions from home were so profound that it affected people differently. I think drug use changed a lot over time also, and dissension in the ranks got worse over time
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:27:00] as the acceptance of the fact that we were there and the reaction here at home. The negative impact from serving in Vietnam on those of us who were there when we came back was really pretty profound. For so long, you didn't even talk about it, that you had been there, because it was ... you were a baby killer, people just didn't get it.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:27:30] Over time, I think that has dissipated some, but I remember when I was trying to find some young ... some fatigues for my son, Matt, when he was born, and there was not even a Jeep or a G.I Joe toy anywhere in the toy stores, it was just taboo, which reflected
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:28:00] the perception in society as a whole. I was part of a womens support group for a number of years, to have the chance to diffuse and talk about Vietnam. Talking about it to people who had been there, it was, as we were telling our stories, each
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:28:30] one had a different story, but what we took from it was not comparing our story to theirs, but what part of their story could we relate to as a similar experience to what we have had. When you talk about why tell a story, it's like, what part of any story is interesting to hear. It's like reading a book.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:29:00] You read a book, it's an interesting book, but how does it relate to your own life experiences? Can you learn from it? Can you do something from it? I think it's not the gore of ...
Mason Funk: For other veterans and you literally told me he had started therapy two months, in other words, in June of this year and his therapist said, "You've been taking care of people for 50 years,
Mason Funk: [01:29:30] now we're going to take care of you." It's just interesting comparing the ... It felt like his wound is very fresh. Just one second. Are we rolling?
Mason Funk: Okay, go ahead.
Grethe Cammermeyer: I think as we are relaying our stories, it's not to say, who can have the goriest experience and doing a comparison in that way ...
Mason Funk: [01:30:00] I'm sorry to interrupt you. Can you just put this in the context of your stories from Vietnam so that we know what you're talking about, when you say when we relay our stories.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Yeah. When we relate our stories from Vietnam to anybody who wants to listen, it's not to relate the goriness or have people react to that component of it as much as I think the entirety of it. It's like,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:30:30] when I tell the story about the young man who was on a respirator, it was trying to give a visual picture of what the experience was but also that he was cared for from beginning to end. He didn't die alone. To relate that story is that, well, if my brother or my mother or my father was there,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:31:00] that they would have had that sort of care. Because when you're telling stories like this, the people who are listening are ones who have a vested interest in hearing what that experience was like. If they're a nurse, it's like, how would you have dealt with it? How would you have felt it or experienced it? Or, what could you have done that was different?Talking about Leroy,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:31:30] well, maybe we should talk to everybody who has their eyes closed, that may be unconscious, but maybe they can hear us. It's what can you take away as an individual. Also, when you're part of the group, it's like you're needing to just be able to let go of it. For us, it was a support group.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:32:00] It was trying to let go of Vietnam, and it helped me move because I was with people of similar experiences. It helped me move from Vietnam was yesterday to Vietnam was 20 years ago. I think what I've learned over the years is that all of us have events that are so traumatic,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:32:30] that we relive it time and time again, and we have to find some way of putting it into perspective so it doesn't totally engulf your life. If you recall World War II vets who can repeat the same story time and time and time again, and they sit around with other vets from World War II.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:33:00] They all tell the same stories, because they never had a chance to work their way through it so that it wasn't yesterday, but it was 50 years ago. I think one of the legacies of Vietnam is understanding post-traumatic stress. That occurs, you get a diagnosis of cancer, you lose a child,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:33:30] you have anything traumatic happen in your life, that becomes something that you need to find a way of ... I can't say dealing with, but making it less today, that it really was a part of the past. I think what I've learned in terms of a human being of Vietnam, is that we all deal with traumatic events.
Howard Shack: [01:34:00] Hello, Diane?
Mason Funk: It's okay.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Finish the thought.
Mason Funk: I think we did.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I think we did. Let me check my notes again. As a side note, I never imagined when I started this archive, that I was going to collect stories about people who served in Vietnam, but it feels such an honor, I just want to say that, to be able to hear these stories. I thank you for that.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:34:30] I bet you hadn't hit any of your questions have you?
Mason Funk: Actually, if I don't look, I've actually touched a few of them, probably because I've written them just yesterday when they were somewhat fresh in my mind. I do want to quote back something you wrote, "You have to be nave to love a system that is geared to kill." I wonder where
Mason Funk: [01:35:00] that statement sits with you today. Maybe you could give us that statement so we know what you're talking about and then reflect on it. How do you feel? How do you ... what can you say?
Grethe Cammermeyer: Sometimes you have thoughts of the paradoxes of your life, I think loving the military where it is a system created to kill, can be one of those paradoxes of ...
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:35:30] I love the military because of idealistically what it represents, the defense of America, being able to put on a uniform and defend America, and represent it both at home and abroad. When the flag is flying and you're in uniform and you salute, there is nothing that builds more pride. I was at a military exercise.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:36:00] We were doing war games exercise at Yakima. I was part of the tactical force at that time where even as chief nurse it was being part of that advisory group to the General. It suddenly dawned on me that I'm a healer, and
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:36:30] take care of people when they get sick and wounded and yet what the military does when they do their business is they're involved in war.It's jarring because it's the antithesis of what I do in my professional life and in caring, and yet, without the capability
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:37:00] of defending your homeland, how can you exist? I think in this time of turmoil in the world, it continues to be the paradox. I have a cousin who is a physician and a healer, and he gets caught in the middle of Physicians Without Borders in Palestine taking care of Palestinian
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:37:30] victims of the bombings. He, too, is caught in this dilemma. I suppose it's that you have to take one with the other, but you never want the war, but you have to be willing to fight for your defense, for the country.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:38:00] It always provides the ethical dilemma.
Mason Funk: I know that certainly, we have a troubled relationship with our experiences in Vietnam, there was that war as a war, and the question of what we were doing there. ?
Mason Funk: [01:38:30] How have you made peace with our nation's continued ... How that war is viewed and your own views of why we were there and the lives that were lost in the particular war? Has that been a tough journey for you
Grethe Cammermeyer: I was so angry when McNamara wrote his book, questioning why we were there and what we were doing
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:39:00] of Vietnam. I thought that it was an injustice to have published the book while we were still alive, feeling that we were seeing people, soldiers, wounded, dying, both American and Vietnamese, and believing blindly that we were there for the greater good,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:39:30] that there was the domino effect. We fell into it, and as a military person, you have to believe that your superiors know what the hell they're doing, because otherwise there is no military. There is no adherence to a process of moving forward. The more I have learned about the unethical
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:40:00] way that we got involved in Vietnam, and the continuation of it, and the perpetuating lies about success and failure and the body counts, just the horrors of everything that went on there, the more skeptical I am of virtually anything I hear.That's not reassuring,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:40:30] because you still want to believe that people are doing things for the greater good and that we were there for the right reason, when it turns out that we were not. To try to put into context that the 58,000 lost were not lost in vain. If you begin that sort of thinking, then, you're going to go crazy, because
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:41:00] there is no justification in loss of life in war. Then, we see it everyday today, in Syria, in Afghanistan and everywhere else you're looking, that there isn't any way of saying, "Well, we'll make some justification for it by building a wall so that there can be
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:41:30] at least a recognition that they ever lived." That doesn't make it justifiable, or anything, so you don't come to peace with those sorts of understandings, but decide that you can't do anything about them.What you keep hoping is, I look at what was the legacy, what were the legacies of Vietnam
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:42:00] that we could take away in such a way that there is some meaning in it. Well, we did learn about post-traumatic stress, so that now, even when there is a shooting in the school, that there is a team in to try to help people deal with it. In health care, we learn that there were specialties, a patient was not a patient, was a not a patient, was not a patient, that they all had different specialties,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:42:30] and different needs that were there, and different levels of care that needed to be provided. Nursing changed a great deal from it. We learned that sending people to war or deploying them as individuals was much worse for their mental health and capacity than sending people as a team. Rotating people frequently was also
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:43:00] going to cause more traumatic results and we have seen that certainly in Afghanistan, in the number of deployments people have had. Even though we know that this is bad, and then you keep on doing it.We haven't learned from the history, because the way the wars are being fought, is in such a compartmentalized way that
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:43:30] everybody suffers and there is no way other than not getting involved. Because once you're there, getting out ... That's what Colin Powell said. It's like the Powell doctrine became ... before you get into something, know how you're getting out. We've been trying for 15 years to get out because knowing how to do it wasn't done in advance.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:44:00] I don't think you reconcile it, you just put it in a different compartment.
Mason Funk: Great. Thank you. I'm going to read what I wrote here because this is simplest way to be, because it's saying,
Mason Funk: [01:44:30] during your hearing the testimony provided by Dr. Laura Brown, that LGBT people may be actually not bad security risks but good security risks because we know how to keep secrets. That led me to wonder, if in your experience ... We have a special place, we LGBT, I attached Q to the end as well. We, by virtue of everything
Mason Funk: [01:45:00] that we have gone through, the secret-keeping, the struggle to know who we are, et cetera, have we gained some particular strengths that we have to contribute in some way, shape or form to the betterment of society as a whole? Therefore, I guess, you could say, do we have a moral responsibility or ...
Mason Funk: [01:45:30] Well, yeah, to be healers or to be leaders with these gifts we have acquired?
Grethe Cammermeyer: There's always the question of whether coming to know that you're a gay or a lesbian gives you more insight on how to live in society under unusual circumstances and how you can capitalize on your need for privacy
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:46:00] and silence and things, and whether that impacts your contribution to the greater society.
Mason Funk: Well, I want to say, not just that particular skill, but any other skills we may have learned? I'm sorry to interrupt, but I didn't want to say that I just ... I was only thinking of that particular skill, but just any, whether it's greater empathy because we have
Mason Funk: [01:46:30] experienced more suffering. In other words, it could be any number of types of skills or qualities we've learned or gained. I just want to redirect you in that way.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Okay. If you're a Jew, you understand bias and prejudice. You have a history of it that I think most of society knows because of World War II in the concentration camps.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:47:00] Everybody knows what the experience of being ostracized and murdered as a result of your religious belief, that's really very profound. If you're Hispanic and are in an area where they want to build a wall, so that you don't come in, you feel that tension of understanding
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:47:30] what prejudice is like. I think being gay or lesbian is a little different in terms of our understanding, because we are hidden. Nobody knows that we are gay until we disclose it in some fashion. We don't necessarily have the luxury of being able to support other discriminated groups .
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:48:00] because unless we come out ourselves and recognize that we are also a group that is discriminated againstWe have to consciously come out before we can be supportive of other groups of individuals, unless we do it in silence, so that we become an advocate while hiding our own identity,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:48:30] which many people have done over the years. You have two different ways of how we can be supportive. I think an example would be the CEO of Microsoft, just recently came out as being a gay man, but where has he been for the past 60 years
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:49:00] when other people, even within Microsoft itself, were struggling of whether it was going to be okay to be gay and work at Microsoft. We have our experience but we also have ..there's a term that is being used called covering, where we cover our real identity by blending in to the rest of society in ways.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:49:30] We're really good. We may rise to the top but we rise to the top with people thinking that we are something that we are not.We're really good at that, but what it takes away from is us being able to put our whole energy into whatever the project happens to be. The CEO now,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:50:00] he's one of us, and so when he speaks we listen in a different a way. We have a different respect for his understanding about what inclusiveness looks like. I think I, as a lesbian spouse, I can speak to issues that I couldn't before, because I'm now out all the time.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:50:30] Whereas before, I was hidden, and I think we know how to live a lie, but what we may not know is how to live our truth, and that truth is what enables society to move to a better place also, because they know that we are part of the fabric of society as a whole.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:51:00] I check names of those who are now in the family as they come out.I'm always delighted on the one hand, but disappointed on the other, that it took so long to get there. Nowadays, it's like, if you're not gay, you're nobody.
Mason Funk: Exactly, we're the new black. I have four short questions that I was going to finish up with but I want to give a chance just to say, do you feel like there's anything glaring that I have not asked you about, that you would want to share?
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:51:30] I suppose the one thing that I would like to go back and add a little bit has to do with the effect of coming out on families and in ways that you may not even know, or just living your life and your truth.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:52:00] Our grandchildren have never known anybody but us, as this part of the family's grandparenting. For them, it is absolutely natural for Bestedud, that's her name, and Bestedud, to be together, live together, they have a life and they're our grandmothers.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:52:30] It's not even discussed. My daughter-in-law came to me the other day and said, "I just want you to know what you being you, the ripple effect of that." Her eldest son is a baseball player in high school was a baseball player in high school, a very fine pitcher.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:53:00] One of his teammates was gay, and was being harassed and came out and his mother was very concerned that he was going to commit suicide because of the harassment and everything else. When Jake found out that he was gay and the team was harassing him, he told them, he said, "He's just like all of us. You just leave him alone."
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:53:30] Then, he said to the boy, "Whenever we're traveling, you can be my roommate, it's just not an issue." The mother, to this day, thanks Jake for saving her son's life. We've had a number of other stories from people who have had that ripple effect. We had a family living with us and
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:54:00] the kids started harassing and talking anti-gay chatter, and actually it was directed at me. The young man said, "I know her and she's really great and I don't want you to say anything bad about her."These are kids that have grown up next generation where being gay is a non-issue,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:54:30] but the prejudice continues to be an issue because of being told things by their parents or something like that. Yet, when they speak up, they change everybody's perception. I am always astounded when I hear something that I have no idea that there was a ripple effect, but it would never have happened if Jake didn't have grandparents
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:55:00] who were a lesbian couple, that he knows and loves and respects, and that he took a stand to do the right thing.
Mason Funk: That must make you very proud?
Grethe Cammermeyer: I could not be more delighted. When she told me, I just wept because I was so pleased that he would stand up for his friend.
Mason Funk: One of those last great bastions, sports.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:55:30] Yup.
Mason Funk: Yeah. It makes me wonder, and I know I'm supposed to begin with the last four, but it makes me wonder if looking back ... that's a traditional question. If you ever could have envisioned growing up in the society, in the family you grew up in, not even knowing you're a lesbian for so many years, if you ever could have envisioned the change that our society has gone through.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:56:00] Being in the midst of it, when I was first fighting the military, I had no idea of what success would look like, or that it would take so long, because I think sometimes, if things had happened immediately, there would have been no story. Nothing would really have changed because society wouldn't have had a chance to change along with it, but because it took a while, it means that you had to talk about it more. Ellen had to come out,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:56:30] and all of these other folks had to come out, so that everyone was impacted in a different way. There is no way that you can imagine that anything that you're involved with, what the long term ramifications of any of it, anything would be. Certainly, even though I had been told by my attorney that if we decided to go public and go into Federal Court, that there was going to be a lot of notoriety around it.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:57:00] I didn't know what that meant. She did, but I didn't. I didn't have a clue, and I think what's nice is that because you don't know, you don't know the impact or the toll that it will take and you can grow into it gradually and naturally, because otherwise it would be totally overwhelming, which it pretty much was at that time anyhow.
Mason Funk: [01:57:30] Yeah, but I think that's a really good point. If you know when you started out, what it's going to be like, you just would never have made it, which is good.
Mason Funk: Okay, final four questions, and these are the only four that are designed to actually have this, a short, relatively short responses as possible.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Good luck.
Mason Funk: First, to a person who is about to come out, like say that teammate of your grandson Jake, or to any other person, middle aged or in their older years, what piece of insight or guidance or wisdom would you share with that person?
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:58:00] I think the most difficult thing about coming out is your own internalized homophobia. What is your expectation? I suppose that if you were trying to work your way through that process, it's like looking at what's the very worst thing that could happen? Try to anticipate that so that ... ,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:58:30] When I came out to my kidsthe worst thing that I anticipated was that they would not want anything to do with me. The only thing that changed was that now they knew all of me, and whatever that conjured up in their own minds in terms of what it meant to be a lesbian. Coming out, that's one part of it,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:59:00] is anticipating the worst. The other is that I have never heard anyone say once they came out, that they wish that they hadn't come out, because their life changes as a result of it, because you are now genuinely you.The difficult thing is acknowledging that, understanding it and there is also the part of,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [01:59:30] do you have such little faith in the people that you know and respect that they won't take you as you are, even though you're now disclosing something that they have never known before? I think there are various components about coming out and you have to make sure that you can be safe.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [02:00:00] Can you take care of yourself if you're thrown out of your home? I'm trying to measure those, but as I say, I've never known anyone who regretted it after the fact, even though it may have been traumatic both getting there and doing it.
Mason Funk: Great. What is your hope for your future?
Grethe Cammermeyer: Regarding our community?
Mason Funk: [02:00:30] Whatever you want.
Grethe Cammermeyer: One of my regrets about all of us coming out is that we're no longer a secret. We used to have a secret society, and we used to have all sorts of things that we could do that were unique to us. The more we become like everybody else, the more mainstream we are,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [02:01:00] we lose some of our uniqueness, which has its pros and cons, I think. We're getting more and more to the point that nobody cares. I think what I would like would be for that to exist throughout the country, throughout the world, so that there is that sense that you can be safe regardless of where you go. That's obviously not the case,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [02:01:30] but that would be my hope, and maybe it will come even to the south.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Why is it important to you? Although you said that maybe this would be your last interview, but why is it important to you to tell your story? Your story.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Well, now, the importance of telling my story now is that I'm history.
Grethe Cammermeyer: [02:02:00] If you don't capture it while I'm alive, and you don't ask the questions that I may be the only one that knows is going on in my mind, it will be lost. I think the uniqueness of this project that you're working on is capturing us at a time when we can still tell our stories, and
Grethe Cammermeyer: [02:02:30] that we are part of a history of social change that has taken place in a relatively fast period of time. If you consider that, the biggest change took place from 2010 to 2012, squeezed into two years, we had 50 years of getting there, but two years when the laws of the land,
Grethe Cammermeyer: [02:03:00] the United States changed enough so that gays and lesbians, and bisexuals, and transgender are human beings with the same equal rights, that's profound.
Mason Funk: You're right. That's why we're here. It's always a, like you said, just as you say it, it's like, "Holy crap, how did this happen?" As you said, it's 50 years of prelude
Grethe Cammermeyer: [02:03:30] and groundwork and then finally a tipping point.
Mason Funk: You answered this question already, but I'll just ask it again, and the final question is always, what is the value of a project like OUTWORDS. Maybe you could just take another quick pass at that, and mention OUTWORDS, if you would.
Grethe Cammermeyer: Yeah. Well, I think OUTWORDS is really significant because you hear in our words what the process has been, both on a personal level
Grethe Cammermeyer: [02:04:00] and trying to tie it together whatever social, or in my case, military influence it may have contributed to the point where we can have a conversation about being gay. It is really capturing on video a way this history took place that I don't think anyone else has even attempted to do.
Mason Funk: [02:04:30] Great. Thank you very, very much.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Howard Shack
Date: August 23, 2016
Location: Home of Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, Langley, WA