HALASKA: Today is September 15, 2019. This is an interview with MiriamBen-Shalom who served with the United States Army Reserves with the 5091st Reception Battalion and taught at the Leadership Academy with the 84th Division from 1974 to 1976 and from 1987 to 1990. This interview is being conducted at the Veterans Home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The interviewer is Rachelle M. Halaska, and this interview is being recorded for the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Oral History Program. Miriam, thank you for meeting with me today.
BEN-SHALOM: Good morning.
HALASKA: Good morning. So I just want to start off the interview. Where and whenwere you born?
BEN-SHALOM: I was born in 1948 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, actually in the backseatof a car but Waukesha, so it says, on my birth certificate.
HALASKA: Okay, can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up?00:01:00
BEN-SHALOM: I grew up in Big Bend, Wisconsin. Historically, a little side note,Eleanor Roosevelt's friend, Miss Hitchcock, was also from East Troy, Wisconsin. Must be in the water.
BEN-SHALOM: And I grew up well. I grew up on ten acres of land that my fatherhad and grew up with animals, and water, and great blue herons, and red dogwood. I probably learned how to swim before I could walk because we had a very large pond in front of our house. I went back recently to take a look at it and the dam that had helped make the pond had broken so the pond is no longer there. It kind of broke my heart. My fondest memories were finding watercress 00:02:00in the creek that that flowed through and came out after the dam. There were snapping turtles. It was a very good way to grow up.
HALASKA: Brothers and sisters?
BEN-SHALOM: Three brothers, two sisters.
HALASKA: Okay, and where do you fall?
BEN-SHALOM: I'm the eldest, can't you tell?
HALASKA: [Laughs] What was it like being the eldest to all those siblings livingin that kind of place?
BEN-SHALOM: Well, they--Johnny--my mother was killed in an automobile accidentwhen he was very, very young, so they did not really grow up--he's my full brother. I have two half-brothers, two half-sisters, but they're my brothers and sisters. We moved to East Troy from Big Bend. And that's where they were born, and that's where they grew up. So they really didn't grow up being "in the country" the way that I did, so I really can't answer that. I only 00:03:00know that--I go back and I look at the house that my father built sometimes and wish I could buy it and the acreage, some of the has been sold and there are houses on it, but just to go back and be there because there's a very large, ancient, old tree in the backyard that had a tire swing. And I love that tree to this day.
HALASKA: Where'd you go to school?
BEN-SHALOM: Big Bend Schools, and then East Troy Community Schools. I got my BAcum laude a from UW [University of Wisconsin] Milwaukee, and also my master's degree.
HALASKA: And what was that in?
BEN-SHALOM: My BA is in English and Hebrew Studies, and my master's is inEnglish. I had thought to be a rabbi, but I changed my mind and 00:04:00taught the English language for thirty-seven years.
HALASKA: So going to high school, when did you know that you wanted to join the army?
BEN-SHALOM: It wasn't during high school. I actually went into the army when Iwas--I'm trying to think, perhaps twenty-eight years old. I wanted some extra income because I was a single parent at that time. I was married and divorced. I took the army Intelligence Test, and I think the recruiters were shocked because I maxed out and they said I could be anything I wanted to be. I don't think they expected a woman to be able to do that. Like, why is it that women are presumed to be anencephalic addle-pates? You understand what I'm saying? We 00:05:00have brains. We're smart. We know what to do. So, I entered under the under a program that gave you some credit for what you did as a civilian, and because I was getting my bachelor's degree at the time, and I was in Hebrew Studies, they made me a chaplain's assistant, which is kind of funny because I had some friends; when I became a drill sergeant, they joked that I was the drill sergeant for people who didn't have a prayer.
BEN-SHALOM: Military humor, there. So.
HALASKA: I was listening to an earlier interview and in there you said that yourdad was a veteran, correct?
BEN-SHALOM: Yes, he was in the Marine Corps and he served in the PacificTheater. We do have pictures of him. He didn't talk about it very much, but he was very proud of being a vet.
HALASKA: What did he think of your joining?00:06:00
BEN-SHALOM: That's an interesting question because in our family we--he wouldsay good stuff about one of his children to the other children but not to the child in question. So I was told by my brothers and sisters that he was proud of me, but he never said so to me. And so I can only say that I have secondhand knowledge of what it was. I know that when he passed on, one of my brothers told me that Dad had said that he had wished he had been fairer to me and done more for me, because obviously, I'd done something with my life. What that means, I really don't know because I didn't hear it. Most of my brothers and sisters are accepting. My full brother certainly is. He invites Karen, my 00:07:00partner, and me to his home for the holidays. And my brother Paul, who's up north in Ashland, is fairly supportive. I have one brother, whose name I shall not mention, who is not very supportive at all and his wife was at the time quite bigoted. As a matter of fact, we had gone to visit one of my sisters who was married to a fellow at the time, who had a house on a lake. And all of the children--they were little kids, right? You had three, two three years old--were running around without clothing, okay? And my brother's wife said something about they shouldn't do it because we were there, as if we would 00:08:00molest children. I have never seen my partner get angry. And she was so angry she stood up, I could see the smoke coming out of her ears and I was like [pause] you know. She went and jumped in the lake because she didn't know what else to do. She was so angry, she had to get out of there. I haven't really spoken to that brother other than where my father died and he came and asked me a few questions and it's sort of like, I'm sure he did it to me because he--I just don't think he much cares for me. And you know what? That's okay. I don't really care. He's not part of my life. I don't care whether he lives or dies. It's his life. And I fire the negative people from my life. So, he's fired and so is his wife. Blood doesn't mean anything.
HALASKA: So just going back to--00:09:00
BEN-SHALOM: Sorry I digressed.
HALASKA: Oh no, no, it's okay. In the 1970s when you were a single parent, yousaid you needed some extra income. What was I guess the environment like for a single mother?
BEN-SHALOM: Well, go back to 1974. When could women first have credit cards ontheir own and have their own credit? When could women even--take a look at the time all right? It was hard. It was quite hard. Actually I joined the army thinking to go full-time and then earn money to go to college. That was my plan, okay? But it was difficult. There were no social services like today. There were no daycare centers, so you had to do what you could, rely on friends, 00:10:00which I did. And it was hard. It was very hard until Hannah got old enough to go to school, and then I went to school. Like when she was going to school, I was going to school. And I worked at school during the day. And I also had a couple jobs at night. I tended bar and stuff.
HALASKA: And where were you living at the time?
BEN-SHALOM: On Milwaukee's East Side.
HALASKA: What was Milwaukee's East Side like at that time?
BEN-SHALOM: It was very, very, very cool. Very hip. Very counterculture, okay?Not at all like it is today with all those businesses and everything else. Now, it's money hip there. Back in the day it was not money hip, it was 00:11:00just like hippie hip okay? Was I hippie? No I was not but it was just very counterculture. Very counterculture.
HALASKA: And you said you had to rely on friends a lot. What were--who was yourgroup of friends at the time?
BEN-SHALOM: I had some women friends and some other friends, just hanging out,both men and women. Just--I mean, it's interesting, I have kept in touch with one or two of them but some of them, I don't know where they are now, and it doesn't matter really. It was a hard time. A very hard time.
HALASKA: Would you say at that time you were involved with women's movements at all?
BEN-SHALOM: Not really because I was too busy trying to survive, to00:12:00give you an honest answer. It was not until I came out, and feminism did it for me because you don't see sexism, right, unless somebody points it out to you. And so I was busy trying to survive and I didn't think about it. When I came out and all of a sudden--it's sort of like there was a major Arclight that came on inside of me, not a light bulb but an Arclight, like OMG [oh my god] WTF [what the fuck] you know? And it's like, all of a sudden, I realized, "Wait a minute here, there's something not okay here." And it was at that point that I got involved. But before, I was--and I would also say too that getting an education--I mean I was a girl from East Troy, Wisconsin had not gone 00:13:00very much and once I started going to university it's like, you get exposed to many, many, many, many, cultures. And education is a real eye-opener let me tell you. And I was like a sponge. I took anything and everything in. I still am that way to this day. I read perhaps a hundred fifty to two hundred books a year. The day I can learn something new is a good day. So I try to have a good day every day and learn something new.
HALASKA: When did you come out? What year was that?
BEN-SHALOM: Nineteen seventy-four. I went into the army and then--it had nothingto do with the army whatsoever, it had to do with a friend of mine 00:14:00whose name--it doesn't matter, I don't have permission to say--we were really, really close friends. And one night we had gone out and we came back and we both had maybe one or two beers too many and I looked at her and I said, "You're my best friend in the whole wide world. I love you." And she said, "I feel the same way. I love you back," and she kissed me. [pause] And I knew exactly what I was. I didn't know the word beforehand, but I soon found out what the word for what I was is, which is lesbian. And I don't know how to--it's almost as if there was an audible click inside of my being. And no, we didn't become lovers. 00:15:00She--I don't think--I ran into her sometime later when I went to California to speak, and I stayed at her house and I awoke to her touching me and--well, she was my best woman friend at the time, but when I responded she wigged out. So we haven't spoken to one another since then. But I knew exactly what I was.
HALASKA: And had you joined the army already then?
HALASKA: Okay. And were you friends through the army?
BEN-SHALOM: No, no, no, she was a student at school. We were just good pals. AndI just--I don't know. I remember that to that day and it wasn't even much of a kiss, really. It wasn't a big passionate one, but it's like bam. 00:16:00
HALASKA: So just going back to you joining the army as a chaplain's assistant.It was the Women's Army Corps at the time, correct?
BEN-SHALOM: Yes, it was.
HALASKA: Where did you go to?
BEN-SHALOM: Fort McClellan, Alabama for basic training and I went to FortLeonard Wood for drill sergeants training and I competed with guys who were Vietnam vets. And I feel very proud, I completed all the coursework down there.
HALASKA: In Fort Leonard Wood?
BEN-SHALOM: Yeah. It was very interesting to me that--well, they have a lot ofcottonwood trees and cottonwood trees do suckers, okay? So some fool to gone through and cut down all the suckers leaving little stumps like about this big and it's on a live-fire combat course, so they shoot at you and you'd got to dive for cover, and I ripped open my knee to the bone. And I sat 00:17:00there, and I said, "Just don't touch me. Just let me get it together, okay?" So I looked and there was--you can't see the scar anywhere because I've had my knee replaced but it was pretty big. So they sent me, they put three stitches in it and washed it out and everything else. And I was very angry because there was one guy, Moretti was his name, he was a trainer, and he was a real asshole. And I did everything that I was supposed to do in order to graduate but because I was on--I couldn't run with this. I still walked. I still did it. I still did the twenty-five mile hike that I was supposed to do. I did everything that I was supposed to do, and they wouldn't let me graduate because this Moretti said, "Well, she couldn't do this, she couldn't do that." I was supposed to 00:18:00walk with a cane. I took it and I threw it at him. Well, not directly on it but just at his feet. And I did everything I was supposed to do with stitches in my knee because I really wanted to graduate. Well, so then I had to go through another bunch of training. And I had completed all of coursework, done everything else and it was dah. I was really angry about it.
HALASKA: And going back to basic training what did you--what was your traininglike in basic training?
BEN-SHALOM: Basically how to roll up shirts, how to make a bunk, how to polishyour shoes. We did do some weaponry firing, M16s, and we did twilight firing and I did really well at it because--well I had a thing inside my head that, what I was shooting at, so I did really well at that.
HALASKA: What were you shooting at?
BEN-SHALOM: Arab terrorists. Okay?00:19:00
HALASKA: [Laughs] Yes.
BEN-SHALOM: I just fantasized that there they were, and I did very well. Ithought it was interesting. I will say this. I had--there was one of the Jewish women that I went through basic training with and she was the child of Holocaust survivors. So she was like really weird, because you go through a gas chamber, because it's something you have to do. And she was like, so I said to her, "Here's how we're going to do it, okay?" I said, "We're going to put a towel over our arm, we're each going to carry a bar of soap, we're going to salute, we're going to say, 'Two Jews reporting for gas chamber duty.'" It's interesting. We did. And the lieutenant and the captain that were there were like--we went in. We went in together. We got through gas chamber. We made it through. She did it.
HALASKA: That's amazing.00:20:00
BEN-SHALOM: It is. Years later, I ran into the woman who is the lieutenant atthe time, she was a major, and she remembered it and she said, "I've told that story about the two of you forever." And it's hilarious. But you do what you can. And it's just--she would not have made it through. It's Jewish humor. It's dark humor. But we did it. We made it through. And that a highlight, I would say. A lot of marching. Bad shoes. I mean, the women's combat boots at the time were not particularly comfortable or particularly well-made. I had brought along artificial skin, you know that what you do, you put on blisters? And I made sure I had enough for other people, other women who needed it. It was interesting. It wasn't mind shaking; it was a lot of fun. I've got pictures--well, 00:21:00University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has a lot of photographs and all my papers from my court case. And I have a couple photographs in there from when I went through basic, you take pictures of course. But it was all right. I'm sure it's much different now. I think my impression was that it was pretty much boring. I'm a teacher. I mean that's what drill sergeants do, they teach, and I was a teacher of English. And when I was at Leadership Academy teaching other people how to be drill sergeants, I made sure my classes were interesting. Not the "Step one, step two, step three," no. Interesting.
HALASKA: And then in your specialty training, and this was for chaplainassistant or-- 00:22:00
BEN-SHALOM: No, I didn't go through any specialty training for it because I wasgetting a bachelor's degree, so they considered that enough.
HALASKA: Oh okay. So what was your--
BEN-SHALOM: Civilian acquired skills program.
HALASKA: So what was your AIT [advanced individual training] in at Fort Leonard Wood?
BEN-SHALOM: Drill sergeant.
HALASKA: Oh, drill sergeant, oh okay.
BEN-SHALOM: Yeah. They had opened up the MOS [military occupational specialties]and I thought, "Oh this will be interesting. Let me see if I can do this." And I did. I mean I don't know how many female drill sergeants there were before me, but I've been told that I was amongst the first women to become one. And I would say that except Mr. Moretti that the guys I work with were pretty supportive because I never asked them to do anything for me, the male trainees. I said "Show me. Take me through it. How do I do this?" and they would. And 00:23:00in the twenty-five mile hike was very interesting because we had a pack on, when we did this. I just kept going. I just kept going. I just kept going. And much to my surprise I came in tenth. Proud of that.
HALASKA: Were there many other women drill sergeant recruits in your first class?
BEN-SHALOM: There were two other ones.
HALASKA: Where did you guys live at Fort Leonard Wood?
BEN-SHALOM: In a barracks. We had a barracks. It was a pretty nice barracks. Itwas hot, there was no air conditioning, and I think that was the worst part of it after I ripped my knee open, because it hurt like a son of a gun. And of course you can take aspirin, or I took Aleve, but there wasn't much else. And my roommate, she finally said, "Miriam, you've got to shut up," and I said, "I'm sorry I don't mean to groan. if I wake you up just push me," or 00:24:00something, because I was sleeping and I must have turned over and went "Ahh," or groaned or something, because it was a pretty big rip. But she was pretty cool and so I tried real hard. So what I did was, finally I got a wrap to put around it to keep it immobile when I was sleeping so I wouldn't bother her. And I took it off when we went out.
HALASKA: What kind of coursework were you doing in the sergeants' school?
BEN-SHALOM: Oh, navigation, weaponry, military customs and courtesy. I think thething that I liked most was the navigation part. That was a lot of fun. A lot of PT [physical training] just pretty much everything a drill sergeant would need to know. 00:25:00
HALASKA: Did they teach you how to teach?
BEN-SHALOM: No. And that's a really good question. The military has manuals, andyou present a block of instruction, you go by the book. Because when I went back in after all those years being out when I was finally placed back in, the first lesson they gave me, I screwed it up royally because my head wasn't in the right place. So the next list they gave me was "stack arms take arms," which is just miniscule. You have to do it a certain way. And so what I did was, I used to do sign language so one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, you stand at parade rest, and I got through stack arms take arms perfectly because I was counting in my head and I was able to reference it. And those 00:26:00other guys that were there saying, "We couldn't do this." I said, "Yeah, I screwed up the first one, but I didn't screw up this one." But they didn't teach you how to teach. So using my teaching skills, I decided that when I would be a drill sergeant and teach other people how to be drill sergeants, like okay, military customs and courtesy, wear the uniform, as opposed to, "It goes one-half inch here, it goes one-half inch," you have to tell them that but it's also like, "What's wrong with this uniform? So you bring a uniform in and I stuck extra stuff on and everything else and I tried to make it something they would look forward to. And in terms of talking, they had a section where--a lesson where what do you do with recruits? and rather than saying just what the army wanted, I did a sociogram, like, Okay how many people have done 00:27:00this? you have everybody, you all go over here. How many people have done this? And you teach people that they have more in common than they have in terms of difference in that when you're in the army you're green. You're not male, you're not female. You're green. And I work really hard to make my lessons. And it's something I think of with pride that when I was put out, finally, in 1990 at the end of 1990, the colonel who was in charge of the leadership academy actually went to bat and said, "We really need her. She's the best teacher we have." And he tried to keep me in, citing need because there is a quotas, or there was at the time, that if you had an MOS or skill that the army really needed, that they would keep you in. Well, Kenneth Starr didn't agree, but we all know what he is now. 00:28:00
HALASKA: What's that?
BEN-SHALOM: Kenneth Starr? He was removed from his position for malfeasance.
HALASKA: What does that mean, I'm sorry?
BEN-SHALOM: He did some skullduggery, some--he was the president of a collegesomeplace and he did something. I no longer remember what it is, but he was this sanctimonious prig. He also was the one who worked against President Clinton to get him impeached. Real nice man. Chinless wonder.
BEN-SHALOM: I mean, one of the things I wish is that the second time around, Iwasn't given a discharge. I was put out as an erroneous enlistment even though I'd had a commendation and had gotten a--I was a sergeant and I'd gotten a rank increase to E-6. I wish I could get a discharge because I'd like to 00:29:00go and throw it in his face and say, "You know, you thought you could get rid of me and guess what? You didn't. And you were the president of a college and you engaged in some nefarious skullduggery," gesture of disdain.
HALASKA: [Laughs] Do you have any other stories or comments about the trainingthat you received from the army?
BEN-SHALOM: As I said, it was all useful and everything else, but I think--Idon't know how the army trains now. I have no idea. I can only say that I wish it had been more interesting and more intellectually engaging. But it was good. And I wish I had had more weapons training, especially with handguns. 00:30:00And I wish I had learned more about taking them apart and cleaning them. I would have--if I had been able to stay in, I probably would have gone maybe airborne, because I don't like heights very much. And so in order to accomplish that--I mean, jumping out of perfectly good helicopters for no apparent reason whatsoever is a good way to challenge that. I probably would have gone on and done a lot more training. I think--but back then that's just when computers were coming in and I think I might have been interested in computers, too. It was all right, the training.
HALASKA: It was all right?
HALASKA: What was graduation like?
BEN-SHALOM: Well, we didn't really have a graduation ceremony. They00:31:00just--we got our uniforms, and we went back to wherever it was we came from, really. I mean there was no marching, no big deal going past the reserves and people saluting, and flags, and all that. It wasn't there because it was the Civilian Acquired Skills Program.
HALASKA: When did you get your drill sergeant hat?
BEN-SHALOM: Nineteen seventy-five.
HALASKA: Okay. Was that nice?
BEN-SHALOM: Yeah, that was nice. I was real proud of that pumpkin and that hat.Because I had to go through with combat vets, and I had to compete and work with combat vets. And that I made it is a matter of pride because it was not easy training. It was hard. It was rigorous. You got maybe three, four hours if you were lucky of sleep a night. And I would do it all over again if I could. That's perhaps the part of being in the military that I liked really 00:32:00the best, in terms of training, is because it was an intellectual challenge, and it was a physical challenge. I mean, I don't know. I like stuff that's interesting. And as I said I maxed out the army intelligence test, so I suppose what you're running into is somebody who really likes learning and is really curious.
And in the army, there's not much time to ask questions. Even as a drillsergeant there wasn't a lot of time to ask questions, like when we did--I went to NBC [nuclear biological chemical] Training at Fort Dodge in Iowa, and we did a lot of stuff there too. And it's like, I thought that training was 00:33:00pretty cool because I had the chance to ask questions. And I liked it a lot. That was good training, nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare training.
HALASKA: What did would you learn about there?
BEN-SHALOM: Kiss your ass good-bye if its nuclear.
BEN-SHALOM: I mean, I don't mean to be crude, but that's what it was. But it wasinteresting, like putting sandbags on trucks and wearing MOPP [Mission Oriented Protective Posture] gear. We played basketball wearing full MOPP gear. And it was really hot there at the time. It was blackballed, which means you're not supposed to do some things, but there we were playing basketball in full MOPP gear. I thought the orienting course, how to find things on a map. And I wear glasses, so I was doing everything correctly, but I didn't get it right until finally I took off my glasses and just got down, and then I got it right. And they said that because I had had difficulty because I wore glasses, I wasn't going to be the honor graduate. But if I had figured it out sooner, 00:34:00why I wasn't getting it right on the mark, I would have been the honor graduate. I strove always to be the top person in any training I had. I was really proud to be helping to protect United States I took my oath of office very seriously and I do to this day. I would have probably done twenty years and more had I been allowed and it's--I regret not being allowed to do so. And it hurts. I'm working with a Tiffany Koehler. Now I've got all my--the documentation to see whether there's any way that I can at least get a discharge from the second time around. I got an honorable for the first time. But the second time I 00:35:00didn't get anything, and it's a problem because I think I'm entitled to some things. I don't mean the VA or anything like that, it's just, I want a discharge, you know?
BEN-SHALOM: I don't know if it can be done or not. I probably should have askedPresident Obama. [Laughs]
HALASKA: So in your training you said that you trained with combat veterans.
HALASKA: Were those Vietnam veterans?
BEN-SHALOM: Yes they were.
BEN-SHALOM: And they were really good guys, every last one of them. Once theyrealized that we women who were training were not asking for lesser because we were women, they were extremely supportive. We had to show them that we were right there along with them, but once they saw it, it was like there 00:36:00was great unit cohesion. We just had to show. And it was a good thing.
HALASKA: Did the other women in your unit also show? Show up and--
BEN-SHALOM: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, we all showed up, every last one of us. And Ithink that says something. I wonder now how women are being treated in the military given the rates of sexual assault. I will say that when we went and trained--you go for some time--I had guys harass me a little bit. And I took off my hat, took off my shirt and I said "There's no rank here, now what 00:37:00was it you were saying? What's your opinion? Do you want to bring it on?" [telephone rings] Damn.
[Pause in recording]
HALASKA: All right, this is file two with Miriam BEN-SHALOM. Okay we were justgetting to the end of your training as a drill sergeant. So tell me what happened next.
BEN-SHALOM: Well I went back to the 591st Reception Battalion, went to nuclearbiological and chemical warfare training, and then I was assigned to the Leadership Academy because apparently, I was a good teacher, and my skills were good enough to train other people to be drill sergeants. And I cherish that because again we ended up going to Fort McCoy, and when you're a drill sergeant candidate, you wear no rank, okay? So they were guys were like E-7s and stuff and E-8s, and it was just--you can't order men like that around and 00:38:00say, "Do it or else," so you have to sit there and--like they wanted to go--and I had guys that had big blisters on their feet and stuff like that.
And I said, "You've got to go to medical call. You've got to go." "No" this,"No" that. And I said, "Do I need to issue a direct order to you to make you go or are you going to be common sense and listen to me?"
HALASKA: Were they who--
BEN-SHALOM: My candidates.
HALASKA: They were your candidates for drill sergeant?
BEN-SHALOM: My trainees. Because I thought, I remember how I was treated, and Ithought, "I'm not going to treat them like they're idiots." And I had one guy that I finally said, "Okay, I'm issuing a direct order. If you don't, I'm going to put you on an article fifteen. You go and get your feet taken care of. I'm not having you get blood poisoning. This is a direct order. Go now." 00:39:00Well, he went. And I mean, the candidates were with me through summer and through winter, and I remember, we had come over to the armory that's in Whitefish Bay, there's an armory there, and it was so cold, and they bussed us over and these guys didn't have any jackets on or anything. I had a jacket, and I had gloves, so I gave a glove to one guy, I said, "Keep one hand, put your hand in your pants." I gave my jacket to another guy because I was not going to have my trainees be injured or anything else. I knew I could take it, but you know, a good leader takes care of her troops first. And that's how I saw being a drill sergeant leader, a trainer, is you take care of the troops first. You treat them with respect, you treat them like human beings.
HALASKA: For the Leadership Academy, what was a--how long were the trainingblocks that you had? Each session? 00:40:00
BEN-SHALOM: It varies. Some were an hour long, some were a couple of hours long,but you could take a break.
HALASKA: I'm sorry, I meant an entire course.
BEN-SHALOM: A year.
HALASKA: A year? Okay. And it was up at Fort McCoy, and so, was it--
BEN-SHALOM: And also at the reserve on Silver Spring Drive. Because remember,they were reservists, so they only did once a month or whatever. So it took about a year.
HALASKA: And what--during that course of the year how did training start andhow--what was the syllabus of the whole thing?
BEN-SHALOM: Well, we got our assignments, what courses we were going to teach,the next block of training courses. So we would get assigned and I got assigned interesting things, but I taught everything from stack arms take arms 00:41:00to military customs and courtesy, to how to how to deal with things, what do you do, wear and care of the uniform, what do you do if somebody is having difficulties, how to deal with somebody who is a difficult person, everything. I thought it was wonderful. I mean, I wish I could have completed the course because when I was put out the first time around, it hadn't finished yet, and so, there was still course--which is why when they decided to put me out the first time around, it was one thing. And the second time around it wasn't finished then either, which is why the colonel in charge wanted to keep me in, for the good of the service, because apparently my skills were 00:42:00needed. But Kenneth Starr and the JAG [Judge Advocate General's] Corps didn't see it that way.
HALASKA: Okay. So it was--what year was the first year that you were teachingthe course?
HALASKA: Seventy-six? Okay. And you kind of mentioned some of the classes thatyou were teaching. Were there any that you haven't talked about that you want to talk about a little bit more?
BEN-SHALOM: No, other than that I really liked teaching military customs andcourtesy which included like wear and care of the uniform, how to deal with things, because I made it interesting, as opposed to "This ribbon goes one-half inch from this pocket," you know or whatever, and "It should be a quarter of an inch up," or whatever. It's--I also tried to make it interesting by including--dress uniforms are not unisex. Fatigues are for the most 00:43:00part, although I hear now recently that they have what I would call battle dress uniforms for women now. I mean they had OD Greens for women, but they were poorly made and didn't fit well at all. They were horrible. You could wear men's ODs in forest camouflage if you wanted. There wasn't a prohibition. And they were much better made and fit much better than the uniforms made for women, let me tell you. But I liked including the women's uniform as well, because women have breasts and if you have to adjust. And so it was fun, watching men try to, "Let's see, how do we do this now?" I mean, it was trying to teach them not to be sexist, without teaching them not to be sexist. 00:44:00
HALASKA: Mm. Okay.
BEN-SHALOM: I think that's what I took most pride in, is being a woman trainerand trying to teach my men a lesson without teaching them the lesson. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?
BEN-SHALOM: I mean most men don't like it if you throw it in their face, but ifyou can make it something that's fun and interesting and its military, but there's that subtle unspoken lesson that they may or may not be aware of, that gets them, and they pay attention. It's funny, when I was put out the second time around my guys actually contacted me and said they wished that I hadn't been put out, which is something, for military men to do that. 00:45:00
HALASKA: Mm-hm. Good. So, 1967 was the first year that you were put out, correct?
BEN-SHALOM: Yes. And I went to federal court and in 1978 I was ordered a writ ofmandamus, which was ordered me to be placed right back in immediately. The army sent me a check for, I guess, 1,900 dollars, which I never cashed because that would have meant that I accepted that. And so I waited for them to take me back in and finally I got an attorney to help me out and we went back to court. And the only way they were going to take me back in is they were threatened with a daily fine if they did not take me back in and would be held in contempt. So they think took me back in. I can truthfully say it was not the people that I served with, in the 84th Division. With one or two notable 00:46:00exceptions, once people realized that I was not going to sashay down the main drag of a military base wearing lavender fatigues, that what I really wanted to do was soldier, they had no problems with me. There was one woman who was probably one of the poorest examples of a soldier that I could have ever thought of, and she didn't want me touching her--because you have to tape for weight measurements. She was overweight. And I went to my first sergeant I said, "First Sergeant, we have a problem here. She doesn't want me to touch her." And the first sergeant said, "Well, you aren't interested in her, anyway, are you?" And I said, "No, First Sergeant." And she said, "Then I'll stand there, and you tape her and if she says anything to you, I'll deal with it." Fine. Fine. And there was, when I went back in, I got some anonymous phone calls threatening me and I went to my commanding officer played them--I had taped them--played them for him and I said, "Now, if anybody wants to rock and roll with me, let's 00:47:00set up a time, let's set up a place, let's do it." And I said, "Otherwise this bullshit has to stop. If they want to fight with me or they want to rock and roll and try and eliminate me let's do it. Set up a place, set up a time, I'll meet--I'll take on anybody." And it stopped. And one of the things that I thought was really cool is when chow came for lunch, I was sitting at a table all by myself. Nobody would sit with me.
HALASKA: And this was when you were back in.
HALASKA: What was the year?
BEN-SHALOM: Eighty-eight. And I will never be a racist, and I will fight for therights of people of color anywhere, anyplace, anytime, because it was Black troops who came and sat with me. And I said to them, "Are you sure you want to sit here with me?" And one of them said, "Well, what else can they do to us?" And I said, "Yeah, yeah, but," they said, "No, no. We'll will sit 00:48:00with you." And they came and they sat with me. And although in later years--well, most recently I've talked about the xenophobia that some people of color had towards Jews, I will always fight for the rights of people of color because they sat with me when nobody else would. And I will stand up anywhere, anyplace, anytime.
HALASKA: So in 1976, what were the laws or in--
BEN-SHALOM: There's a total ban.
HALASKA: A total ban. Okay.
BEN-SHALOM: As a result of my court case, I have been told--whether this is trueor not I don't know--that they enacted Don't Ask Don't Tell. Okay? I don't know if that's true or not. I was asked and I refuse to lie. And I was 00:49:00given the opportunity to lie. As a matter fact it was even suggested that they would allow me to remain in if I would try to find other gay people that they could discharge, you understand? Well, there's an extremely vulgar four letter word that rhymes with truck that I might attach to that. I'm not a quisling. And I wouldn't do it because it's morally repugnant and morally perverse and so, I got put out.
HALASKA: What made you want to fight against it?
BEN-SHALOM: Because it's wrong.
BEN-SHALOM: There's no other word for it. I am in control of myself, even as youare in control of yourself. I knew what the military regulations 00:50:00were, and I was willing to abide by them. I understood. The rules are the rules, okay. I can't change what I am. They wanted me to go see a military psychologist and I asked if it was a direct order and they said, "No, but we think you should." And I said, "Well, I'm not sick, I'm a lesbian." [Cheers] The Packers just did something. And it was wrong. I think as long as you know what the rules are, and you abide by rules and regulation, that's fine. Okay? And it was wrong. I had--I was--I have never been accused of misconduct. It's important for people to understand that. Even the army admitted that I never even ogled--this is a direct quote from my court case, that I never ogled or eyed up any female soldier, ever. Not even once. I never did. I was never accused of it. And that's why I decided to fight back because I mean, we see gay people serving now just fine and there's no problem. Because sexual orientation is immutable. 00:51:00You can't change it. It's part and parcel of what the wholeness of a human being is. And I just thought that discrimination is wrong. It's not right. There was no logic behind it. I mean if you look at all the people who've been traitors over the course of this country's history, how many people were gay? Come on. [Snaps]
HALASKA: I'm sorry, I don't know.
BEN-SHALOM: And so far as I know none. All heterosexuals. Money, women, whatever.
HALASKA: Who--and did you have a lawyer?
BEN-SHALOM: Yeah. I still owe him money, too.
HALASKA: [Laughs] Who was your lawyer? Oh, I'll stop it.00:52:00
[Pause in recording]
BEN-SHALOM: You asked me who my lawyers were. Anger Myers and Rogers[??], and Iprobably owe them twelve thousand dollars yet, and I don't know how the hell I'm going to pay it.
HALASKA: And what did they--so you approached--
BEN-SHALOM: We went to the Supreme Court to keep me--
HALASKA: Oh wait, is this the first time around?
BEN-SHALOM: Second time.
HALASKA: Okay. Were they also your lawyer the first time around?
BEN-SHALOM: No. I'm trying to remember the name of the attorneys.
HALASKA: Oh it's okay.
BEN-SHALOM: Who it was. But the second time around, I mean, it was interestingthat the Supreme Court declined to hear my case without prejudice, which meant if I could find another attorney I could have gone back. But I didn't have the money to go back, you know what I mean? And I think that's frustrating that so much depends on how much money you have, whether it's my case, which I think was discriminatory, or whether it's racial discrimination, or whatever, so much depends on money, which sucks, frankly. 00:53:00
HALASKA: So while your court case was going on--I'm talking about the firstone--were you also going to school at the time or teaching?
BEN-SHALOM: Yeah. I was put out in '76, so I continued going to school and gotmy BA cum laude and started my master's degree.
HALASKA: And that was at UW-Milwaukee?
HALASKA: And just remind me again, that was a master's degree in English?
BEN-SHALOM: English. And my BA cum laude is English and Hebrew Studies. BecauseI had considered being a rabbi. But I changed my mind. It's my prerogative.
HALASKA: It's your prerogative. [Laughs] You said earlier in the interview thatyou--it was after you came out and during your college education that you started to become, I guess, more aware of feminist issues? 00:54:00
BEN-SHALOM: Oh yeah.
HALASKA: And can you tell me a little bit about that?
BEN-SHALOM: It's hard to describe because it was a gradual process. But prettymuch when a woman gains confidence, but the rest of the world doesn't treat her as if she is competent and able, that causes cognitive dissonance. And I suggest to you that that's what I was experiencing, it's like, "Gee, I can do this, gee, I can do that," I could at the time--this is before computers. I could take apart a standard transmission and put it back together. I could tune up a car. I did all kinds of stuff. And yet, I was treated differently. Like I was supposed to wear dresses, I was supposed to wear makeup, neither of which I did very well. I never wore makeup. I never wore high heels, but then, I've got big feet so whatever. And it's like, why can't I be seen as a human being with 00:55:00skills, talents, and abilities? What does my sex have to do with it? I've never experienced so-called gender discrimination. I don't know what that means. I've experienced discrimination because of my biological sex. And I didn't like it, because okay, maybe I can't lift four hundred pounds, but how many men can do that? Each person should be treated as if he or she can do--she or he can do whatever they do best. And one's biological sex ought not to be taken into account. I mean, yeah, women carry their weight differently. They want you to hang and do push-ups and chin-ups and stuff, that's because men have their strength up here, women carry it down here. It's a biological difference. So what? So do what you can, what you will, and what you are able. And 00:56:00it angered me that I was not seen as a capable human being but was seen as [pause] the gentler, the lesser sex. Well, to heck with that.
HALASKA: Do you think that--you said that a lot of the men in the military, onceyou proved yourself you were pretty--did you think it was actually a little bit easier, not easier--but in the military they were able to see you as a soldier, a little bit more easily?
BEN-SHALOM: I would say so. I would say so. I was treated as a soldier. Mybiological sex did not matter. And I appreciated that. I was Drill Sergeant BEN-SHALOM. And I think that was a good thing because just being able 00:57:00to be myself, whatever that encompasses, was a good thing. I mean what does it mean to be a woman? You know? It's not a feeling, I can tell you that. It's an existence. So I exist as an adult, female, human being, and that means I have a certain skillset. Okay, so what does being an adult, female, human being have to do with my skills? Not too much, really. You look at the person.
I tend to look at people--you know, of course you're a woman. Of course a man isa man, biologically. But I tend to not categorize people that way first and foremost. It's like, I like you because you're smart, you ask good 00:58:00questions, okay? I find that it's easy to speak to you. I will say, not because I'm a lesbian, but because I find women more receptive and less knuckleheaded, that I communicate better with women. It also has to do with the fact that until I get to know somebody--as a generality, I don't much care for men I find that I like them very much as individuals. I have some very cool tight men friends, one of whom is very conservative, interestingly enough, but we have found common ground and we can work together. And I have a couple other men friends that are that same way. I don't have patience for--I don't suffer fools gladly, is basically what it is. But I resent being treated as if, because of my biology, I'm supposed to be somehow different. I will do what I can, what I will, what I'm able and what I may, always. And isn't that what everybody does? 00:59:00
HALASKA: So, during--
BEN-SHALOM: I mean, I'm lucky now. For this interview, I'm also seventy-oneyears old. So, I'm not seen as a sex symbol or something to think of that you might want to have sex with. So I'm now exempt from the harassments that younger women are subject to. But I was subject to them, and I didn't like it then because I'm not just something to be intimate with--I was going to say another word--
BEN-SHALOM: --but I eschew vulgarity. And it's like, women are not here to justserve men okay? And women need to have--they need to be dealt with as themselves, as the potential that they are, and not their biology. And I would say the same thing for men, as well. For the potential of human 01:00:00beings as they are, and not their biology. Does this make sense to you?
HALASKA: Mm-hm. Yeah.
BEN-SHALOM: I don't know how else to tell you. And when I was in the Army that'show I dealt with people. They were army green. I don't care what your biological sex is, quite frankly. It's none of my business.
HALASKA: During your first court case while you were going through that, did youhave--did you feel like you had support in your community?
BEN-SHALOM: No. Au contraire. The feminists of the time didn't like GI Janes andgoing into the military was part of the patriarchy. So there was a really no support for the most part, at all. It was me and me alone. The second time around, there still wasn't much support for the most part. It was me 01:01:00and my one attorney each against eighteen Justice Department attorneys and the chinless wonder, Kenneth Starr. And there wasn't much support either. Actually it was subtle, very quiet support from within the military, people saying, "I hope you win. Good for you. Go for it. Hope you win." But they couldn't be overt because then they might get discharged, right? And it wasn't gay people, either, gay soldiers or lesbian soldiers, it was just most people who realized that what I really--I really liked my job and I wanted to keep my job. But in the '80s when I was--when I was asked to speak about my court case or whatever, the radical feminists of that age would protest against me. I was called a baby killer and a traitor to my sex and everything else. And my response to them was, "I've never killed any babies, and when the revolution comes who the 01:02:00heck do you think is going to lead it anyway? We know how to do logistics and we know how to do planning."
HALASKA: [Laughs] You said--
BEN-SHALOM: I mean also, you mentioned other things, support as well. What Ifind really humorous is because I lived in Israel and I'm an Israeli citizen as well as an American. At one point, the RuPaul[??] --they were going to run "RuPaul for President," and they asked me to be vice-president. I said yes. Then they changed their mind and they wanted to have a leather Levi[??] woman be the vice-president and they wanted me to leave. I said, "Fine, take my name off." Well no, you have to resign. I said, "No, I don't. I didn't sign anything, so I don't have to resign. Just change it." And they accused me of being part of the Mossad and everything else, which is--Mossad is like the Secret Service of Israel and they're really good at what they do. It's like I have 01:03:00never been a member of the Mossad. I mean, it was so--so I will say that not only did they not support me because I wanted to serve my country, but I encountered anti-Semitism as well. And that just goes to show that gay people are pretty much like everybody else. They have the same biases and other things that could exist in any other society. Are all gay people anti-Semites? No, that isn't what I'm saying. I'm saying it's there.
HALASKA: You said that you--there were some soldiers, not necessarily gaysoldiers, that were giving you support quietly. Were there gay and lesbian soldiers that you knew who--
BEN-SHALOM: No. I never asked. It wasn't my business. I am sure there were. Imean, afterwards, after--when I was out finally in '91 when I--the 01:04:00whole thing was over and done with, I was put out in '90 and then there you go, I met people who said they knew me, sort of like they followed me, and they wished they could do things to help me. I met so many vets, and women, who were badly treated. I mean the horror stories I could tell you would make you sick to your stomach. I mean, women being locked up in the closet, being threatened with they're going to go and tell all their family and everything else that they were gay. And just terrible things. I knew one woman who slept with a 45 under her pillow because she had such PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].
HALASKA: You're talking about lesbians who were in the army?
BEN-SHALOM: Yeah. And so, I know that--I think I did something good. At least Ihope I did.
HALASKA: So at the time, people were very, very far in the closet,01:05:00especially if they were --
BEN-SHALOM: Oh yeah, because it was Don't Ask Don't Tell--I'm trying to rememberwhen Don't Ask Don't Tell --
HALASKA: Nineteen ninety-two, I think. Or '94.
BEN-SHALOM: They said that was my fault, okay? So. But Don't Ask Don't Tell wasdraconian, simply because okay, you serve with people, "Hey, you want to go to a show, you want to do this, you want to do that?" You have to lie about your girlfriend. I'll speak from a woman, a lesbian's perspective, and say you have a boyfriend. You can't tell anybody anything. So Don't Ask Don't Tell was draconian because people like to talk. They communicate. But if you came and said, "Oh yeah, my girlfriend and I are going to the Redwood Forest," or whatever, bam, out you go. It was also dependent on commanders' old mindsets and biases. So you had some commanders who really didn't give a damn and "Fine, I don't care." And then you had fundamentalist Christian ones who went 01:06:00after lesbians and gay people with bear traps and fangs. I think the best day of my life was to be present when President Obama signed the end of the ban. And a lot of gay people--and he hugged me. And so did the vice president by the way, and I didn't find him creepy, just to let people know. I mean, he's an older guy, he gives you a hug, so what? He wasn't anybody's creepy old uncle. But I felt proud to know that there had come a day. I wish I could have gone back in. Nineteen ten, or 2010, excuse me, I misspoke, 2010.
HALASKA: So during that time, what were-- you were going back to01:07:00school. Were you also working at the time?
BEN-SHALOM: Yeah. I worked in the food service. And I also had some studentloans that I have paid off. And I did get some welfare. I got food stamps and I had a medical card for my daughter and me.
HALASKA: How old was your daughter at the time?
BEN-SHALOM: Which time? She's born in 1967, okay?
BEN-SHALOM: She's fifty now. I'm an old fart.
HALASKA: [Laughs] Mm-hm. So you are reinstated and so you got to go back to yourunit, and you got to go back to Leadership Academy and doing all of that.
BEN-SHALOM: Yes, yes, yes.
HALASKA: Yes. Tell me about that.
BEN-SHALOM: Well I really like doing what I was doing. And what01:08:00happened was I probably was going to go regular army or go full-time. I wanted to. But it was suggested that I not do it because they were going to fight back, okay? And so what do you do? I mean I had wanted to go to Air Assault School. I had talked to my CO [commanding officer] about what other schools what other training I could do, you know what I mean, besides just that. And it was because you go to court, and you appeal. I mean, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied me, which is why we went to the Supreme Court because they said, "Speech equals action." Because I refuse to lie and I said, "Yes I am a lesbian," that means that I can't control myself and I can't obey rules and 01:09:00regulations and so speech equals conduct equals action. The analogy is if you make me angry and I say to you, "You pissed me off so much I could just kill you," does speech equal action? Does speech equal conduct? It was a stupid, biased decision. And I'm surprised the Supreme Court didn't take a look at it, but they didn't want to deal with it at the time, I don't think. And it's just--it angered me so much. And when we went to court that second time around, I mean Starr--one of the things was, "Well, gay people don't reproduce." And I remember seeing him with his cadre of JAG Corps attorneys out in the street one time and I said to him, "What do you mean gay people don't reproduce? I have a daughter. I've reproduced." And I was going to go after him, and my attorney had me around the waist, because I was going to punch his lights. I was. I mean, stupid, idiotic arguments. 01:10:00
HALASKA: Did that have to do with anything? [Laughs]
BEN-SHALOM: [Laughs] Yeah, like look at the world around you. Maybe peopleshould reproduce less in terms of what the population--how many billions now? Are we not a minute from midnight in terms of what this world can support? But it was stupid. It's like, "They don't reproduce." Well, we do.
HALASKA: So with your faith, with your religion, you--when did you, I'll justuse the word convert for ease.
HALASKA: Sixty-seven. And I just want to talk about this little bit because yousaid that your religion has really been influential in how you understand why you fight. So can you tell me about when you decided to convert and 01:11:00what that was like for you?
BEN-SHALOM: It had to do with, again, starting to learn and reading a lot. And Ireally like Jewish law. Some of it is kind of perverse, but I really like Jewish law and it was the logic that appealed to me more than anything else. And I think the idea of being able to discuss an issue and have majority and minority opinions and sometimes the minority opinion holds. If you read the Talmud, the mission of Gomorrah, the commentaries on Torah, the Old Testament, it's--and I like that. There's questions that [inaudible] but you vote. Questions 01:12:00and answers. And that appealed to me because I asked questions all the time. So I just--I felt like I was coming home.
HALASKA: And where did you learn about this? Where?
HALASKA: Books? Particular authors?
BEN-SHALOM: God, you're asking me something that happened how many years ago?Sixty-seven, '87, '97, 2000--forty years ago. Martin Buber, reading the Old Testament in translation, reading the commentaries in translation. Rabbi Hillel, especially. "Don't do to anybody else what you wouldn't want done to you, all the rest is commentary. Go and learn." It's just the more I read the more I liked. I don't know how to describe it. 01:13:00
HALASKA: And then did you go to a temple in Milwaukee area or--
BEN-SHALOM: Yeah. Yeah.
HALASKA: Okay. Which one, if you don't mind me asking?
BEN-SHALOM: It's no longer in existence. It was the one that was on RooseveltDrive. I went there. Yeah. And it's just--it was cool. And I'm an Orthodox convert, by the way. I went to Mikvah in Chicago.
HALASKA: What's Mikvah?
BEN-SHALOM: It's a ritual pool. Women must separate from their husbands duringtheir period, and thereafter seven days, and when their period is ended, they go to the Mikvah and then they are permitted relations. It's also a like a ritual cleansing or purity, as well. But in order to be an Orthodox convert, you have to do it. So my daughter and I went to Mikvah.
HALASKA: Did you find that there was more support for you in the01:14:00Jewish community as well? No? Okay.
BEN-SHALOM: But that's okay. We each of us honor what our beliefs are in ourunique ways, and for me, Torah teaches me that I am the Good Samaritan, to use a bad image, but there you go. That I am responsible for those who have less than I have, that I am responsible to speak up about injustice, that I am obligated to do so because it is correct action. And I by might also say that in terms of my own personal history, I'm pretty widely read on the Holocaust and 01:15:00one of the things that shocks me today and shocked me back then is that nobody spoke up. Now we've got all these immigrants coming over and they're putting them in these things and taking children away and everything else. Dear God, why are not people being angry about that? I am. But I speak up and speak out because I have six million people who sit on the edge of my bed at night say, "How dare you remain silent? Nobody spoke for us. We didn't have the way to do it. There was silence for us. You can speak up. Do not engage in silence." And I take that very seriously. I try very hard not to lie, not to cheat, not to steal. I try to be an honorable human being. Do I make it all the time? No, but I try not to make the same mistake twice. Do I get angry sometimes? Yes. Am I intemperate at times? Oh you bet. But I also tried to engage in civil 01:16:00dialogue and in civil discourse with people as far as I possibly can. I mean I've met a few that there's no way it's going to happen. You try and you try, and you try, and it just doesn't work, but there you go. I mean, I work now--what I have done as a result of all of this activism, well I founded an organization known as AVER [American Veterans for Equal Rights]. It was Gay Lesbian Bisexual Veterans of America, and it's still in existence today. I am co-founder of Hands Across the Aisle, Women in Coalition. We are a coalition of conservative and progressive and or if you want to say liberal, although that's a bad word today, women working on the transgender issue. I'm trying 01:17:00to form another group here in Milwaukee called Resistors, Sisters Resist to deal with the transgender issue. I don't know, what else can I tell you? I've been busy. I have not stayed static. I did retire when I was sixty-six from Milwaukee Area Technical College because Act Ten. Act Ten angered me. I don't think that I'm any better than say the counter person at McDonald's who is an at-will employee, but the counter person at McDonald's didn't spend thousands of dollars maintaining teacher--I had seven teaching licenses at one point. And I did not want to be treated as an at-will employee.
HALASKA: What was that? I'm sorry, an at-will?
HALASKA: What does that mean?
BEN-SHALOM: You can be hired and fired just like that. You work at01:18:00the will of your employer, at-will. It's like right to work, no union. I mean, I figured at the time that there were one or two people around--I have never been a silent lesbian, okay? Because silence in my mind equals death. If you don't say something, what happens? And I figured they'd go after me and fire my butt because I was an outspoken lesbian, Jewish lesbian no less. So I retired. I had wanted to teach until I was seventy. I miss my students mightily. I miss being in a classroom mightily.
HALASKA: Where were you teaching?
BEN-SHALOM: I retired from Milwaukee Area Technical College.
HALASKA: Where else have you taught?
BEN-SHALOM: MPS [Milwaukee Public Schools] and in the prison system.
HALASKA: Can you tell me about your teaching and how you grew as a teacher?01:19:00
BEN-SHALOM: As a teacher first and foremost, I strove to have materials that Iknew would be of interest to my students. So I mean long before anybody thought The Handmaid's Tale was important, I taught it. I taught The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. I also included works by Black authors and Native American authors. And when I did--when I taught college composition, I tried to make the subjects and the readings topical, as opposed to dead white guys all the time. I encouraged discussion in my classroom, with two caveats. 01:20:00You could not engage in argumentum ad hominem. If you disagreed with somebody you could disagree, but you had to do it civilly and no vulgarity or profanity. And so, in my classroom we talked about a lot of things. We talked about abortion. We talked about gay marriage. We talked about gay rights. We talked about sexism. We talked about racism with the caveat that you will engage in civil discourse. You will not use argumentum ad hominem or strawman and you will not use any vulgarity. And I did kick out one or two people, "F this, F that, it's stupid, this is whatever, whatever crap." Go. You're not going to say that kind of stuff in my classroom. I also tried to give my students what 01:21:00I would call legendary service. You have office hours, but I had more office hours than office hours. I would work with a student anywhere, anyplace, anytime, as long as I knew that student was trying. I mean, I'm thinking about one woman who was Mexican and Polish and married to a man who was disabled, and she had nine kids. And she came back to school because she wanted to show her children, "If I can go to school and I can get a degree, you can stay in school." She was role modeling. She worked harder than anybody I know and she said--I believe she's a nurse now. And it's like, her English wasn't really very good, but we worked together, and I gave her hours and hours and hours, because I knew she was trying. My best students were older people who were coming back to school who had their eyes on the prize, as it were. My worst 01:22:00students were people who--young people who just graduated from high school. "I got a C in English." Yeah, well, this is the big time. A C isn't going to cut it here. And that isn't restricted to any one class or group of people. And that isn't to say that all my young students were bad. I had some real sharp ones, too, some real--can't get anything past them. But it's just--I really like teaching. I felt it kept me young. It kept me on my feet. It kept me thinking because every year something new would come out. There were new publications, new essays, new works to read, new things to think about to include in classroom. I never wanted my classroom to be static. The same, the 01:23:00same, and the same. If you can catch a student's interest, and hook that interest, and get them excited about it, they will love learning for the rest of their lives. And that's what I tried to do as a teacher. I don't say I always made it, but I always tried. And my students always got one hundred and ten percent from me.
BEN-SHALOM: I miss teaching so much.
HALASKA: Going back to some of your activism also during this time that you wereteaching, how did you feel like--so you were fighting to remove the ban completely, even after Don't Ask Don't Tell went into effect, 01:24:00fighting to also have that removed.
HALASKA: What--who were you working with and what groups were you working withto try to accomplish that?
BEN-SHALOM: Campaign for Military Service, I spent a summer in Washington, DC lobbying.
HALASKA: What summer was that?
BEN-SHALOM: God, what? Ninety-two, I think? I'd have to go back and look. I alsowas a member of Gay Peoples' Union, which is no longer in existence here in Milwaukee. I did some speaking. I did traveling. I also--I never took my name out of the phone book because I used to get phone calls from people all the time wanting help for whatever, and they would look me up and find me. It was something I did. In terms of just activism, just protesting gay bias 01:25:00and discrimination. We had protests here in Milwaukee that I participated in.
HALASKA: What were some of the big ones?
BEN-SHALOM: Well, I'm recalling that--and there's a quotas to this. There was abig meeting here on fundamentalist Christians with the Partials. I don't know if you remember them. Well, people in my community wanted to go and protest, which I thought was fine. So I sat down with the Partials and I said, "Here's the deal. If you will keep your security people off, I will keep my people appropriately far away and there won't," and it worked. And we shook hands on it. Their daughter is now a member of Hands Across the Aisle Women in Coalition and she remembered this. So it was a good thing. We also surrounded the police station because at the time cops were busting gay bars, breaking down walls looking for child pornography and stuff like that. And I mean 01:26:00guys--they beat the crap out of gay guys, and we protested that. I mean it was really interesting because they were really weirded out. We circled the police station, stood there silently and looking at them. Silence is good sometimes because you never know what it means. And just other protests against anti-gay things. Does that help?
HALASKA: Yeah, yeah. Do you have any other memorable protests or anything likethat that you wanted to discuss or memorable moments?
BEN-SHALOM: Yeah, in 1988 I was in San Francisco, and I spoke there with LeonardMalkovich and I thought it was interesting, because at the time here in Milwaukee, we didn't know about AIDS [acquired immunodeficiency 01:27:00syndrome] and so I didn't understand why they were closing down all of the bath houses and stuff. It was very--that was interesting. I can also say that speaking in Chicago in in 1989, where I was called a baby killer by that the feminists at the time, the protesters, speaking about AIDS. I wasn't speaking to the military at the time. I was caring for a friend of mine here who died of AIDS. He was the first gay person I ever spoke to and I felt I owed it to him. And I thought that was interesting because it was hard for me not to cry because you finally learn what AIDS was and what a horror it was and to take care of somebody who has it. [pause] It was tough. It was tough. 01:28:00
HALASKA: And were you speaking to promote awareness of AIDS?
BEN-SHALOM: Yeah, to talk about that we needed to take of each other. I mean,it's very interesting for me to look nowadays, if I may draw a parallel. Lesbians were right there to help take care of their gay brothers who were sick, okay? We did a lot of work back in the day. And I find it somewhat disingenuous now, and personally, deeply angering, and frustrating that with the transgender movement and the erasure of women, especially of lesbians who are young butch lesbians who are told they're men and they really need to transition, and the erasure of women's culture, that my gay brothers have not stepped up and said anything about it and stood with us. I'm angry. Nobody should face 01:29:00discrimination and I do not say that transgender people should be discriminated against. But to say that gender is equal to biological sex is codswallop and I don't care what anybody says. And to insist that you should allow intact males who just say they're women to go into women's locker rooms and stuff is balderdash. And I'm angered that my gay brothers have not seen fit to pay attention and recall what we did for them when they needed us. Whatever.
HALASKA: Yeah. Just flipping a page. So you said earlier in this interview thatyour second military discharge in 1990, it wasn't a discharge. 01:30:00
BEN-SHALOM: I didn't get discharged. I was released from the custody of the armyas an erroneous enlistment.
HALASKA: Does that mean you did not get a DD 214?
BEN-SHALOM: Yup. And it angers me.
HALASKA: Also a--
BEN-SHALOM: Because I had gotten a promotion of accommodation and I hadexcellent reviews of my service. You get enlisted--like how you do in your job reviews, basically. Like I said that was the chinless wonder, Kenneth Starr, and his JAG Corps attorneys. May they get everything in life they deserve.
HALASKA: And you said that you were barred from reenlistment?
HALASKA: What was--how is that, I guess, done?
BEN-SHALOM: Because under Don't Ask Don't Tell if you didn't say anything youcould stay in if you didn't get caught or whatever. I refused to lie. 01:31:00
HALASKA: Okay. I was just making sure I understood that.
BEN-SHALOM: Yeah. Because the ban was still in effect, then. So I was anacknowledged homosexual, even though I had served very well indeed as the only acknowledged homosexual for years. There was only one of me in the service.
HALASKA: [Laughs] You said that there were a lot of other organizations that youwere part of. What other veterans' organizations have you participated in since you been--
BEN-SHALOM: Well, I'm a member of the Alexander Hamilton American Legion Post448 out in California. I work--I have participated with Miss Koehler for the photography project. I haven't really worked with any other 01:32:00traditional veterans' organizations. I'm an adjunct or an associate member of Paralyzed Veterans of America.
HALASKA: What's that group? Can you tell me a little more about that?
BEN-SHALOM: It's an established--it's a group that services veterans whoparaplegic or quadriplegics or veterans who had spinal cord injuries.
HALASKA: How did you get involved with them?
BEN-SHALOM: Because I go trap shooting with some guys that belong to Veterans ofField. I have--I'm a member PVA because you don't have to initially have a service-connected disability, but I have a forty percent disability because when I was teaching, I--you know those metal chairs that have the trapezoidal metal tubing on them okay? And they have usually little rubber things on them to keep it sliding? Well I sat down on one at school and it went right out from underneath me. And I ended up cracking some vertebrae in my--L4, L5, 01:33:00and I had to have some surgery. So I actually have a disability, because I find it very hard to carry something in front of me. I can't do it. On my back I can do it. And I also have sciatic problems because the vertebrae are not as--if they were stacked like this, they lean in and they hit my spinal cord. So I do that. And that's how I became--I decided then I could be an associate member. I can't be a full member, guess why? Because I don't have a DD 214. So there you go. And I would never want VA care and I don't think that I'd be entitled to it, but I think--I am a veteran, and I think that where you have--they give veterans' discounts or whatever and you have to show proof? I suppose I could find my discharge from 1976 which was honorable, but I'd like to have a DD 214 now just so I could get a discount. I mean, I don't need the VA. I 01:34:00don't want the VA. There are guys and women missing arms and legs who are in a lot worse shape than I am, and so I would never choose--I mean, I have Medicare and I have a supplemental and I don't think it would be just or correct to do that. But I just like to get it because I think I'm entitled to it.
HALASKA: Are there any other events connected to your military service or youractivism that you would like to--
BEN-SHALOM: Well, let's see.
BEN-SHALOM: Two years ago, I went to Spain and participated in a genderconference in Madrid. And I'm acknowledged and accepted as an activist on behalf of women's and children's rights in terms of gender ideology. I mean, 01:35:00I don't think transgender people should be discriminated against, but I don't think eight year olds and eleven year olds should be given puberty blockers. And I resent the medical experimentation on children and I've been a fighter of that. And I've pretty much acknowledged, I guess. I've done interviews and things. If you want a funny thing, I can tell you a funny thing.
BEN-SHALOM: A number of years ago, we--my partner and I had gone out to dinnerand we were going to the Metro Hotel here in Milwaukee, and this stupid son of a syphilitic Syrian Camel driver tried to carjack us. Well I tackled him and me and the fellow who--the worker who brings you the car keys and brings the car--and he's in jail now. So I helped put a major carjacking ring to 01:36:00bed in Milwaukee because we did this, because I was able to not only identify him, but we were holding him down and these guys drove up and it's sort of like, "Let him up or I'm going to shoot you and the other people too," and I looked at the gun and I thought, "Can he do this?" So I stepped back because I had the toe of my--I was laying on him and then somebody else came and helped to hold him down, so I put the toe of my shoe in his crotch and said, "If you move, you're going to walk funny for the rest of your life and pee through a tube." And I meant it. So I stepped back, and I was able to identify the guy who pointed--a stupid gangster, he was--you know. So that's a funny story. And I would have been able to do that except for my military training, tackle him and take him down at sixty-nine.
HALASKA: Oh so that was very recent?
BEN-SHALOM: Yeah, three years ago. There's stories about it on the internet too,especially being told "elderly woman" and I went back to the 01:37:00reporter, I said, "Now elderly is eighty, eighty-five. I'm not elderly." [Laughs] I was really resentful, talk about sexism and agism, my God. If I were elderly, I wouldn't have stopped him from jacking the car.
HALASKA: Looking--so you said--
BEN-SHALOM: That's a funny story.
HALASKA: That was a funny story, and that was also saying why or how themilitary influenced you and how your military experience influenced you.
BEN-SHALOM: The military taught me that I have a mind, that I was a competenthuman being, and that if it was possible for me to do it, I could do it. The military taught me how to shoot, because I'm a hunter, to have respect for weaponry--and I'm going to say this, and it might shock some people to think about it for a minute. Military also taught me that I could kill 01:38:00another human being if I had to, to protect my family or myself. Okay? I have not but I can. And having that kind of knowledge means I can decide not to, as well. Okay? And that's a good piece of knowledge to have because so many people don't know what they'd do in a situation. I did--in a house that I lived in on 28th Street, a guy broke in and we came home, and the front door was open. And I had a 3030 gun that my father had, a rifle, and I get very cold when I'm in a situation like that. He came down and I had the rifle pointed at him I said, "You have a choice. You can get down on your knees, cross your legs, put your hands behind your head, or I'll shoot you." "You ain't going to shoot me." "Yes I am." He did it and I stood there and held him until the police 01:39:00came. I get very cold in emergency situations or whatever. Everything shuts--any emotion shuts down in me. And that's a good quality, because you don't--it doesn't get in the way. And the army taught me that it's okay to have fear, but courage is controlling with and acknowledging and dealing with fear. So I can truthfully say that at this point in time I fear no man, no God, no woman. The only thing I fear is a gun pointed at me, which is a good thing to fear. But I don't--I've been threatened before. I've been shot at before. I had 01:40:00somebody try to kill me with an ice pick back in the day. The Nazis loved to call me up and threaten to eviscerate me and stuff like that. I'm still standing. And I think that's a good enough answer to all of that.
HALASKA: Is there anything else that you would like to add to this interviewthat you would like anyone listening to it to know?
BEN-SHALOM: I wish the military would get its act together in terms of sexualharassment and sexual assault. I wish the president would appoint me and put me in charge, because it would stop yesterday. I wish that we'd get out of Afghanistan because it's a stupid war. And I wish that serving one's country, although it's respected in certain circles, it is not always 01:41:00respected. I also wish that veterans could get better care from the VA. They signed a blank check to this country and were willing to put it all on the line even as was I, and they aren't getting what they deserve. And money is being taken away from programs to build some stupid wall down on our southern borders. It's wrong. Nonetheless, for everything that's wrong in this country, it's still a fairly decent place to live. It's a lot better than Saudi Arabia or Iran or Iraq or communist China. And I wish that--we have two sisters who just became generals which I--hoorah, you go. And I think we need to deal--to 01:42:00speak more about military women and their achievements and what they've done. And that's kind of a mishmash, but it's like, there's a lot of talent in this country. And I mean, fifty-one percent of us are women, and we hold up half the sky and I just wish women got more, and especially military women got more credit than they do.
HALASKA: All right. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
BEN-SHALOM: No. No, I don't think so.
HALASKA: Well, thank you very much.
BEN-SHALOM: My pleasure, ma'am.