How we met: ‘It was illegal to be gay in the military, so it was very hard for us’

After finishing high school in 1983, Herb couldn’t afford the college education he had dreamed of. Instead, he joined the US air force, because they offered an educational assistance programme to help with costs. “I also thought it would be good to get some discipline and direction,” says Herb.

Stationed at a base in Michigan, he started work in the mailroom. The year after, he began to get to know Scott, who had also joined the air force after leaving school. “My cousin had talked me into it,” says Scott. As an administrative clerk, Scott regularly found himself in the mailroom, chatting to Herb.

“He had a very curious, intellectual aspect about him,” says Herb. “We had lots of interests in common and both felt different to our colleagues. We were more into culture and we were quite bookish. He also laughed at all my jokes.”

A friendship blossomed between them, but it wasn’t until August 1984, when they became roommates, that their relationship became romantic. While Scott had already been exploring his sexuality, Herb had never considered a same-sex relationship. “Scott shared with me his sexual orientation. At first, I didn’t think that was of interest to me, but as our friendship grew I found there was an intimacy between us. Even now, I’m not sure I identify as gay, as Scott’s the only man I’ve ever had feelings for. It’s more about the person than the gender for me.”

Herb (left) and Scott in June 1985, visiting Herb’s father’s home in Florida
Herb (left) and Scott in June 1985, visiting Herb’s father’s home in Florida.

Keen to explore their connection, the two men began dating in secret. “It was the time when Aids was running rampant. There was lots of homophobia and it was illegal to be gay in the military, so it was very hard,” says Scott. Although they tried not to draw attention to themselves, a colleague discovered their relationship and reported them. “They found affectionate cards that Scott had sent to me,” says Herb. “With that information, they felt they could search Scott’s room. They didn’t find enough evidence on me, but they found enough to prove that Scott had been engaging in homosexual behaviour, so they tried to oust him from the service.”

After a long, stressful inquiry, Scott was able to complete his service and retain the education subsidy. “We supported each other through the five-month investigation,” says Scott. “I often look back and realise those should have been five of the worst months of my life, but they were some of the best, because it brought us so close together.”

Scott was reassigned to North Carolina, while Herb went to Japan. They tried to keep in touch for a year, before going their separate ways in 1987. “I hadn’t fully explored my sexuality and I still wanted to explore heterosexuality,” says Herb.

After completing his service and leaving the military, Scott went to Indiana to study, later moving to Oak Park, Illinois, where he still lives, for a job with the US government. Herb also gained a degree, before getting married and having a son. He and his wife split up in 2008 and he moved to Milwaukee in Wisconsin. He now works as a fundraiser for non-profit organisations.

The pair spoke occasionally over the years. Then, in 2013, when Herb’s father died, Scott offered to help him trace his family tree. “I’d got into genealogy,” he says. “We communicated lots more than in previous years.” But it wasn’t until after the pandemic that the spark was reignited between them.

“I was driving near where he lives in 2022 and asked if we could meet up,” says Herb. “He told me he’d still have feelings for me and wasn’t sure if it would be difficult.” Realising he also missed the intimacy they had shared all those years earlier, Herb suggested they get to know each other again. Over the next few months, their relationship evolved romantically.

In June that year, Scott had a stroke. “I went down to take care of him and we started getting into healthy eating together. Now, we go into thrift stores a lot, find nice Mediterranean cooking books and cook together,” says Herb. “At the moment, we live together on weekends and we are starting to plan what our future might look like. I love how attentive he is and how he considers small things that might affect me.”

Scott feels closer to his partner than he ever has. “I always sensed this level of caring that was different from other relationships I had, even 39 years ago. I found him very attractive in 1984 – and I still do.”