Helen Grace James grew up in Pennsylvania and enlisted in the Air Force in 1952, and had a fine service record. She was promoted to Airman 2nd Class.
But when she was stationed at Roslyn Air Force Base on Long Island, Airman James came under investigation by the Office of Special Investigation. One night in the winter of 1955,during The Lavender Scare she sat with a friend in her car to eat sandwiches when an officer shined a blinding light into her eyes and took her into custody. She was later interrogated for hours. Investigators told Helen Grace James that if she didn’t sign a statement they put in front of her, they would tell her family she was gay.
Helen Grace James signed. She was discharged as “undesirable.”
Now60 years later Helen Grace James has,received her honorable discharge this week after decades of fighting the government for recognition.
“I’m still trying to process it,” she told NBC. “It was both joy and shock. It was really true. It was really going to be an ‘honorable discharge. The Air Force recognizes me as a full person in the military,” she said, having done “my job helping to take care of the country I love.”