“Jo – Jo” Shipman
by Jake Block
When I called for a 20,000 pound tie-down chain set from the front of the plane, it would only be a few seconds before I would hear the heavy footsteps and rattling metal of “Jo -Jo” Shipman hurrying down the length of the C-5A cargo bay, dragging two heavy duty chains. Always able to anticipate my needs, “Jo-Jo” also brought two ratchet devices, used to anchor the chains to the aircraft cargo floor, attached to the chains and ready to go.
“Chain drop!” “Jo – Jo” called out as they clattered loudly down beside me as I lay on my back under the front axle of a deuce-and-a-half that was in the forward position. It was a damned heavy truck, weighing 13,030 pounds and was a bitch to tie down, so it didn’t move in flight. I was applying the last of the tie down chains and devices, and then “Chalk 27” (the 27th plane in the mission group) would be ready to go. Load complete. Cross the chains at 60°, attach the ratchets to the floor grommets, spin the ratchets tight and get off the plane. End of shift.
I slapped “Jo-Jo” on the back as we headed for the forward stairs. “Good work, “Jo-Jo”! You might just make it after all.” “Jo-Jo” grinned and chuckled, “Ain’t no big thing, Sarge.”
I knew hundreds of troops during my 20 years. Not all were as good as “Jo-Jo” Shipman, but they were all generally hard workers, working a hard job. We’d always called J.J. Shipman “Jo-Jo.” Nobody ever really questioned why… it just was… we all had nicknames from time to time that stuck with us from unit to unit, base to base, and even just crew to crew. Hell, at one time my nickname was “Ratspit,” as in “mean as ratspit.”
“Jo-Jo” was a valuable member of my crew and I was surprised when I got to work one morning and there, in my in-basket was a notice from my supervisor that simply said, “Airman J.J. Shipman” is hereby relieved of duty and is in custody pending immediate discharge. This meant that this was to be a “sundown discharge.” The base commander had terminated someone’s enlistment and wanted them off of the base and returned to civilian status by the end of the day. As crew supervisor, it was up to me to make that happen. I went into my supervisor’s office and asked what the hell had happened.
Chief Master Sergeant Jennings looked up from his paperwork and said, “Shipman’s out; was apprehended last night on base and was charged with being a homosexual. Shipman apparently made a pass at an SP (Security Policeman) in civilian clothing at the Airman’s Club, and was taken in, pled guilty and the Base Commander wants Shipman gone TODAY.” He took a drink of coffee and then looked me square in the eye and asked, “Did you know Shipman was a homo?”
Now, only a fool would answer that question to the affirmative, because in the early 1980s, homosexuality was a discharge offense, and knowing someone was a homosexual and not reporting it would get you a one way pass out the gate, right behind them. I just shook my head “no” and signed my name on the “out” board. Chief Jennings threw me “Jo-Jo’s” car keys and told me to drive Shipman home, but call the office before I did and they would send a car to pick me up.
So, from that point on, it was a matter of fitting the processing that normally took a couple of days into one, making sure that my troop was divested of all military equipment, identification and privileges and returned to civilian status with a “less than honorable discharge.” I liked Shipman, but it was something that I had to do, even though it was well known that I didn’t care what you did in your bedroom, or with whom you did it. Was I surprised that Jo -Jo Shipman was gay? Not at all. Most of us knew — or suspected — who on base was gay, but so long as a troop did their job and didn’t cause us any grief, it wasn’t that important to those of us on the day-to-day working level of operations. “Jo-Jo” Shipman was the best woman I had ever had on my crew.
And you know, truth be told, aside from some of the more hardcore lifers and the homophobic element that you could find in pretty much any organization back then, most of the working NCOs that I knew felt the same. Of course, people could come up with all kinds of reasons why “them queers would ruin the military,” most of which were ignorant on the face of it all.
“You know homosexuals are always on the make and looking to hit on other men (I don’t think I ever heard an argument about lesbians) during duty hours.” This argument made no sense, because heterosexual men were pretty much always on the make and looking to hit on anything in a skirt during duty hours, off hours too.
“I wouldn’t want a homosexual in a foxhole with me!” This made no sense for two reasons. First, we were in the Air Force, and in all of my time in the Air Force, other than pulling bunker guard in Vietnam, neither I nor anyone I ever knew had been in a foxhole alone, let alone with any one else. And secondly, if you are in a foxhole, behind a wall, or anywhere else under fire, worrying about having someone propositioning you for sex would be very low on your worry list. My only concern would be getting my ass and my troops the hell out of there alive.
But then came “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” and eventually a lifting of the ban against homosexuals in the military on a test basis. For the first time in the history of the United States, patriots could serve in the military and be gay, so long as they didn’t show it, or say that they were gay. For all of the predictions of gloom and doom that had preceded the event, very little disruption was noted. The military of the United States was too professional and, thanks to the endless wars that our government had committed us to, too damned busy to let it bother us!
Times changed in the military, and we were used to it. Up until the end of WWII, black and white soldiers, and sailors had different experiences within the military. We saw blacks and whites begin to intermarry. Then we saw women being integrated into career fields that had previously been restricted to men. The official acceptance of LGBTQ members is simply another change that needed to be made.
Now, here in America, after a long, hard fight, you can marry pretty much anyone you want to and while there are certainly those who don’t approve of it, for whatever reason, it’s the law of the land. It’s a damned shame that patriots like “Jo – Jo” Shipman, and thousands of others were told “You’re kind isn’t good enough to fight,” when they have been fighting since Valley Forge, and have died for their country in far off battle fields around the world since we became a sovereign nation with a military to enforce our will and national policy. Millions more civilians have fought, been discriminated against, refused the same basic rights that are granted to others in whatever nation they reside.
Think about the things that really matter in this world, and the idea of two men or two women enjoying each other sexually should be pretty close to the bottom of the list. There are those who will say, “I don’t want them hitting on ME.” Ok. Now, the chances of someone who is gay “hitting” on an obviously “straight” person are always there, but very low. Just as a heterosexual person isn’t rushing to gay bars to troll for a lover, those who are gay aren’t going to the local Joe’s Bar to see how many straights they can snatch from the herd to have their way with. And what if someone gay or bisexual DID hit on you? Last time I tried the word, “No” still worked. And yes, I have been asked by another man if I was interested, and yes, he took no for an answer. But even if I HAD accepted his offer, it would be nobody’s business but mine, the female(s) I was involved with and the other man’s.
Now, if asked and you refused the offer of sex with some one of the same sex, and they continued to pursue you, well… then you can be as forceful as you need to be with your refusal, just as you would with someone of the opposite sex trying to manipulate you for sex. It’s not going to be a major problem in your life in either situation, unless you let it, or the other person violates you in an act of rape, in which case, all bets are off. Get them any way you can… criminally, civilly or, if worse comes to worse, Lex Talionis is always an option.
I’ve pretty much lived by LaVey’s interpretation of “the Golden Rule,” being, “Do unto others AS they do unto you.” And in most of life, “Jake’s Wallet Test” is my go-to philosophy. If something is happening that I don’t approve of, and I don’t have to be involved in, I simply look into my wallet and see if there is any money missing. If not, it’s just not that important. When it affects me directly, I can take actions to control the situation. But until that time, I’ll just quote “Jo – Jo” Shipman.
“Ain’t no big thing, Sarge.”