Boy oh boy, after this week is it ever time for a feel-good news story. Here’s one from the "Weddings" section of the New York Times-- the section usually filled with debutantes, Ivanka/Jared clones, and trust-fund twenty-somethings.
First active duty, same-sex wedding in the chapel at West Point.
Here’s hoping that such “firsts” become rarer as time goes by, and that weddings like this are no longer news.
For Love of Country, and Each Other
Apache helicopters — the kind of aerial weaponry immortalized in Hollywood tough-guy films such as “Rambo” and “Black Hawk Down” — are among the Army’s most revered killing machines, and those who fly them across enemy skies “have an attack mentality,” said Capt. Daniel Hall, a 30-year-old Apache helicopter pilot based at Fort Bliss, in Texas.
“That attack mind-set is shared by the entire Apache community,” Captain Hall said. “It’s a real macho thing.”
As he spoke, Captain Hall was flanked by Capt. Vincent Franchino, a 26-year-old fellow Apache pilot who is also stationed at Fort Bliss, where they are both a part of another community: the group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender soldiers who serve there.
“It’s been a bit of a bumpy road for us,” said Captain Franchino, who married Captain Hall on Jan. 13 in the Cadet Chapel at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., where they are believed to be the first active-duty, same-sex couple to exchange vows at the legendary Army post.
The Rev. Dawn Sangrey, a Unitarian Universalist minister, performed the ceremony before 150 guests, many in Army service uniforms.
The couple, beaming in their own immaculately pressed blue mess uniforms, the most formal threads in the Army’s wardrobe, were celebrated by a saber-arch salute as they departed the chapel.
The emotions and romantic feelings felt by Captains Hall and Franchino, as well as scores of others from the L.G.B.T. military community, were hamstrung by “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy that went into effect in October 1993 under President Bill Clinton; it forbade any homosexual or bisexual member of the military from disclosing his or her sexual orientation or from speaking about any homosexual relationships, including marriages.
“Through mutual friends at West Point, we had each learned the other was gay, and though we were attracted to one another, we couldn’t say or do anything about it,” said Captain Hall, who grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn., the only son of Kyle Hall, a middle school mathematics teacher, and Stephen Hall, the vice president for nylon polymer strategic development at Koch Industries in Wichita, Kan., where his parents now live.
“It’s really frustrating when two people have feelings for each other but are not allowed to act on them,” Captain Hall added. “We were serving under a policy that was telling all of us — perfectly capable soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines — to lie about ourselves.”
Captain Franchino said that lying was much better than the alternative.
“We couldn’t tell the truth for fear of what would happen to us,” he said. “So we put it in our minds that we were never going to say we were gay, we were never going to get made fun of, and we were certainly never going to get kicked out of the Army.”
The first time they met was on a Friday afternoon at West Point in August 2009.
Captain Franchino was taking part in an annual tradition during Ring Weekend in which freshmen (known as plebes) get a chance to retaliate against their often overbearing senior cadets (known as firsties) by doing all they can to delay the departure of those seniors, who are trying to hurry home after the ceremony to spend a weekend with their families.
It took Captain Hall, swarmed by plebes, a full hour to cross the final 100 yards to his room. When he got there, he had no idea that four more plebes were waiting patiently to jump out of hiding spots in the room in an effort to scare him and further delay his weekend. After the first three plebes had departed, Captain Hall assumed he was alone, but as he prepared to leave, he was ambushed by Captain Franchino, who had been hiding under the bed.
“When I came out from under the bed, Dan was so startled, he jumped over his desk,” Captain Franchino said, laughing.
Captain Hall said he remembered thinking, “This guy has a lot of guts, and he’s kind of cute too.”
They went their separate ways, though neither veered too far from the other’s line of vision. In January 2010, they selected each other as a partner in a mentorship program that allowed seniors to offer instruction to freshmen who were following similar career paths.
By April of that year, it was clear to their fellow cadets that a spark had been ignited, but under the rules, there could be no flame.
“You could tell that there was this chemistry, this unspoken communication between them,” said Capt. Owen Waits, a close friend to both who was a senior cadet at that time and later married Captain Hall’s sister, Lauren.
“It was kind of strange because you knew that there was this whole aspect of their feelings and personalities that were being suppressed,” Captain Waits said. “But that’s just the way it was.”
But in September 2011, it was that way no longer. Congress repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and Captains Hall and Franchino were soon celebrating their new sense of freedom.
“Vinny came out with a big splash to everyone on Facebook, posting all of these pictures of himself and Dan kissing and hugging, and I thought it was so brave that he did that,” said Captain Franchino’s uncle, Charlie Franchino, of Brooklyn, who is also in a same-sex marriage and was often the shoulder that his nephew leaned on when struggling to keep his sexuality a secret.
Mr. Franchino said he also stepped in to “help ease the shock that was initially felt by Vinny’s parents.”
“My brother’s a cop, he’s a tough guy, and so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for him and his wife to handle this news,” Mr. Franchino said. “But whatever initial shock they had, they got over it quickly and immediately embraced Dan.”
That evidence was on display during the couple’s reception at the elegant Skylands Manor in Ringwood, N.J., a 44-room Tudor revival mansion perched high in the heavily wooded Ramapo Mountains along a stretch of long and winding country roads snaking through Ringwood State Park.
“Speaking from my heart, I love Dan,” Holly Franchino said during the cocktail hour.
Her husband, Robert Franchino, added of their new son-in-law: “They are two peas in a pod.”
“You can see the chemistry between them,” he added. “Without a doubt, Vinny is absolutely a happier person today than he was before he met Dan.”
TCredit Danny Kim for The New York Times
The relationship has not always been so accepted or in tune, including beginning with their first date in February 2012 in Washington.
“That’s where some guy called us both fa*gots,” Captain Franchino said.
But they had a bigger problem to deal with, as Captain Hall, then in flight school at Fort Rucker, in Alabama, learned he was being deployed to South Korea, along with his Boeing AH-64 Apache, a four-blade, twin-turboshaft attack helicopter equipped with a 30-millimeter M230 chain gun, as well as Hellfire missiles and Hydra Rocket Pods.
Upon hearing the news, Captain Franchino was not feeling quite as macho as Captain Hall. Just five months removed from “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the young soldier was on edge.
“I was so worried about Dan, it was really nerve-racking,” Captain Franchino recalled. “At the time, there was just too much pressure involved, we were both very nervous about the long-distance thing, so we both thought it was best to just step away.”
They began dating other people but had a change of heart and got back together in November of that year.
Three years later, their relationship was on more solid ground, so Captain Franchino was in a better place emotionally to hear the news that Captain Hall was being deployed to Kuwait.
A year after that, Captain Hall was flying his Apache above war-torn Iraq.
“We’ve just grown accustomed to being apart at times,” said Captain Franchino, who spent all of 2017 deployed in Germany and several countries in Eastern Europe. “It’s a part of who we are, a part of what we do, so we simply accept it.”
Captain Hall, who said he plans on “leaving the Army after spring,” also said that his military stint, especially the time he spent in the cockpits of Apache helicopters, “has brought a lot of excitement to my life, and so has Vinny.”
But when pressed, Captain Hall refused to say which of the two has brought him more excitement.
“Don’t ask,” he said with a wink and a smile. “I won’t tell.”