Many Grand Strand veterans OK with allowing gays to serve openly

The ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military will end Tuesday, as revised Defense Department regulations will take effect one minute after midnight.

Senior Defense Department officials have said they're prepared for the official repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy .

President Barack Obama signed the law last December and in July, he certified that lifting the ban will not diminish the military's ability to fight.

A number of Grand Strand military veterans told NewsChannel 15 they're in favor of the ban being lifted, saying society has changed and the time has come to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly.

"It doesn't matter what their preferences are, how they feel. As long as they do their job, that's all that matters," said Lou Mascherino, an Army veteran who served from 1975 to 1978.

Mascherino owns the Veteran's Caf and Grille in Myrtle Beach , a popular lunch spot for local veterans. As vets streamed in over the noon hour Monday, they recalled how gays were treated in the service during earlier eras.

Charlie Vlach of Surfside Beach was a career airman, serving on Air Force bases around the world including Myrtle Beach, from 1963 to 1989. He agrees with Mascherino that as long as gay service members successfully perform their duties, there shouldn't be a problem. "I did my job. If they do their job the way it's supposed to be done, I think they'll be all right," Vlach said.

At the same time, Vlach believes there may be some friction between gay and straight service members in the early stages of the law's implementation, and the possibility of morale issues within units. "We've had problems with the entrance of minorities and even women. They're putting women in combat now, so it's an ongoing situation. It's the modernization of the armed forces."

Sammie Johnson, who is both African American and female, knows what it's like to be a trend setter in the military. She served in the Air Force from 1970 to the late '80's and was among the first black female recruiters in her unit. Johnson said she served with others whom she knew to be gay and she didn't have a problem with it, but today, she's concerned about how gay service members will fit in.

"I just feel in today's world, and with the new generation, I think we will have some problems. I just don't think they can handle it, I don't think they'll understand," Johnson said.

Everything in the military is done in close quarters, including taking showers, Johnson said, and she's concerned that gays might be treated differently. "I'm just saying that there will be some issues. It's not gonna be as smooth as everybody wants or thinks it might be."

Still, Johnson believes that over time, the atmosphere will change and allowing gays to serve openly will be readily accepted. She said her son, who's now serving in the Army, is among those who won't have a problem with it. "We strive very hard to teach him to accept people for who they are, no matter what."

Bob Edwards of Myrtle Beach, who served in the Navy in the early '60's, said there were probably men he served with who were gay, though no one else knew it at the time. Today, he's surprised the law allowing them to serve openly was not changed sooner. "That's something I don't understand. It has taken quite a bit of time."

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.