Marine Sgt. Brandon Morgan lived in Oakdale, California as a self-described “fanatical Christian.” He joined the Marines as a distraction from his mundane life as a deli clerk, and also because he felt he wanted to be a voice for God in the armed services. He describes his marital situation as a big mistake that was based on his faith and beliefs, mistaking a friendship for love, which it turned out not to be. He’d later say that it took a lot of courage to finally face who he was and to admit to himself that he was a gay man.
After joining the Marines on April 1st of 2007, he was based at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. There, he met a Windward Oahu artist who worked on the base named Dalan Wells and who helped him through the emotions involved with the divorce. Sgt. Morgan related later, “I honestly knew I was in love with him from the first moment I met him.”
Trouble began brewing for the two star-crossed men almost immediately. When Brandon asked Dalan out, Dalan said no and had some fairly good reasons, the first of which was their age difference – Sgt. Morgan is now 25 and Wells is 38. Also with the ax over Brandon’s neck back in 2007 with the “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” (DADT) gay witch hunts of the Bush era, Wells wasn’t willing to risk ruining the marine’s budding military career. With that much discouragement, neither completely told each other just how they felt, and they began a four-year close friendship instead that went no further.
Morgan would go on to tell an interviewer recently that, tragically, that meant that neither actually knew just how much in love each was with the other.
Brandon was already a month into his third deployment to Afghanistan when DADT was repealed in September of 2011. He was proudly serving his country with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, “The Lucky Red Lions.” They were the company that lost six fellow marines to a crash in Helmand Province just last January.
With the restrictions abolished by President Obama, and the backing of the Pentagon, Sgt. Morgan began coming out of the closet to his fellow marines serving at Camp Leatherneck and was surprised to discover that the very Marines who supposedly had resisted the most concerning gays in the military accepted him as an equal soldier and a trusted friend. He was quoted as saying later, “I was a little worried, to be honest. I was afraid that some people’s views of me might change. But that was just my own personal misgiving, a fear I had to overcome. I should have had more faith in my Marines than that. I’m not always right, and I was very glad I was wrong about that.”
With all of his buddies looking forward to going home to loved ones after their third six-month deployment, Brandon began feeling alone and lonely because he had no one to go home to. He wrote on Facebook about longing for a special someone waiting at the airport for him, which he’d missed the first two returns from Afghanistan. Many friends volunteered, but he was hoping for something more, and then Dalan responded. What followed during that most recent deployment were long, detailed, and daily emails between them. Sgt. Morgan claimed to have read each message hundreds of times a day. Eventually they broke down, told each other just how they’d felt all along, and ultimately used the one word that both needed… love.
After over four long years of hiding his emotions for the sake of staying in the Marines, the lonesome soldier began fantasizing about what he later described as “an eternity kiss.”
The reason for the emotional urgency in both men was that in the entire time they’d known and separately loved each other, they’d never kissed.
The months dwindled to days and suddenly February 22nd was upon them…
Dalan almost didn’t make it to the hangar in time because of a last-minute stop at a Safeway to buy a fragrant pikake-and-carnation welcoming lei for Morgan’s neck. Meanwhile Brandon pondered the logistics of their reunion; after all, he describes his boyfriend as his giant, at 6 foot 6 inches, and Sgt. Morgan was only 5 foot 11 inches tall.
Morgan would later describe the scene, relating how their legs started shaking and hands going numb as he exited the plane and began searching the hangar for his beau’s face. At that point he didn’t even care who was around, or who witnessed it. His sole objective was to show Dalan how much he’d missed him. He spotted Wells and began running, and solved the height difference by leaping into his man’s arms in a full-body hug and planting a smooch on his boyfriend’s lips – naysayers and haters be damned. Not one of the officers and visitors around them reacted negatively.
Fortunately Dave Lewis was there to capture the moment. Morgan later told an interviewer, “With all that was going on, we didn’t even know he was there taking pictures. The world went away for a few minutes.” He also said that had it not been for DADT being repealed and the support and encouragement of his brother Marines, that first greeting would have been a simple emotionless handshake. Lewis’ shot was perfectly framed with a giant American Flag as the backdrop.
Did I mention that this was the occasion of the couple’s very first kiss after the necessity of hiding their feelings from each other for four years?
The photo was first posted on Facebook last Saturday, then on pages supporting military servicemen, and within days was plastered on newspapers and websites around the world. As of this writing the photo has gotten tens of thousands of “likes,” shares, and as many overwhelmingly positive comments.
With all that notoriety and fame, Sgt. Morgan became worried about reactions from his superiors and his family. He was quoted as saying, “All my superiors are happy for me that I finally have a love, someone to be with, that I’m not always hanging out at the single Marine center on the weekend. I believe that the general consensus was that the military didn’t want this, but the people who say that can’t really speak on the behalf of my Marines. My Marines, my family, have welcomed me, they’ve been very happy for me. We’re a family. They care for me the way they always have.” One went so far in a press release as to assert that it was just a typical homecoming picture.
This soothed fears of reprisals due to public displays of affection while in uniform, but it can be said that in this day and age (despite Rick Santorum’s probable reaction – he seems to be more obsessed with gays than even I am) the image is no more offensive than that of the uniformed sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square after World War II. In fact I might go further to assert that this photo may replace that iconic image as the most famous of military kisses!
This occurred at a private homecoming event, after all, and PDAs were not only expected but encouraged. Sgt. Morgan has asserted that had it been another type of gathering he would have followed the usual military protocol like everyone else concerning public displays of affection.
Morgan said, “My friend Sgt. Thomas Stivers, he came home and his picture was in the Hawaii Marine [base newspaper] of him kissing his wife and holding his newborn baby that was just born a few days ago. His picture is no different than mine. It is a homecoming picture. Gay, straight, lesbian – no matter who you are, love is love.”
Did I mention this was their first kiss?
As for his family’s reaction, he said, “My mom’s happy that I’m finally happy, my parents are ecstatic. Somebody called my mother and said ‘what did you do to raise your son so wrong?’ I can only hope no one does anything drastic or too crazy but I am not afraid. I lived my whole life in fear, I don’t fear them anymore.”
In a later interview his mother reacted to that phone call after having had time to think about all the publicity. “You got people out there that are so full of hatred… That’s what scares me and my husband the most is we don’t want him to get hurt because of all this. People have the right to say what they want,” she said. She just wants them to think about what they say. “I think he’s compassionate, loving and caring and any mother would be happy to have a son like that.”
Just two short years ago hysterical old military men out of step with today’s generation joined forces with self-righteous politicians catering to the radical right-wing’s political interests, and foretold loudly that by today’s date, there would be hundreds of scandalous reports of homosexual rapes in barracks showers. Dire predictions swirled through the halls of Congress that recruiters would find it impossible to attract enough red-blooded and wholesome Americans to join the service, leaving our country vulnerable. Allowing gays in the military elicited ridiculous fears of fags dangerously distracting soldiers in the heat of battle causing unnecessary casualties.
In a way it was an insult to the men of our armed services that images were being created of big strong soldiers being reduced to helpless and defenseless virgins while some queer beast had his way with them. Then of course there were (and still are) the assertions that it had to be just another “liberal” plot to ban god-fearing religion from society.
Thank Jesus they were wrong.
…By the way, Sergeant Brandon Morgan re-enlisted in the Marine Corps last October and still has about three and a half years of risking his life to serve his country overseas with honor and courage. If that’s not a hero, then I don’t know what one is.
Our hearts and prayers go with you.
Semper Fi Marine and Oo-RAH!