Wally Jordan: Fighting and Writing for a Better Tomorrow

The wartime personal letters of Wally Jordan, a gay man from Rhinelander who fought in WWII, document the hopes, fears, and experiences of an LGBTQ+ soldier.

Wally Jordan: Fighting and Writing for a Better Tomorrow Image is of WWII soldier in uniform with a letter in the foreground.
Image: Soldiers standing in attention. Text: Many gay men and lesbians serving in WWII had left their hometowns for the first time, and finally found other LGBTQ+ people to socialize with. But homosexuals were banned from serving in the military, so if they were found out, they were often dishonorably discharged and received no G.I. or veteran’s benefits.
Image: A portrait of Wally in uniform. Text: Wally Jordan, from Rhinelander, Wisconsin, served in the military domestically and then overseas. He was an indiscreet letter writer to other gay men and described many gay activities taking place in the army.
Image: Jim in front of National Gay Archives. Text: One of Wally’s correspondents, Jim Kepner, saved copies of their letters and established some of the first gay and lesbian archives. Jim would go on to be one of the early activists with ONE Magazine, based in Los Angeles. Over 40 original copies of their letters are preserved in the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California.
Image: Weird Tales magazine cover. Text: Wally wrote his first letter to Jim from his military assignment in Florence, Arizona, on February 28, 1943, based on a pen pal fan ad in a science fiction magazine.
Image of handwritten letter states: Well, friend, these are the facts. My theory, “Friendship is the sweetest fruit a soul can taste is my byword.” You can make your decision easily enough. I hope this letter finds mutual feelings. Very Sincerely Your Friend, Wally Jordan. Text: In their first few letters, Wally and Jim dropped hints for each other that they were both gay men. They emphasized how single they were, elevated the importance of male companionship and mentioned books by authors with notably gay subtext, such as Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman.
Image: Dear Wally, March 22, 1943 “So at last it is out in the open. I wondered how long we would continue to beat around the bush. Of course, my last letter, while not right out in the open, was far from subtle. This is somewhat of a new experience for me, and I have enjoyed it immensely, from your first letter. Hope that’ll last.” Text: By their third letters, they were finally bold enough to confirm each other’s suspicions.
Image: Well, he was horribly handsome, and possessed a figure like a young greek god of love — “Apollo” — so you can imagine the effort I expended in trying to be only normally eager. Text: Jim was only 19 at the time, and more sexually inexperienced. Wally was 23 and shares several vivid experiences that he has had as a gay man, including his upbringing in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, on a trip to Montreal and during his military service in Arizona.
Image: Wally looking lonely in a barracks. Text: Wally’s correspondence with Jim not only gives us insight into how joyous and liberating it was for gay men to find one another through their letters and their military service, but how isolating it was to live in secret. After Wally describes having a crush on a sergeant, in a letter he wrote in June of 1943, he is reassigned.
Image of Letter: “I know that eventually we will hold a respected, possibly envied place in the world … when we have a strong enough force of us, we will hold a conference at some point in the country and there island then declare our rights.” Text: Throughout his letters to Jim, Wally maintains that his homosexuality is not something he can change. He writes to Jim about his dreams of politically organizing gay men after the war into the “Sons of Hamidy” to demand their rights.
Image of letter: My cousin joined the Army to fight and die, if necessary, for our Free Country. But he’s fighting more for freedom of the Middle-Sex* than anything else. His idea is that if we lose the war the middle-sex will be lost too, along with everything else. Text: In some of his letters, Wally refers to his cousin who is also a gay man in the military. He uses the phrase “Middle-Sex” as a term for gay men.
Image: Anzio landing, ducks. Text: In 1943 Wally shipped out of Arizona with his unit to North Africa, which the Allies had invaded in November 1942. He later fought in Italy and participated in the brutal Anzio landings in which he explained, “all hell broke loose.” “I have Seen Action," he wrote, “and Know well the comfort of a fox hole (even a wet one) when under fire or bombing.”
Image of letter: I am asking myself “what is happiness” because I have realized today that I still do know what it is. I will stress, however, the fact that I have gone out of my way to find it. These are the flimsy things I’ve tried to find it in: A. School studies; B. Extracurricular education; C. Romance; D. Writing, etc. Text: In February 1944, he was in the hospital. Unable to socialize with other gay men, he admitted to being “lonesome as hell,” and even wrote a poem titled “Lonely.”
Text: In June 1944, Wally wrote to Jim from a North Carolina hospital about having gone before two medical boards. Image of letter: “They both decided that I should get home as quickly as possible, and under a medical diagnosis—because my facts would only cause red tape & possible inconvenience to my well-being if I was listed in the true diagnosis. In fact one of my doctors, a major, young, handsome, and mad as a hatter, covered up all traces for me before he sent me back here to the States.” Text: Wally and Jim often used the term “mad” to mean “gay” in their letters. Despite the recommendation of the boards, Wally tells Jim he was still nervous he might get a dishonorable discharge.
Image: Hodag with bull horns, huge fangs and thick curved spines down its back. Text: In late 1944, Wally returned to the Northwoods and came out to his family. Instead of a united gay revolution that he once dreamed of, his postwar life was mostly lived quietly, but true to himself. Among his gay friends across the country, he was known as “Hodag Boy,” after the Northwoods mythical creature.
It seems the Sons of Hamidy were more of an escapist fantasy for Wally than a sincere ambition. Regardless, they never gained the momentum that he dreamed of. He was ahead of his time. R. Richard Wagner’s interpretation, from his book We’ve Been Here All Along, the source material for much of this zine, is maybe the most poignant: “Perhaps a vision of a national organization for homosexuals in this period had to start with science fiction fans like Jordan and Kepner, who were adept at imagining a future very different from their present.”