This is the first in a series of articles by NUVO photographer Mark A. Lee, focusing on Hoosiers who will be directly impacted by HJR-3 if it passes, and our allies. Mark is a lifelong Hoosier, and an advocate for equality for ALL Hoosiers!
Private First Class (PFC) Jack Wilson served his country in the Korean War from 1950 till August of '51, when he was wounded during a sniper attack. His companion of 58 years, Marvin Lowener, fought for an even longer amount of time during World War II. Together, they fought for many of the freedoms that most of us take for granted. They were in their own right, nothing short of American Heroes. And yet, here in the State of Indiana, there are those who are fighting to make the two of them nothing more than second class citizens in the eyes of the law.
PFC Wilson was the youngest of 5, and born on May 2, 1928 in the city of Indianapolis. His biological father left him and his siblings when he was one year old, and his mother remarried when he was five. He ended up seeing his biological father twice in later years. The first during his grandmother's funeral. And the second when he was 9 or 10, and he and his older brother ventured off to see him. "That was when we had streetcars here in Indianapolis. We got on a streetcar, and we walked for several blocks on Rockville Road. And when we got to his house, he was on the porch... and he told my brother that he was welcome, but I wasn't. And my brother said, 'Well if he's not welcome, neither am I'. So we turned around, and walked back to the streetcar, and went home. And I have never seen him again in my whole life."
Wilson's stepfather raised him and his siblings, and Jack always considered him to be his father. When Jack was 14, he came out to his parents. His stepfather at the time worked as a policeman at Indiana University Medical Center. It was 1942, and he was one of the guards there. At the time Jack came out to his parents, his step father said, "Well, we knew all the time, but we were just waiting for you to tell us" And in Jack's words, "from that point on, I had a great life."
Wilson joined the army in 1950, and went thru basic training in Kentucky, where he was made company clerk. On the evening of his 23rd birthday, May 2, 1951, he shipped off from San Francisco to Korea. As company clerk, he never carried a rifle. He had a side arm, but never had hand to hand combat. "Anybody that says, that they're not scared, are just absolutely lying. It's a life that you've never experienced, you don't want to experience. I've seen bodies, and pictures still in my mind, will never leave my mind." He went on to say that one time he was building a pier so the ships could unload, and "all of a sudden we looked down, and here was a torso. Couldn't tell if it was man, woman, American, or what. It had no head, no arms, no legs. Just the body. We had to fish that thing out of the water, and then send it back to have it examined, find out who it was. You see things like that, and it's always in your mind. I still picture that floating there." It's an image that he still can't shake over 60 years later.
On August 15, 1951, the engineers were working on rebuilding a water reservoir, when they were attacked by snipers. Neither Wilson nor the commander had a rifle, so they both went underground to get away from the sniper. "Unbeknownst to me, I was leaning against a wall that they set timers on, and the wall exploded." He lost several teeth, and the hearing in his right ear. "I was in the MASH Unit for 2 weeks, and then they sent me to the 382nd army hospital in Japan, and I was there for 5 1/2 months."
After his stay in Japan, he was sent to a hospital in Wisconsin where he spent the rest of his time. The week before April 12, he went to a lounge in Lacrosse, Wisc., with one of the male nurses from the hospital, and it was there that he first laid eyes on Marvin. He did not speak with Marvin at the time, but made sure that Marvin could over hear the conversation he and the male nurse were having. A week later, Jack returned to the same lounge, and this time he sat next to Marvin, and they talked till the bar closed. It was Good Friday, and after the bar closed, Marvin asked Jack if he was going to be in town all weekend. "Well, I don't have to go back to camp. I got a pass for the entire weekend." Marvin replied, "How would you like to go to the family farm for Easter dinner?"
Marvin's family greeted Jack like they had known him for years! "His mother and dad - ma and pa we called them - his two brothers, Harold and Bud, and their wives, greeted me like they had known me all my life. And we had a wonderful, wonderful Easter weekend." And from that point on, Marvin would drive out to camp, and pick up Jack every weekend.
When Jack got out of service, he was discharged because he was no longer fit for active duty. So he went back to Indianapolis, and Marvin drove down every Friday after work, and returned to Wisconsin on Sunday, arriving just in time to go to work Monday morning. After a month of this, he got a job in Chicago, so the two of them could be a little closer. And three months later, Jack's stepfather was the one who suggested Jack move up to Chicago to be with Marvin, "Jack, the best thing for you to do - I'm not throwing you out - the best thing for you to do is move up to Chicago with Marvin; because he loves you, and you love him."
"We had to struggle to get our first home." It was 1957 when they bought their first house together. "We had the downpayment, but we couldn't get the mortgage, because of two men with not the same last name. We couldn't get a mortgage. We finally found someone, a Jewish man, that decided to take a risk, and give us a mortgage. So we managed to take a 30 year mortgage, but we paid it off in 20. That's how good an accountant Marvin was. He knew how to manage our money."
Not only did Jack move in with Marvin, but the two of them ended up working in the same office, with only a desk or two between them. The two of them worked together for the next 30 years before retiring, and the entire time they were treated as a couple. Every year they went to Florida on vacation together, and most years Jack returned to work with a perm that friends had given him. One year when they returned, the President came out of his office, took one look at Jack and said, "Ah, you've been down to Florida, and you got a perm." Jack looked up at him and said, "Well at least I've got hair!" The President turned around, motioning to Marvin, "Do you allow him to speak with me like that?" And the entire office started to laugh.
Not everyone of that era had the same charmed life of Jack and Marvin. Friends of theirs from Dallas, Texas ended up being a cautionary tale for the two of them. Their friends were a couple, and in order to get a mortgage, they got one person's name on the mortgage. "When they bought their car together, they paid for it, but put one person's name on it. This was everything. Everything was put into one person's name." They were young, one of them was only 38 at the time, and death and dying was something that people like them wouldn't think about till far in the future. "All of a sudden, his partner woke up, and he wasn't in bed. He went to look for him, and found him dead in the bathroom. He had a heart attack and died, 38 years old." Everything was in the dead partner's name. His partner lost EVERYTHING! "The kid who passed away, his family came in, going thru the dresser drawers, going thru papers and stuff, and telling Frank, 'You've got to leave'. He said, 'Why? I paid for this house too... ' 'It's not in your name. Nothing is in your name.'"
When that happened, the first thing Marvin and Jack did when they returned home from the funeral was get in touch with their attorney. "We're going to find out what we have to do, so this doesn't happen to us." They ended up having everything put in each of their names, the house, the car, the bank accounts, everything. "We made funeral arrangements, both names. We made living wills, both names. We even have power of attorney in both names. That was the only thing that protected us. Now if we were married, we wouldn't have to go thru all of that."
Towards the end of his life, Marvin decided that the two of them should move closer to family, so they moved back to Indianapolis. "The day that the movers brought our furniture here - we found a 3 bedroom apartment here - the day the movers brought our furniture in, the first load of furniture, Marvin bent over to move a little table, and he fell and broke his hip. I had to take him to the hospital, he never came out. And he was 92 when he passed away."
Friends used to ask Marvin and Jack all the time, "How can you two work together, be together, 24 hours a day, and not kill each other?" Marvin came up with the answer and said, "Well, if you love someone, truly love someone, you want to be with them as long as you possibly can. Because we're not on this Earth forever. I want to be with the person I love as long as I possibly can. As long as God will let us be together and happy."
About a week before Marvin passed away, he motioned for Jack to come over to his bed, and he said, "Am I going to die?" Marvin knew the reason they put him in a hospice was because they couldn't do anything else for him. Jack was so shocked by the question, he had a hard time thinking, and said, "We're all going to die. We will not be here forever, we're all going to die. And when God feels like it's your time to go visit Him, that's when you go." And from that point on, Marvin was at peace with himself.
Marvin passed away on October 4, 2009. Jack went into a bit of a funk after Marvin died. He sat at home, not eating, not fixing anything to eat because he didn't want to eat alone. Jack lost 60 pounds in the 4 years after Marvin's death, and finally his niece told him, "Uncle Jack, you've got to get out and talk with somebody that you can talk to and relate to. You should try and get on and see if you can find some friends that you can talk to." It was shortly after this talk with his niece, that Jack found AVER (American Veterans for Equal Rights).
Jack joined AVER and is currently on their color guard team. Unfortunately, due to his health, he is unable to walk with them during parades. So on November 11th, 2013 when Indianapolis had the Veteran's Day Parade, his commander said to him, "Jack, you can't walk. I want you to drive the jeep up front." So he drove the jeep with the AVER banner on it, and his commander told him, "when you get to the grandstand, you have to slow down and almost stop." So he did. And when the announcer announced the jeep, he went on to say "and the driver of the jeep is an 85 year old Korean veteran - wounded veteran - and he's the oldest member of the group" Jack was overwhelmed with emotion as people started to applaud, whistle and wave.
Had Marvin lived, he and Jack would have celebrated 62 years together this April. Sadly, even to this day, it would be as "companions" and not as a married couple. In Jack's lifetime he has one wish, "I don't know how many years - if I have ten more years, I'll be happy - and I hope, I pray, that within my lifetime, people will accept EVERYONE as who they are, and not what they are. And that's my life wish."
Jack currently lives in Avon with his niece, and is among those fighting against HJR-3.