Retired Admiral Charles Larson, former Superintendent of the US Naval Academy, tops a list of 104 retired generals and admirals calling for an end to the US military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy governing gay troops.

The former US military chiefs added their names to the statement which was released on Monday.

Admiral Larson, who was commissioned in 1958, was in charge of US and Allied submarines in the Mediterranean as a two-star admiral, and became head of the entire US military command in the Pacific as a four-star admiral before retiring in 1998.

President-elect Barack Obama has said that he will work with Pentagon brass to repeal the policy. Last month, however, Obama adviser and retired Air Force General Merrill McPeak, said that “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be retained.

In 1993, Admiral Larson supported “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He thought it was a mistake for Bill Clinton, who was a close acquaintance, to try to lift the ban immediately, and wished he would have worked more closely with the military if he wanted to make the change.

“You can’t change the military culture overnight,” he recalled thinking. At the time he thought that banning open gays and lesbians, which was then viewed as temporary, was the best solution if properly administered.

Admiral Larson changed his view after he learned that “there were a lot of witch hunts and a lot of people were turned out on that basis.”

He found that the policy was not being implemented as he had hoped, and the military was losing valuable talent. He was also influenced by having a number of people work for him who were gay, and by having a gay daughter with whom he spoke at length about gays in the military.

He now believes the ban should end. “I think the time has come to find a way to let talented, young, patriotic Americans who want to serve their country serve,” he said, “and let’s enforce high standards of personal and human behaviour for everyone.”

The statement that Admiral Larson and the other 103 retired generals and admirals signed is reproduced here:

We – the undersigned – respectfully call for the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Those of us endorsing this letter have dedicated our lives to defending the rights of our citizens to believe whatever they wish. Scholarly data shows there are approximately one million gay and lesbian veterans in the United States today as well as 65,000 gays and lesbians currently serving in our armed forces.

They have served our nation honourably. We support the recent comments of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General John Shalikashvili, who has concluded that repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would not harm and would indeed help our armed forces.

As is the case with Great Britain, Israel, and other nations that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality. Such collaboration reflects the strength and the best traditions of our democracy.

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