Book reviews: Here’s What We’ll Say, by Reichen Lehumkul

24 Mar

Reichen Lehumkuhl’s “Here’s What We’ll Say” released in 2006 by Carrol & Graf Publishers is a groundbreaking autobiography in that it not only discusses the subject matter of gays in the current day military, but blows the lid off it. Many people recall Reichen from his victory on televisions Amazing Race but few know the depth of the journey which led him there. In Reichen’s own words we are drawn into his childhood, teen years, and life at the Air Force Academy.

Reichen is one of those people that was born to fly. He began taking lessons from his grandmother who was a Army Air Corps pilot in WWII as a preteen. No matter what life threw at him, no matter how difficult and unimaginable it may be, Reichen was determined to be a pilot serving his country like she was. Becoming a pilot is quite an accomplishment and difficult for anyone, for a gay teen with a sometimes stressful home life living in an Attleboro, Massachusetts trailer park this was almost unimaginable.

The book begins with Reichen relating the state of his home life as a child and quickly fast forwards to High School where Reichen has become fully aware that he is homosexual. Being as at the time no policy was in place to even entertain the thought of gay Academy cadets much less pilots we watch as Reichen struggles with the decision of his life; follow his dreams or follow his heart. There was no way he could see doing both. Eventually he does follow his dreams getting the endorsement of Senator barney Frank and in the process discovers his heart as well.

The primary focus of this autobiography is on his time at the USAF Academy and not just the struggles of being a cadet, or a gay cadet, but being a young adult discovering the world and getting a glimpse of what the future might hold. Certainly this isn’t the first such telling of such stories as they have circulated for decades but this is the first time a cadet has actually publicly stepped forward and exposed the depth of the gay community at the Academy. In doing so Reichen not only gives hope to countless aspiring cadets both gay and straight that determination pays off, but proves definitively a gay cadet can do everything a straight cadet can do, and in some cases do it better under far greater stress.

Reichen tells us of the first exposure he had of this world as the victim of rape at the hands of fellow cadets. He details how the stress pushed a friend to a suicide attempt he miraculously survived due to quick discovery. He walks us through the Academy’s underground gay network and how they protect each other from exposure and certain expulsion while still trying to enjoy life even if it must be conducted under the most clandestine set of rules. He exposes the bias of the administration and how they, the gay cadets with the help of some straight cadets, combated that just as if they were fighting for their lives because in effect, they were. That is where the title of his autobiography comes from. Each time a cadet was threatened with exposure they would begin their meetings in the abandoned tunnel systems with the phrase “Here’s what we’ll say.”

Of course it isn’t all about the problems, there is love, friendship which knows no boundaries, and in it’s truest sense victory. There are the stories of straight active duty soldiers and officers that refused to see gay cadets marginalized and were happy to host their visiting partners away from the eyes of the administration. There was the victory in seeing each other graduate, and knowing when they left the Academy grounds for the final time the network of protections for cadets like themselves that would follow would live on and safeguard them as well.

For anyone that loves a true story of overcoming the odds this is a phenomenal book. Reichen’s style is easy and flowing making this a book that is difficult to put down. He pulls no punches and gives the good and bad laid bare for all to draw their own conclusions. Reichen manages to tell his story without making it a manifesto, embellishing the facts, or taking an accusatory tone that may turn some readers off. This is raw and gritty but manages to maintain a level of quality that rivals the work of more experienced writers.

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