After 30 years of working as a civilian employee with the Department of the Army, John Reece, 73, of Palm Springs, finally feels like he’s home.
“I spent 25 of those 30 years overseas, from Japan to South Korea to Saudi Arabia to Greenland,” says Reece. “I’m finally in a place where I feel I can be totally myself.”
Reece was born and raised in Missouri, to a minister father with strict religious standards.
“It took me a long time to get over that,” says Reece.
Reece was around church music throughout his childhood, with his father playing the organ and directing the choir. “My mom insisted we all take piano lessons when we were young,” he recalls, “and my older brother played trumpet and tuba and my younger sister was in the band.”
It’s not so strange, then, that Reece worked as an entertainment director with the Army throughout the world.
“I handled community theater and did logistics for USO shows and cultural tours,” he recalls. “I learned enough Japanese to get my job done while in Tokyo for six years, and knew basic conversational Korean to handle my four years in South Korea.”
After his years in Korea, Reece moved to Washington, D.C., and eventually moved on to Hawaii and then returned yet again to South Korea.
“I also spent three years in Saudi Arabia,” says Reece, “which was a wonderful experience. Working in a Muslim nation and learning to respect the country and their culture was terrific.”
Eventually, Reece landed in Greenland.
“I was six miles from the North Pole,” he recalls,” where it was sometimes 50 degrees below zero with a wind chill of 100-below. Of course, when it gets to below zero, it really doesn’t matter anymore. And it was dark from October to January.”
How did Reece handle being gay during such a long affiliation with the military?
“I knew all my life that I was gay,” he says. “Of course, back in those days, it was known as being ‘homosexual.’ With the church, it was a real guilt process. I would pray to be made ‘normal.’ My first experience was with gay bars, which at that time were all very underground. It just wasn’t an easy thing back in the 1960s and 1970s.
“While working with the Army, I was always very aware of looking over my shoulder. I didn’t want to do anything concrete that could have hurt my career. That’s a stressful way to live.”
Reece says he never came out to his family. “It was just never discussed, although I do remember my mom saying, ‘Son, you’re special. You may never be married, but there’s one thing worse: being married to the wrong one.’ We just didn’t talk about it.
“My sister knows through my Facebook page, and one day, she said, ‘I hope you can find a partner as wonderful as mine is.’ The only one I’ve really talked to openly about it is my niece.”
After finally finding a home base in Washington, D.C., and living in northern Virginia, Reece retired in 2002.
“I came to Palm Springs for a while from 2009 to 2013, and returned to live here full time in 2015. To be honest, I left in 2013 because I felt like Palm Springs was just too gay for me,” he laughs. “I had a hard time meeting straight people. I went back to D.C., but I got tired of the weather and decided to come back.”
Going back to that church choir during his childhood, Reece said music has always been a big part of his life. In fact, he studied music at Oklahoma Baptist University and the St. Louis Institute of Music. It’s not surprising that he finally found his place in the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus.
“I’m so glad to have such support now. Back in my day, there was nothing like counseling or support groups. I’m so glad for young people today who don’t have to live in the shadows,” he says.
Reece’s affiliation with the Gay Men’s Chorus has changed his life.
“Some of the best people I’ve met in my life are in the chorus. We can talk about anything and everything without worrying about offending anyone,” he says. “It’s not just a beautiful professional group, but it’s like being in a brotherhood. They care about you as a person. We even made history—imagine a gay group singing at a memorial service in a church!
“I don’t have anything to hide anymore,” he says. “I’m just me now. Here I am, finally at 73, and I can be openly proud with my head held high and happy.”
After traveling and living all around the world, John Reece has finally found a place to just be himself.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.