A Hero’s Unwelcome
Tom Casey Hopkins & Darrel Hopkins
One of the many military benefits Darrel, a Vietnam veteran, and his husband Tom are denied is the right to be interred together in a national veterans’ cemetery. Darrel is forced to choose between recognition for his military service and being laid to rest with Tom.
As a high school dropout in North Dakota in 1962, Darrel Hopkins saw very little opportunity for himself until he joined the U.S. Army. Within a few months of enlisting he earned his GED and completed a year’s worth of college-level courses. When his enlistment ended three years later, Darrel realized civilian life wasn’t for him and rejoined the Army.
He served in a Military Intelligence unit in Vietnam, where he earned two Bronze Stars, the Vietnam Campaign Ribbon and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Gold Palm. One memorable incident was his involvement in the early evening rescue of a fellow soldier stranded with a disabled vehicle, who would otherwise have had to spend the night in Viet Cong territory. It was too dangerous for a tow truck to venture out that late in the day, as it was a prime target for the VC.
Darrel retired from military service in 1982 as a Chief Warrant Officer. He continued to work for the Army in a civilian capacity until 1986 – two years after meeting his husband, Tom Casey Hopkins – when he began working for the IRS at its Fitchburg office while attending Fitchburg State College. Darrel later transferred to the Andover Service Center and retired from the IRS in 2007.
Darrel, now 65, and Tom, now 58, were married at the Newman Center in Fitchburg on September 18, 2004. Sixty-five friends, family members and co-workers attended the ceremony, which was officiated by Darrel’s former boss at the IRS.
Marriage has enriched Tom and Darrel’s familial bonds, says Tom, who took Darrel’s last name. “We think of each other’s children as our own … more than we used to,” he explains. Both were previously in heterosexual marriages; they have five adult children, 18 grandchildren and one great grandchild between them. “I would like to be thought of as a family and not just as two guys who had been together living under the same roof for twenty years.”
Under DOMA, however, the federal government does not recognize Tom and Darrel’s marriage so Tom is ineligible for a host of benefits routinely available to heterosexual spouses of federal employees and military veterans. Darrel estimates that they lose more than $12,000 annually because of additional expenses, taxes, or lost income.
One of the many military benefits they’re denied is the right to be interred together in a national veterans’ cemetery, because it is a federal property. Opposite-sex spouses of veterans are eligible for interment in national veterans’ cemeteries, but because Darrel is in a same-sex marriage he’s forced to choose between recognition for his military service and being laid to rest with Tom.
But after watching a TV program about Arlington National Cemetery that depicted the solemn ceremonies during which service members are laid to rest there, Tom realized he very much wanted Darrel to be honored in the same manner. “Every aspect of his career says that he could be buried in Arlington just like anybody else,” says Tom. “I just feel like there’s no reason … that a gay spouse should not be able to be buried with their partner there,” says Tom.
They thought they solved their problem after taking a trip in 2008 with Tom’s mother to Massachusetts Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon, a 210-acre swath of rolling green hills and wooded areas. As a state-owned veterans’ cemetery in a marriage equality state, the Mass. Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) approved the Hopkins’ application for joint burial quickly and without question. Tom and Darrel were thrilled. But not long after, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office asked to meet with Tom and Darrel and told a different story: federal officials had made clear to DVS that interring a same-sex couple in either of the state’s veterans’ cemeteries (there is another in Agawam), could jeopardize federal funding of the cemeteries—a potential loss of nearly $8 million for the Winchendon location.
The turnabout, says Tom, felt like “popping a balloon.”
The issue remains unresolved, though DVS has not rescinded approval of their application. The couple featured prominently in Assistant Attorney General Maura Healey’s arguments during last month’s federal court hearing on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ challenge to Section 3 of DOMA (which is separate from GLAD’s DOMA challenge and based on different legal theories).
Meanwhile, they enjoy the life they’ve built together over 26 years, in the home they built together. When Darrel retired, Tom left his job as assistant coordinator for special events at Old Sturbridge Village, having tired of the long commute after 10 years and out of the desire to spend more time with his spouse. He and Darrel now volunteer together at the museum about twice a month. They also take time to visit their children and grandchildren, most of whom live out of state.
It’s those children and grandchildren that Darrel says are being hurt the most by the financial losses he and Tom suffer under DOMA. “We’re spending their inheritance and it’s going to be much smaller than it would be otherwise,” says Darrel, adding that he and Tom are doing alright but live somewhat frugally.
“If they can dump DOMA,” adds Darrel, “our children will see the benefits from it.”← Stories Home