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Chicago Sun-Times
January 10, 1993, SUNDAY , FIRST EDITION

Gay Groups Point to Sailor's Murder

BYLINE: Lisa Faye Kaplan
LENGTH: 686 words

In September, Seaman Allen R. Schindler told the Navy he was gay and figured the military's ban on homosexuals would have him home by Christmas.

But at midnight Oct. 27, Schindler was beaten to death in a park bathroom near the Sasebo Naval Base in Japan, where his ship, the Belleau Wood, was docked.

The Navy took into custody two Belleau Wood shipmates and is continuing its investigation.

Friends say the motive is clear: Schindler was killed because he was gay.

Gay-rights groups contend that the military ban on gays, which President-elect Bill Clinton promises to lift, sets the stage for violence against homosexuals. They are collecting evidence they expect to present Monday to the Navy, holding press conferences, planning a candlelight vigil - to make sure this gay sailor's death is not buried at sea.

"I don't want it covered up," said Dorothy Hajdys, Schindler's mother, who lives in Chicago Heights. "The more people who know about it, the less chance the Navy is going to hide anything. Everybody knows what the military thinks of homosexuals."

Information released by the Navy sheds little light on Schindler and his death.

Interviews with Schindler's friends paint a portrait of a bitterly unhappy, 22-year-old sailor. He had been transferred in December, 1991, from his dream ship - the Midway aircraft carrier that was being moth-balled in Washington state - to the smaller Belleau Wood, an amphibious assault ship designed to carry helicopters and landing craft.

Schindler "called the ship 'Hella Wood," said Eric Underwood, a New York City entertainer performing in Sasebo.

Underwood said the Belleau Wood had a bad reputation in town.

Schindler hated the ship, according to his friends, who acknowledge that the seaman was a far-from-perfect sailor.

"He had an odd sense of humor," said Ricky Gonzales, a gay bartender in San Diego and former Navy officer who befriended Schindler. "He wouldn't talk about the usual things. I think that's why he didn't get along with anyone on his new ship."

He was fascinated with reptiles and spent hours sketching alligators and lizards. He was a fan of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" TV show, and sometimes would speak Klingon, which he learned from a dictionary he carried around.

On the Midway, with a crew of 2,500, even a Klingon-speaking Trekkie could blend in. But on the 900-crew Belleau Wood, those who didn't blend in became outcasts, Gonzales said. Soon Schindler was getting into trouble with his superiors.

By the time the Belleau Wood pulled into Sasebo in September, 1992, Schindler was "fed up with the situation," Gonzales said. "And he decided to come out of the closet and get out" of the Navy.

According to the Navy, on Sept. 24 Schindler told his captain he was gay, and the administrative discharge process was begun.

The Navy also said Schindler was told to report any threats he received while awaiting his discharge.

"In the time between the notification and his death, Seaman Schindler saw the chaplain frequently and never mentioned any incidents of harassment," said Lt. Kenneth Ross, a Navy spokesman.

Neither Gonzales or Hajdys - who spoke to Schindler shortly before his death - remember hearing any complaints about harassment.

Although the motive for Schindler's killing is uncertain, the beating that killed him was clearly brutal.

On Nov. 23, Airman Charles A. Vins was convicted of failure to report an offense, resisting apprehension and failure to report a serious offense.

He was given a bad conduct discharge, sentenced to confinement for one year, and is being held in the naval brig in Yokosuka, Japan.

Belleau Wood Airman Terry M. Helvey is being held on suspicion of murder. Evidence against him will be presented at an investigation hearing Jan. 19, when he will be formally charged.

Tim McFeeley, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a gay political lobby, said: "It's very important for the Navy to understand what the motivations were, . . . and to create some preventive procedures that would prevent this from happening again."