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Chi Lives: losing a son, gaining a mission

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On December 13, 1992, reporters from a half dozen TV stations were waiting outside Dorothy Hajdys-Holman's front door in Chicago Heights. They wanted to talk about her son Allen Schindler Jr., a sailor who'd been beaten to death a few months earlier by two fellow crew members from the U.S.S. Belleau Wood.

Hajdys-Holman managed to answer their questions, though she says, "The day before I couldn't even talk to a person. If someone asked me if I wanted a Diet Pepsi it would take me two minutes before I could answer. If it was something I really had to think about I probably never answered because I just couldn't say anything." Hajdys-Holman, an admitted homophobe, wasn't merely grieving. She was also trying to come to terms with the fact that her son was gay and that he'd been murdered because of it.

On October 27 Charles Vins and Terry Helvey had followed Schindler into a public rest room in Sasebo, Japan. As Vins looked on and occasionally joined in, Helvey kicked and punched Schindler until he was dead. Vins later cut a deal with prosecutors in return for testifying against Helvey, and in a secret court- martial was sentenced to only 78 days in a military prison. Hajdys-Holman had been assured by the navy that she would be informed of all court proceedings in the case, but she found out about Vins's trial from a reporter. Shocked at the leniency of his sentence, she began to suspect a cover-up. "The navy protected him," she says.

Helvey was given a life sentence and is now in Fort Leavenworth, but he's eligible for parole in 2002, something Hajdys-Holman has had a hard time accepting. She's now collecting signatures on a petition to stop his parole.

Hajdys-Holman was also having a hard time accepting that her son was gay, something she learned from another reporter. "I don't know how to explain it other than you just feel so stupid. My opinion of a gay person was someone that dressed up like a woman or had his hand on his hip or his finger in the air or something like that." But when she met Schindler's grieving friends at a memorial service she was forced to start giving up her assumptions about homosexuals.

The more Hajdys-Holman learned, the more willing she became to accept invitations to tell her story at colleges and political rallies. She now has an agent who arranges speaking engagements and workshops for her, and lately she's been doing as many as three interviews per day in anticipation of the cable broadcast this week of Any Mother's Son: The Dorothy Hajdys Story. "Any time the story gets printed someone might read it and know what really happened to Allen and maybe help me keep Terry Helvey in prison," she says.

Though Hajdys-Holman will tell her story to anyone who will listen, she says many of her public appearances are sponsored by gay organizations, so she often ends up preaching to the converted. "That isn't what I'd really like to do. I would like to change people's views in some churches, because that's where a lot of the hatred comes from. I went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas to speak about Allen's death and all that happened. I quoted scripture and talked about how Jesus never preached hatred and told us that we were to love one another. After I got done, this guy got up and said that he was one of these evangelical Christians and that he felt that it was because of people like him that Allen was dead. He said that after hearing me speak he had to look at his life again and do something about it. And that made me feel great."

Hajdys-Holman will appear at a reception benefiting the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that provides legal assistance to gays in the military, at 6 PM, Monday, August 11, in the Harold Washington Library Center Complex lobby, 400 S. State; tickets are $50. At 8 PM the Lifetime Television broadcast of Any Mother's Son will be shown in the auditorium, and Hajdys-Holman will speak afterward; these two events are free. Call 202-328-3244 or 773-525-0147.

--Mike Sula

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Dorothy Hajdys-Holman photo by Peter Barrereas.

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