BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Walker Burttschell, a gay Miami Beach man discharged from the Marines in 2003, shook Barack Obama's hand moments after the president signed repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell.'
"Great,'' Burttschell said of the moment. "That’s the least I can say. It was overwhelming. It’s a part of history. To see the president sign it and say it’s done was amazing."
He arrived in Washington on Monday night and the next day attended a House ceremony at the Capitol, in which Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave him a gold coin with the speaker's seal on one side, her signature on the other.
Tuesday morning, Burttschell attended the signing ceremony with a close friend -- a gay active-duty Marine major still in the closet.
Burttschell said that immediately after Obama signed the repeal, the Marine major "grabbed me and dragged me down the aisle."
The closeted Marine reached out to Obama. "The first person to shake his hand was a Marine who was not out until today. A powerful statement,'' Burttschell said. "He introduced me to the president as a Marine and [Obama] said, 'Good fight, Marine!'
Burttschell enlisted in the Marines the day after 9/11 and was expelled two years later, after someone hacked his e-mail account and found proof that he is gay. He left college and returned to South Florida, where he volunteered with several organizations that fought to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell.'
"It’s been up and down," Burttschell told The Miami Herald Wednesday morning. "I’m so glad I can shut this door and move on. Not just for me, but for the major who is still serving. That’s what I’m most proud of."