On Wednesday, Helen finally received the good news by FedEx delivery. After being expelled from the Air Force in 1955, she obtained her 'honorable discharge'.
"I'm still trying to process it," she told NBC News. "It was both joy and shock. It was really true. It was really going to be an 'honorable discharge.'"
She had to fight a good part of her life to get it.
Helen's story is like a spy movie. She enrolled in the military as a radio operator on a base in Roslyn, New York in 1952.
In 1955, investigators from the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) followed her everywhere, even into a lesbian nightclub.
“It was a place called Bagatelles,” she told NBC News. “People were screened as they went in, but the OSI somehow were able to get in and harass me there. They followed me into the latrine. It was scary. It was intense.”
In 1955, while she was quietly eating a sandwich in her car with a friend, investigators approached her vehicle with a flashlight to check what she was doing.
A few days later, she is arrested in her barracks and then interrogated for hours. Her service records are irreproachable.
During these three years, she received positive performance evaluations and had no disciplinary problems. She was promoted from radio operator to crew chief and achieved the rank of Airman Second Class.
The OSI threatened Helen to out her to her family, a rural one. She accepted to sign a document that immediately ended her career. She was discharged as 'undesirable' and thus without severance pay, insurance or other benefits.
In the 1960s, James managed to improve her status from 'undesirable' to 'general discharge under honorable conditions.'
“I tried to get USAA coverage for insurance, and they said 'No, you can’t be a member, because you don’t have an honorable discharge,'” she explained. “I [couldn't] be buried in a national cemetery either."
On January 3, at the age of 90, she sued the US Air Force with Lambda Legal.
“It will make me feel like I’ve done all I can to prove I am a good person,” she told NBC News on Tuesday, “and that I deserve to be a whole civilian in this country I love.”
On Wednesday, she finally got her 'honorable discharge'.
It took her 63 years to get justice, but she finally managed to get her "honorable discharge". Congratulations Helen!
Photo via Legal Aid at Work