Editor's note: Retired Navy Capt. Joan E. Darrah told the story of her "secret life" under "don't ask, don't tell" in a CNN opinion article on February 4. She served 29½ years as a naval intelligence officer and was chief of staff and deputy commander at the Office of Naval Intelligence. She has received several awards: three Legions of Merit, three Meritorious Service Medals, three Navy Commendation Medals and the Navy Achievement Medal.
Alexandria, Virginia (CNN) -- On Friday, December 17, my partner, Lynne Kennedy, accompanied by about 20 family members and close friends and our minister, Kate Walker from the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church, piled into a stretch limousine and drove to Washington to the Albert Einstein Memorial to get married. It was a small but wonderful opportunity for us to publicly and officially declare our love and lifelong support for each other.
Saturday night, we invited more than 200 people (they all showed up!) to our home to help celebrate our first day of marriage, our 20th anniversary and my upcoming 60th birthday.
At 3 p.m., we were given the biggest reason ever to celebrate: the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." After years and years of hard work and dogged determination by thousands of people who knew the injustice of this law, "don't ask, don't tell" is finally on its way out.
This was a truly historic day for our country and our military: the beginning of the end of a blatantly un-American law that for years has forced honorable gay men and women to live a lie.
As a naval officer who served for 29½ years, much of it under "don't ask, don't tell," I know firsthand how incredibly difficult this has been for the tens of thousands of American service members who have been living under this dreadful law.
As I wrote earlier this year, "for most of my career in the Navy, I lived two lives and went to work each day wondering if that would be my last.
"Whenever the admiral would call me to his office, 99.9 percent of me was certain that it was to discuss an operational issue. But there was always that fear in the back of my mind that somehow I had been 'outed,' and he was calling me to his office to tell me that I was fired.
"So many simple things that straight people take for granted could have ended my career, even a comment such as 'My partner and I went to the movies last night.' "
In my experience, the skin color or religion or ethnic background or gender or sexual orientation of my shipmates was never an issue; what mattered was their ability and commitment to accomplish the mission at hand.
Soon, honorable Americans who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country will no longer be forced to serve in silence. I am totally confident that our military men and women will adapt easily to this change and that, in the long run, our military and our country will be stronger.
Finally, we will stop sending a message to our young people that because they are gay, our country's military does not want their service regardless of their ability or skills. This is a momentous day in the history of our great country.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Joan E. Darrah.