On his 21st birthday, Will Damron became the youngest cop in the history of the Oakland Police Department.
"From that day, I had a .38 snub-nosed Smith and Wesson and a holter under my armpit," Damron said, adding how taken he was with the seven-pointed silver star he was now brandishing on his chest. "I loved that star and was very proud of it. I thought it could stop bullets."
Damron was speaking at the Prime Timers Midwest Regional Gathering July 19 at Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, 33 E. Madison St. He mainly delivered anecdotes from his memoir "Cop Out: A Snapshot of How a Police Uniform Came to Define a Young Men's Sexual Orientation" and spoke about life in the Oakland Police Department in the 1960s as well as the Bay Area's burgeoning gay scene.
Damron, who grew up in Arizona, said that he originally planned on becoming a schoolteacher, but the prospect of higher pay in law enforcement compelled him to apply. Thanks to his mother's political connections, and after a brutal application process, he was hired.
"We should get a map and find out where Oakland is," his mother told him.
Just three days after his 21st birthday, he was assigned to the Vice Beat, unofficially nicknamed the "Pussy Posse," to round up prostitutes.
Damron recalled how he dressed that first night: tight jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers. "I felt very Marlon Brando in On the Waterfrontthat's my opinion of me back then."
After completing his recruitment training, Damron wanted to bulk up and joined a gym, where he met another officer who invited him to join a unit he only referred to as "Special Duty." None of his fellow officers had heard of the unit, until another colleague asked around and found out it was "undercover workit's not vice and it's pretty tight."
When he finally connected with the Special Duty officers at their regular Judo class, which Damron implied was focused more on homoerotic contact than building self-defense skills.
Not all of Damron's anecdotes were humorous; he also spoke of John Fry, his partner who was shot by Black Panther leader Huey Newton. Just a few days later, Damron was assigned to guard Newton, who had also been shot, in his hospital room. "It was an unbelievable experience that I will never forget until the day I die."
People over 70 are the target audience for Damron's book,he said, adding that he has spoken with many other Prime Timers groups across the country. "You were with me at that moment in history. We've had a lot of common experiences."
About 100 Prime Timers from out of town visited Chicago for the Midwest Regional Gathering July 17-20. Besides Damron's talk, the weekend featured a number of receptions, tours and workshops focusing on exploring the Windy City and learning more about gay culture in Chicago.