SOMEWHERE in my ancestry is a Revolutionary War hero. Samuel Chew was a Navy officer killed in battle while fighting the British. Other ancestors served on both sides of the Civil War, as well as during more recent times. I learned all this while researching why I'd received a high school graduation award from the Jewish War Veterans.

I found no Jewish war vets. But who wouldn't be proud to learn of such distinguished service? That's what makes "don't ask, don't tell" so shameful. This nation should be proud of anyone who puts on a uniform and serves honorably.

An estimated 65,000 gay men and women are in our military. They want to serve their country openly and honestly, yet this country keeps telling them no. But 14 years into "don't ask," more people are calling for its repeal, including 28 retired generals and admirals who issued an open letter last month criticizing the failed law.

These and other opponents of the law say that about 12,000 people have been forced out of the armed forces in the last 14 years. A land mine took care of Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva's exit. The first U.S. soldier injured in the Iraq war received a Purple Heart and a medical discharge - then came out as gay.

"I have been to war with these men and women," U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who served as a rear admiral in the Navy, told National Public Radio. ". . . How could I say they don't deserve equal rights?" How could anyone view the 12,000 American flags on the National Mall last month and not be moved? These were not people who disgraced the military, like the troops at Abu Ghraib. Or who shirked their duty to their country, like the current White House occupant.

These people did nothing but what their hearts told them to do - serve a country that they believe is worth fighting for, and dying for. And because of bigotry, they were discharged.

Repealing "don't ask, don't tell" is about showing that this country does, in fact, practice equality for everyone. *

Debbie Woodell is a Daily News sports desk editor. Her column on lesbian and gay issues appears monthly. Send e-mail to woodeld@phillynews.com.