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Benjamin F. Dillingham & Bridget Wilson LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor Inductee Biographies

2016 Honorees

Joanna Gasca, US Air Force

Joanna Gasca enlisted as an Administrative Specialist in the U.S. Air Force in August 1983. Her first assignment was to the 544th Strategic Intelligence Wing, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. Upon transferring, she was awarded the Wing’s Hawkeye Award, the first enlisted member to receive that honor. In 1993 she returned to Air Force Reserve Recruiting as a Line Recruiter San Diego, attached to March Air Base. She was then selected for the fast track leadership program and moved to Air Force Reserve Recruiting Headquarters at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. Her subsequent orders took her to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and a return to March Air Reserve Base. Despite being on active duty, Joann got involved with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, donating both time and money, even using their services when a member of her softball team threatened to out her to the Air Force for being gay. She marched proudly in the San Diego Pride parade before and since the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In 2013 she participated in StoryCorps OutLoud, one of 20 pre-selected San Diego LGBT veterans who had served in the military prior to and during “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Joanna shared the challenges the oppressive ban had on her lengthy career and the recorded series is now on record for posterity at the Library of Congress. In 2013, Joanna decided to stay one last tour, taking a Flight position in the Northern Recruiting Squadron, in Buffalo, New York. She officially retired in September with 33 consecutive years of service. 

Dennis Howard, US Navy
Dennis Howard was raised in Chula Vista but attended school in San Diego. As a young man, the Selective Service draft still existed and as a result, his student deferment ended while in graduate school. Dennis followed the lead of a friend and joined the Navy, raising his right hand to be sworn into service the same day that President Kennedy was assassinated. He was sent to Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, and after commissioning was assigned to teach at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Bainbridge, Maryland. While in Maryland, the Vietnam War began, but Dennis was fortunate to remain there teaching for his entire four-year enlistment. After the Navy he was able to use his teaching experience to get a job at San Diego Mesa College, and later City College and UC San Diego. When Dennis’ partner became ill with AIDS, he began volunteering at the food bank, then the AIDS Foundation and Mama’s Kitchen. When his partner died of the disease, he took early retirement from the Community College District and started full-time volunteering at the San Diego LGBT Community Center, Diversionary Theater, San Diego Pride and the Lambda Archives and still volunteers regularly with The Center.

Arthur J. Kelleher, US Navy
Captain Arthur Kelleher was born and raised in Binghamton, New York. He was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps in 1976 following his graduation from the University of Scranton. He went on to earn his doctor of medicine from Georgetown University School of Medicine in 1980 and after an internship at Naval Medical Center, San Diego, he reported to Pensacola, Florida, where he was later designated a Naval Flight Surgeon and received his wings in 1982. The next four years saw multiple squadron deployments to Rota, Spain and Keflavik, Iceland, with carrier airwings aboard the USS Forrestal and USS Carl Vinson. In 1983 he was honored as the Navy and Marine Corps Flight Surgeon of the Year. He later finished an anesthesiology residency, again in San Diego, before deploying in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. In 1991 he transferred from active duty to the active reserves and retired in 2000, having attained the rank of Captain. Following his retirement he served for five years on the board of directors of Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network, which spearheaded the ultimate repeal of DADT, and built them one of the largest donor bases in the country from the San Diego area. He is the lead producer of the 2014 film “Burning Blue” written and directed by his close friend David Greer whom he met while stationed in Pensacola. It is a work of historic fiction set in the pre DADT era about two fighter pilots who fall I love, the humiliating investigation that ensues once they are discovered and the affect it has on their fellow aviators and friends. Dr. Kelleher is full time private practice in San Diego and is the president of Balboa Anesthesia Group.

William E. Kelly, US Air Force
Raised in Morris, Illinois, Bill Kelly later graduated from Northern Illinois University at DeKalb, before joining the Air Force during the Vietnam War. As a medic and surgical technician from 1970–75, Bill served his time at Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan, the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. On his off-duty time Bill earned a masters degree. Once Bill honorably completed his Air Force service, he initially returned to his hometown, but moved to Chicago in 1977, where he earned emergency medical technician level I and II and a physician's assistant licenses caring for inmates at Chicago's Cook County Jail while pursuing an MBA. He soon found himself caring for friends suffering for what was then called “the gay plague,” eventually known as AIDS. In Chicago Bill also met his husband Bob Taylor; they have been together since 1979 and the couple moved to San Diego in 1997. While Bill has worked with nearly every LGBT-affiliated nonprofit in the city since then, it is his work advocating for seniors, and LGBT seniors specifically, that has affording him various honors. He is currently working as an outreach consultant to the San Diego LGBT Community Center regarding their senior housing project.

Scott P. Lawry, US Navy
After 20 years of honorable and dedicated military service as a Pharmacist in the United States Navy, Scott P. Lawry sought out an opportunity to not only continue to serve the active duty, veterans and their dependents at the Naval Medical Center, but to serve the community he lives. On what some would call a stroke of luck, Scott met Alberto Cortes, the Executive Director of Mama’s Kitchen (and previous year’s LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor inductee), to get involved with the organization that provides nutritious food to people with illnesses in need. Scott started as a meal delivery volunteer, and after his first route, he felt magically connected to the San Diego LGBT community in a way that he already felt connected to the Navy community. He immediately signed up to do a regular delivery route and now has a new set of friends in his regular Friday delivery clients. Scott has also served on the board of Mama’s Kitchen since 2014, and his made it his civic duty to be a philanthropic leader to support the organization’s work. He has been named Volunteer of the Year at Mama’s Kitchen; and has also been honored by the American Military Partners Association for his dedicated service as a civilian employee.

Edwin O. Lohr, US Air Force
Edwin O. Lohr was born in a very small town in Iowa, which bore the family name, Lohrville. He was raised on a farm and knew at a very young age that he would answer the call to serve our country. Edwin’s father Richard was a bombardier on the B24 Liberator. Edwin joined the U.S. Air Force in 1975 in the personnel field and immediately after boot camp he went to his first duty station at Scott Air Force Base, just outside of St. Louis and headquarters of the Military Airlift Command. His next set of orders were to Yokota Air Base outside of Tokyo, Japan. At both duty stations, Edwin served in the honor guard and was very involved in base activities. While in Yokota, Edwin was appointed Base Ambassador and at the completion of his term, he chose to remain in Tokyo and teach English. Once his visa expired, Edwin returned to the U.S., relocating with his brother to San Diego, where his great uncle, a retired Navy officer, had already settled. Edwin soon started a new career in tourism, working with the Convention and Visitors Bureau for many years, and later founding the San Diego Professional Tour Guide Association. “You can never out-give of yourself,” Edwin said he learned from his parents and it shows; he has been a very active volunteer member of his local community organizations, Stonewall Citizen’s Patrol, Mama’s Kitchen, San Diego Pride, an original member of American Veterans for Equal Rights, among many others.

Sean R. Redmond, U.S. Air Force
Sean Redmond was born and raised in the small community of Omak, Washington.  From an early age, he was taught civic pride and service toward the community.  He is an Eagle Scout and vigil member of the Order of the Arrow. He continued his commitment to service with the U.S. Air Force, where he served 20 years in law enforcement and human resource development. After retirement in 2009, he moved to San Diego where he pursued his vision of working to improve and being part of a bigger community family. In particular, his desire is to serve the LGBT veteran community. As the modern LGBT military community changes, he has been there to provide support, resources and education through such programs as the San Diego Unified School District Youth Advocacy Program. Using his law enforcement experience and community policing desire, he is very active in the Stonewall Citizen’s Patrol. As the newly appointed executive director, he can continue his drive to educate and provide community safety to the diverse neighborhoods of Hillcrest, North Park, and University Heights. Sean has a bachelor of science in criminal justice administration/cyber crime security and continues to pursue educational opportunities in public administration and youth advocacy.

Sean M. Sala, US Navy
Sean Sala served under the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” directive for six years while in the U.S. Navy. He served three combat tours on the USS Dubuque as an Operations Specialist, attaining the rank of Petty Officer Second Class. While there, he was awarded the Iraqi Campaign Medal for his service off of the coast of Iraq — guarding Iraqi Oil platforms. He also assisted in operations that saved a sinking Coast Guard cutter in the North Arabian Gulf; oversaw the enforcement of United States air supremacy in the Middle East; and provided support during the pirate takeover of the Magellan Star off the coast of Somalia, where he helped guide Huey and Cobra pilots in tactical positions to retake the ship. He and his crew were awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation ribbon for the operation. Sean was one of the public faces of the first ever full military contingent to march openly in the San Diego Pride parade in 2012 before “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. During this time, Sean came out on the national news, putting his career in jeopardy.  The following year, Sean successfully led the way in pushing the Pentagon to authorize the wear of military uniforms in a Pride parade for the first time. He served on the national leadership committee of Servicemembers United, assisted in the transition of the Campaign for Military Partners to the American Military Partner Association, and served as a national organizer of the Military Freedom Coalition, which successfully lobbied for the repeal of the transgender ban in the U.S. military.

Jeff Underwood, US Navy
Jeff Underwood was born in the small town of Cahokia, Illinois, in 1979. Thanks to a Navy ROTC scholarship, Jeff was able to pursue his passion for documentary filmmaking by attending the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where he graduated with a bachelors in cinema production in 2001. Although he served as a Surface Warfare Officer, his proudest accomplishments were the three promotional videos he produced for his first ship, the USS Elliot. For Jeff, living under the scrutiny of “don’t ask don’t tell” proved to be the hardest part of his four years of ROTC (1997-2001) and his six years of military service (2001-2007). Having that added stress to his daily existence gave him a new appreciation for being out of the closet after he was honorably discharged. In 2012, Jeff finally achieved full transparency in his life and came out in his workplace, which is the government agency where he has worked since 2010. He eventually organized the first-ever LGBT diversity event there, and has organized two more events each year since. In his free time, Jeff runs Gay HealthNuts, a meet-up group with nearly 800 members, which he cofounded to provide a healthy atmosphere to bring together LGBT members and allies who share a common interest of living a healthy, active lifestyle, regardless of age, gender, or sexuality. Jeff is also passionate about serving the senior community through eldercare volunteering with his dog Zoe, and loves to honor seniors with his side business, Forever Legacy Video.

Craig A. Wilgenbusch, US Navy
Craig Wilgenbusch, was born into a Navy family and spent his youth moving between coasts of the US, Spain, and Italy. After graduating from The University of Virginia in May 1994, he was commissioned an Ensign in the United States Navy via NROTC.  Craig spent years as a Surface Warfare Officer, transitioning to become an Engineering Duty Officer while obtaining his Masters Of Science in Electrical Engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Throughout his 11 year military career, he gained extensive expertise in the government acquisition and intelligence systems. He currently serves as a Department of the Navy civil servant program manager for SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific, the Navy's west coast research and development laboratory. While still on active duty, Craig volunteered his efforts and time to work behind the scenes with other activists on repealing DADT. He served on both organizing committees for two events on the USS MIDWAY aircraft carrier museum called “Momentum on the Midway” in 2004 and 2005. Following his active duty service, joined the Military Advisory Council (MAC) of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) in May 2009, helping in the efforts to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell by participating in SLDN lobby days on Capital Hill, as well as raising funds and community awareness.

Veronica Zerrer, 2 LT, US Army
Veronica Zerrer began her military service in 1976 as an enlisted Intelligence Specialist in the U. S. Army. After graduating from Kansas State University, she was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. In a military career split between active duty and reserves, she was an armored cavalry platoon leader, company executive officer, company commander, and she held various staff jobs at battalion, brigade, and division level headquarters. These jobs ranged from a plans and operations officer in an infantry division to public affairs. She is a graduate of the U.S. Army’s Armor Officers Advanced Course, Fort Knox, Kentucky, and the combined arms Staff Services School at Fort Leavenworth. In a career that saw the Army committed to the Cold War, the first Persian Gulf War, and incurring other missions, Veronica served in both the 1st Infantry and the 35th Infantry divisions. After the Army, Veronica directed a homeless shelter, managed a program delivering home repair services to elderly homeowners, was the tribal grant writer for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, and served as the director of development for the LGBT Center in Orange County, California. On three occasions she was notified of her selection to be reactivated during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She reluctantly declined because her transgender status would have disqualified her from combat battalion assignments and may have endangered her retirement benefits.  She currently serves as the president of the board of Neutral Corner, San Diego’s longest lived trans nonprofit and was active in the planning and execution of Trans Pride 2016.

2015 Honorees

 Mitchel Eugene Cantrell - US Army

Mitch Cantrell was born in Arkansas in 1965. He served as an Army Software Analyst in Germany for over 3-1/2 years, until he tested positive for HIV in December 1988.  He was immediately shipped to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.  There he joined and/or facilitated several HIV protocols. He was one of the first two “lab rats” to receive injections of biological material from live HIV - GP160 - to study immune system responses.  His doctor wasn’t sure the GP160 wouldn't just advance his disease.  After 3 years, when the Army went public about having HIV+ active duty personnel, Mitch volunteered to be interviewed on NBC Nightly News, in a segment broadcast around the world.  He was retired on the TDRL (Temporary Disability Retirement List) in October 1991. Post-service Mitch managed greenhouses, convenience stores, and movie theaters, including in San Diego from 1995 to 2002.  He passed away from HIV complications in Florida in 2007, age 41. Please welcome Ken Spindler, who will accept the honor on behalf of Mitchel Cantrell.

 Diane M. “Semo” Cimochowicz - US Navy

Born in Jacksonville, FL and raised in Wyoming, MI, Diane “Semo” Cimochowicz joined the Navy right after high school, with full intentions of making it at least a 20-year career. After recruit training, she was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, where she was one of the first women to become an Operations Specialist (OS), a combat rating that had recently opened for women. She worked many different jobs throughout her career, and in 1978, when the Navy closed the OS rating to women, she decided to join the Reserves to continue her training until the rating was re-opened to women. After two years, she returned to active duty, and continued to advance in her naval career. She completed her Associates of Science in Management and was noted on the National Dean’s List and “Who’s Who Among Student in American Colleges and Universities, 1985.” She also has a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration and was selected as “Who’s Who Among American Women” and one of the top “2,000 American Women” in 1986.  She also completed a Master’s level Total Quality Management Certificate from Hawaii Pacific University. Her military decorations and awards include: Joint Services Commendation Metal, Joint Services Achievement Metal, (3) Navy Achievement Metals, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, (5) Navy Good Conduct Metals, National Defense Service Metal with Star (Vietnam and Persian Gulf), Overseas Service with one Star and a Navy Rifle Markmanship Ribbon. Known affectionately as “Semo,” she has been a stalwart in the LGBT community, including serving as the captain of WomenMoto, a motorcycle group for lesbian women in San Diego. Semo has also rode on many Patriot Guard missions to provide protection and shelter from those who would cause harm to the loved ones of deceased service members.

 Alberto Cortes - US Navy

Alberto had the pleasure of serving the United States Navy from 1979 to 1983. After initial training, he was assigned to a Combat Stores Ship (USS Sylvania) where he served before being accepted into Submarine School. Upon completion he was assigned to the USS Dace, a fast-attack nuclear-powered submarine, where he completed his tour of duty.  Alberto moved to San Diego in 1983. Soon after arriving he joined Dignity San Diego and also started volunteering with the San Diego AIDS Information Line (one of the first responses to the AIDS epidemic in San Diego). He has worked in the field of HIV in San Diego for 28 years. For over 13 years he has served Executive Director of Mama's Kitchen. Alberto is an advisory board member for the Institute for Nonprofit Education and Research at USD and serves on the San Diego County HIV Health Services Planning Council.  And he sings second tenor with the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus.

 Phyllis A. Daugherty - US Air Force

Phyllis A. Daugherty is a native of Johnstown, Pennsylvania whose early career included service in the U.S. Women’s Air Force Band. Following her service, she worked 30 years as Band Director for Phoenix City Schools. She also conducted the U.S. Collegiate Wind Bands for 5 years. Phyllis is a member of Women Band Directors International and was awarded the Scroll of Excellence by that organization in 1991. She has served as guest conductor for many European orchestras including the Mozartorium Symphony in St. Petersburg, Russia, and many other countries. In San Diego, she has served as Associate Conductor of the City Color Guard Band, and was a member of the Kearny Mesa Concert Band. She is a member of the Hillcrest Wind Ensemble, where she plays trumpet. She is joined tonight by many friends, including several fellow members of the Hillcrest Wind Ensemble.

 Camille Emily Davidson - US Air Force

Camille’s military career began as an attempt to secure her future, ensuring that she wouldn’t end up (in her words) as a “bag lady.”  During the course of 23-years of service, though, her career became so much more. She loved the concept of contributing to the safety of our nation, but the military also contributed to her grow in so many more ways. After retiring and returning to San Diego, Camille became a member of LAGADU (Lesbians and Gays of African Descent United) and her family of choice evolved from this very special group of people. Camille says she’s always been concerned about the divisions that exist in the LGBT community, and it has been on her goals to somehow help bridge the gap. As a past and present member of Diversionary Theatre’s Board of Trustees, Camille hopes to help implement steps to attract more people of color and other women to the theater and our community at large.

 Jackie K. Jackson - US Navy

Jackie K. Jackson has lived in San Diego for 45-years, since being transferred here in 1970. She was discharged from the US Navy in 1975, and has been actively involved in the community ever since. Among her involvements include volunteering at The Center for the Women’s Resource Center, he committee for the Black and Brown event, and the Multicultural Fair. She on the board of the San Diego Democrats for Equality for two years, walked for Obama’s first presidential campaign, and worked on the No on Prop 8 campaign. She also worked on Toni Atkins’ assembly campaign, and volunteered for Community Housing Works 2009 Face Lift on Atkins’ team. Jackie has long volunteered for the Victory Fund; and has served on the committee for the Bayard Rustin Honors event. She’s also participated in the Women’s Drum Circle for many years. Currently, Jackie volunteers for the County of San Diego as a life coach for the Way Program, helping foster adults who have aged out of foster care. She has recently joined the board of Lambda Archives. Professionally, Jackie worked for 15-years at Edgemoor Hospital as a medical records auditor, and served as union steward at Edgemoor for six years.

 Lester Lefkowitz - US Army

Lester Lefkowitz, who considers himself to be “85 years young,” has had a wealth of life experiences that couldn’t all be shared in this brief introduction. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Lester has been a Boy Scout since 1942 and a Brotherhood Honor Member of the Order of the Arrow. He says his most outstanding honor was to serve in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1955. Professionally, he worked with developmentally disabled adults at the ARC of San Diego, and later as a Disability Evaluation Analyst for the State of California. In 1987, be began a 17-year career with the County of San Diego as a Medi-Cal Determinator, then in Support Services. He is a survivor of prostate cancer, and has devoted his life to volunteering with the American Cancer Society, most often doing outreach at Pride festivals. He was an active member of SAGE San Diego when it was still in existence, and is an active member of FOG (Fellowship of Older Gays). Lester also says that music and singing have helped him in many ways to lift his spirits and others, so he contributed to the campaign to save the San Diego Opera, an organization that has been a focus of his lately. He dedicates this honor to his partner of 42 years, Dr. Arthur Uribe.

 Trent Lozano-Osier, US Navy

A 20-year Navy Veteran, Trent Lozano-Osier, retired in 2013 with honorable service and several awards. During his career, he was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Trent, born a “Military Brat” in Texas, grew up in Ohio and Maryland before joining the Navy shortly after High School. Trent is now married, has two children, and completed an Associate’s Degree from the University of Phoenix in 2006. He is currently attending classes at Mesa Community College towards an Accounting Degree. Trent has been an active supporter of his community bringing 20 years of experience in the Navy, including valuable administrative skills and discipline. His contributions include serving on the Board of Directors for Stonewall Citizen Patrol, advocating for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell under AVER and holding the first ever LGBT retirement ceremony at the The Center, legitimizing its use for the next generation of LGBT military veterans.

 Gordon K. Wahl, US Air Force

Colonel Gordon K. Wahl jumped at his first opportunity to join the US Air Force at the beginning of World War II. He quickly rose to become a pilot trainer for new recruits. At this time, Air Force pilots were trained in biplanes since all the up-to-date planes were in service overseas. During his 92 years of purposeful living he began to identify himself as a gay veteran circa 1969 in the press and for university research projects. He frequently said that WW II “created the biggest bunch of drunks he’d ever seen.” A sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous, he continued to guide and sponsor gay and non-gay veterans in their recovery. When Gordon died he was 44 years sober. Thomas Vegh, who is accepting this honor on Gordon’s behalf, said that he can heartily say that Gordon’s service career dynamically informed all areas of his life. Please welcome Thomas Vegh, accepting this honor on behalf of Gordon K. Wahl.

 Donna F. Walker, US Navy

Donna F. Walker retired Chief Photographers Mate, Aviation Warfare Specialist: PHC(AW) honorably retired after 20 years in the Navy (1979-1999). She was directly involved in significant and historic filmic documentation of Classified and Unclassified Military Missions, Educational, Newsworthy, and Scientifically significant events as a Photographer, Filmmaker, Video Director and Editor for Pacific Fleet Combat Camera, earning the title as one of the first female Crew Chiefs. Other primary commands were Fleet Imaging Command, USS Samuel Gompers (AD-37), USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) and SERE School and was selected to do special missions for Search Evasion Resistance and Escape training school, Terrorism Training, the closing of the Navy Base in the Philippines, Kobe Japan Earthquake relief efforts, Nixon funeral, Dr. Bob Ballard Sea of Cortez Scientific Research broadcast live feeds. PHC (AW) ( RET) D.F Walker is legally married to Lorna Cannon and lives in San Diego, CA. Donna is co-owner of South Bark Dog Wash, an award winning self -service dog wash, established in San Diego, California in October 2000. She is directly responsible for the co-development of a very popular product and process, “South Bark‘s Blueberry Facial” and other popular and successful private label items that are sold retail and wholesale. Donna is a published writer and authored many pet industry magazine and newspaper articles, she is considered a very credible seminar speaker within the Professional Pet Industry.  She is also a Registered Veterinary Technician and has a degree in Animal Health Technology. She also holds AS and BS degrees in Liberal Arts, Film and Video, and Radio and T.V.