Nine proud LGBTQ veterans thanked an audience at the LGBT Center shortly before they were inducted into the Benjamin F. Dillingham, III & Bridget Wilson LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor on Nov. 10.
“55 years is a long time to wait, but finally I feel like this is my welcome home,” said David Huskey, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968 and spent a year in Vietnam, which he called “a year from hell”.
“Thank you for this honor,” said Bob Carney, who also was in Vietnam with the Army in 1968 and was the sole human survivor in an explosion that killed five soldiers but also spared a German Shepherd with him in an ammo pit.
“I will forever be grateful in this life,” said Carney, who added he had shrapnel in his neck and back. Carney returned home to San Diego and became a teacher for 30 years.
“I’m truly grateful for what the military gave to me. I’m a very proud LGBTQ veteran,” said Lark Bearden, who was a Navy nurse in Vietnam.
“I had the opportunity of a lifetime. They gave me the education,” said Bearden, who said she was recalled back to duty as a reservist in Operation Desert Shield/Storm.
Hector Edmundo Rodriguez enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1999 and served in Iraq. Rodriguez told the audience he had a rough patch after his return, and he was homeless in 2015 when he walked into the LGBT Center to seek assistance.
Rodriguez said he got help and now helps others seeking recovery from substance abuse and chronic homelessness. “It means a great deal to get this award,” said Rodriguez.
Midori Hirakawa Sabanal served in the Army from June 1975 through May 1982, and worked assignments in Germany and in the U.S. She was awarded driver and mechanics badges to soldiers in operation and maintenance of combat support vehicles.
Michael W. Klein, Sr., was an operation specialist formerly known as a radarman, in the Navy after he enlisted in 1971. He worked at radar stations to protect Naval bases and later became an anti-submarine air controller.
He uses a wheelchair and is an adviser to San Diego Pride and who advocates accessibility for people with disabilities. “I’m humbled to receive this recognition just for being me,” said Klein, a biologist.
Michael Donovan joined the Air Force at age 19 and served as a computer operator. Donovan said he was discharged after two years for being Gay. He met his future husband in Omaha while he was stationed at a Nebraska base.
John Acosta served in the Navy from 1972 to 1994 as a damage controlman and his duties were firefighting and fire system inspections. He recently retired as a teacher at Southwestern College. He petitioned AARP to discuss LGBTQ topics and was the first Gay commissioner for the Veterans Commission. AARP sponsored a senior rest zone at the Pride Festival through Acosta’s advocacy.
A dozen members of the Metropolitan Community Church attended the ceremony to watch MCC member David Root receive his recognition for serving in the Army for three years. Root enlisted at age 18 and was stationed in Hawaii.
Beth Coye, a retired Naval commander, was ill and could not attend.
Edward Conlon, who was most well known as “Queen Eddie”, when he wrote advice columns in Gay newspapers Bravo!and Update, joined the Navy in 1946. He attended a hospital corpsman school and ended his service in 1947.
“He was greatly loved and respected,” said former Update publisher Tom Ellerbrock, of Conlan, who died at age 74 in 2002.
Houston Burnside, Jr. enlisted in the Air Force at age 19 and served three years. He became a staff pastor at Metropolitan Community Church and died at age 66 on Oct. 8, 2018, in a traffic accident. His husband is Bruno Giebultowski.
Thomas Carey served in the Navy from 1964-1968 and was the first treasurer for the then-named Gay Center. Carey later worked with an attorney to incorporate and obtain tax-exempt status for the Gay Center. Carey died of AIDS in 1995.
“It takes a village to make this wall,” said Nicole Murray Ramirez during opening remarks.
“They served in silence. It took courage, bravery,” said Toni Atkins, Senate President Pro Tempore, while noting over 100,000 people have been discharged due to their sexual orientation.
It is an honor to work with veterans, especially LGBT veterans. I’m so proud of San Diego, The Center, and my colleagues on the Center’s Veterans Wall of Honor Advisory Council of the work we do to acknowledge our community military vets.