COMMENTARY: Fallen war hero comforts mother from the hereafter

Commander Stefan Walch and several crew members of the USS Gonzalez attended the Veteran's festivities at Freddy Gonzalez Elementary School in Edinburg on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

BY JOEL FREEDMAN

Sgt. Alfredo Cantu Gonzalez, nicknamed Freddy, born May 23, 1946, was born and raised in Edinburg. He enlisted in the Marine Corps for two tours of duty in Vietnam.

While serving as a squad leader and platoon sergeant during the Battle of Hué in early 1968, Gonzalez gave his life for his country. On Oct. 31, 1969, Gonzalez was posthumously awarded the congressional Medal of Honor; it was presented to his mother, Dolia Gonzalez, at a White House ceremony.

The citation, posted online, said that during the battle, “with complete disregard for his safety, Sgt. Gonzalez ran through the fire-swept area to his injured comrade. He lifted him up and though receiving fragmentation wounds during the rescue, he carried the wounded Marine to a covered position for treatment,” after which “Sgt. Gonzalez exposed himself to the enemy fire and moved his platoon along the east side of a bordering rice paddy to a dike directly across from the bunker. Though fully aware of the danger involved, he moved to the fire-swept road and destroyed the hostile position with hand grenades. Although seriously wounded again on 3 February, he steadfastly refused medical treatment and continued to supervise his men and lead the attack. On 4 February, the enemy had again pinned the company down, inflicting heavy casualties with automatic weapons and rocket fire. Sgt. Gonzalez, utilizing a number of light antitank assault weapons, fearlessly moved from position to position firing numerous rounds at the heavily fortified enemy emplacement.

He successfully knocked out a rocket position and suppressed much of the enemy fire before falling mortally wounded. …”

The U.S. Navy-guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez, commissioned in 1996, is named in Gonzalez’s honor. Dolia Gonzalez over the years has attended many of the ship’s major ceremonies. She is regarded as the ship’s “mother.”

Crewmen correspond with her and phone her during deployments.

In 2018 on the 50th anniversary of the sergeant’s death, about a dozen Vietnam veterans from across America were in Edinburg to attend a ceremony in Gonzalez’s honor. The veterans talked about their fallen comrade: “He was a brother. We loved him to death … If he wanted you to do something, he did it also, and that’s the best you can say about a Marine …. He was my platoon sergeant, and as we went into Hué City, he was our leader and we had a lot of us that were wounded and he just kept us calm. He was a true, calm leader. …”

The veterans’ respect for Gonzalez extends to his mother: “We all love her. So, she’s like mom to us now …

She deserves all the credit for raising a young gentleman that grew up to be a great person.”

In an essay titled, “How Will I Go On?” included in “Comfort From Beyond: Real-Life Experiences of Hope in the Face of Loss” (Guideposts, 2008), Dolia Gonzalez wrote: “Seven years after his death, my son came to me in a dream. He was a teenager again, full of life, happiness dancing in his eyes. He walked toward me through a field so lush with flowers that he appeared to be swimming through them. ‘Don’t worry, Mom,’ he assured me with a smile. ‘I’m fine.’ Before I could reply, he turned to leave. A path in the flowers opened up as if to guide the way. I reached for him, desperately wanting to go along. Freddy looked back at me and waved good-bye. I ran after him, but I couldn’t catch up.”

When Dolia Gonzalez awoke, she “felt a peace in my heart that I hadn’t known since Freddy died. And I understood immediately what my dream had meant.

Though Freddy’s life was over, I still had mine to live.

Thank you, Lord, for sending my son to me one last time.

And for realizing I couldn’t get over his loss without your help.”

After the dream, Dolia Gonzalez would become a “mom” for many members of the military, veterans and children in her community.

Just before Gonzalez went to Vietnam, his mother told him that after he served his time in the Marines and completed college she would like to get a house in a pretty area on the outskirts of town. Gonzalez replied, “That’s a great idea, Mom!

Just wait. Someday I’ll build you a place on Sugar Road.”

A new elementary school in Edinburg located on Sugar Road was named after Sgt.

Gonzalez shortly after his mother’s dream. In death as in life, Gonzalez had a way of making things happen.

While raising her son by herself, “It wasn’t easy living on what I made as a waitress in a diner, but we managed.

Even as a little boy, Freddy did his best to help. Despite my protests, when he was only 10, he insisted on finding a job. I’ll never forget the afternoon he returned, jeans and T-shirt caked with grime, holding his first pay from picking melons. ‘Here’s some money for groceries, mom,’ he said, his smile as big as Texas. As Freddy got older, he spent summers toiling in the cotton fields, never complaining about the back-breaking work or keeping a cent of what he earned for himself.”

During his senior year, as a Mother’s Day present, Gonzalez gave his mother a beautiful pin — a dainty porcelain rose trimmed with gold. Dolia Gonzalez was “even more touched when his friends let it slip that Freddy hadn’t bought lunch for two months to save for my gift.”

As she sat on the deck of the USS Gonzalez at the commissioning ceremony, Dolia Gonzalez thought, “My son’s life may have been short, but it was special.

Lord, one day I’ll understand why You took Freddy. For now I’m proud — and grateful — you made me his mom.”

And I’m grateful for recently learning about Freddy Gonzalez and Dolia Gonzalez — and for the opportunity to tell their amazing story.

Joel Freedman is a retired VA social worker living in Canandaigua, N.Y.