OFF THE WIRE
BY JENNY SHEARER,
Sixty-one years ago, Gabino Gonzales served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II, and Thursday the medals he earned found their way to him.
Steadied by his son, Julian, Gonzales, 82, was pinned with his American Campaign; Good Conduct; European, African and Middle Eastern Campaign; and WWII victory medals as about 50 family members, including his wife, Vera, watched Friday night. His grown children mingled with dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He never got his medals because he moved from Ballinger, Texas, and the military lost track of him.
Tears welled in Gonzales' eyes as he listened to tributes. The pinning ceremony was a surprise, and he was humbled.
"I don't know what to say," Gonzales said. "Thank you."
He was a gunner in the military, and served in Belgium and Germany. He said he was once faced with young German soldiers, boys of 12 or 14, but he couldn't shoot them.
"I'm proud of what we did over there," Gonzales said.
Sgt. Mario Lopez pinned Gonzales, whom he called a living legend.
Lopez has been in the Army for 11 years and Gonzales is the second WWII veteran he's met.
"It was an honor to meet someone who had served in Normandy and survived all these years," Lopez said.
Lopez helped get the medals to great-granddaughter Sarah Garcia and her grandmother, Frances Legaspi. The women started their quest to get Gonzales his medals in June 2005, Legaspi said. Her father's health is not good, and they needed to act fast.
Sarah Garcia and Legaspi called military representatives daily, but it wasn't until Lopez got involved that things began to fall into place.
Juan Garcia, Sarah's husband, is in the National Guard; Lopez is his sergeant. Juan Garcia deployed to Iraq in August for a year and a half, leaving behind his wife and Serenity, their now 7-month-old daughter, Gonzales' great-great-granddaughter.
As he ages, Gonzales shares war stories with his children.
Julian Gonzales said he feels blessed his father survived WWII. He raised his 13 children to value responsibility, respect and that family comes first.
"We always take care of each other, no matter what," he said.