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Medal of Honor Winner's Son
Finally Gets dad's Due.
David Gonzalez Jr., left, receives medals from Conressman Howard Berman as posthumus recognition for his father who was a Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II. (Tom Mendoza / Daily News)
By Dennis McCarthy Columnist
The government finally made it right by Pvt. David M. Gonzales during a ceremony Thursday at Los Angeles Mission College.
Finally made sure his family got all the medals this true hometown hero from Pacoima was awarded posthumously for his combat in World War II.
Made sure the wrong photograph that's been hanging over the name David M. Gonzales in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes -- a display featuring Latinos who have been awarded the Medal of Honor -- is being replaced with the right one.
Made sure that his son, 58-year-old David Jr., and daughter-in-law, Bea, will never again attend a ceremony for war heroes and find the name Gonzales -- L.A. County's first resident to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II -- under the portrait of a stranger.
"It hurt and upset us," David said at the ceremony, held four days before Veterans Day. "My father was extremely proud to serve this great country, and he deserves to be remembered with honor and respect."
He has no memory of the father who got to hold him only once before going off to war, David said.
"He was home on leave, and I wasn't even a year old yet," he said. "My Aunt Carmen told me my father said to her and my mother to take good care of me because he wasn't coming home."
"He knew he was going to die out there," said David's wife, Bea.
And he did -- a hero, according to President Harry Truman, who posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor to Gonzales, the oldest of 14 children.
"Private Gonzales' valiant and intrepid conduct exemplifies the highest tradition of the military service," Truman said.
It was April 1945, and Pvt. Gonzales and his company were pinned down by enemy fire on Villa Verde Trail on Luzon island in the Philippines. A 500-pound bomb smashed into the company's perimeter, burying five men.
"Without hesitation, Pvt. Gonzales grabbed an entrenching tool and crawled to his comrades," the commendation reads. "He joined his commanding officer in trying to dig out the buried men, but the officer was almost instantly killed.
"Under a hail of gunfire, Pvt. Gonzales continued to dig with the tool and his hands. After freeing two of the men, Pvt. Gonzales was mortally wounded as he rescued the third. Eventually, all five men were safely extricated."
In his honor, Pacoima Park was renamed David M. Gonzales/Pacoima Recreational Center, and the local Army recruiting station also carries his name, as does a county Probation Department camp in Malibu.
It wasn't until 1999, when David and Bea were attending a ceremony for war heroes in Santa Ana, that they discovered the picture the Army was sending out to military ceremonies was not Gonzales.
"I wrote to the Army in Washington, D.C., to bring it to their attention, and when I didn't hear from them, I wrote to Congressman (Howard) Berman," Bea said.
The letter was received by Berman aide Fred Flores, a Marine veteran, who remembered seeing Gonzales' name in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes when he was stationed there in 1987.
"I was walking down the hall when I saw the name Pacoima up on the wall," Flores said. "It's my hometown, too. I remember thinking, damn, a guy from Pacoima won the Congressional Medal of Honor. I was so proud.
"I never realized the man I was looking at wasn't Gonzales," he said.
After getting Bea's letter, Flores immediately called Pentagon officials and had them correct the mistake. No one there knew how it had happened, he said.
Then he called the Department of the Army because Flores knew something else wasn't right, either.
"David said that the only medals he had received from the Army for his father were the Medal of Honor and a replica of his Purple Heart, which had been stolen," he said.
Heroes like Gonzales win more medals than that, Flores knew. A lot more.
So Berman flew in from Washington on Thursday to meet a hero's son -- to surprise him with all the medals his father had died for 57 years earlier.
The Bronze Star. A real Purple Heart. The World War II Victory Medal. The Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two Bronze Service Stars. And six additional medals and ribbons.
"On behalf of the United States of America, I would like to present to you these medals earned by a true hometown American hero," Berman said to David, as an auditorium filled with students, dignitaries and military personnel stood and applauded.
The moment stunned the hero's son into silence.
"I stayed up all night thinking about what I was going to say today, but then I couldn't say it," David said later.
"When he surprised me and gave us my father's medals, I was speechless. I had a lump in my throat and couldn't talk anymore."
That was all right because everyone standing and applauding in that auditorium knew what the Gonzales family was feeling -- knew the truth.
The government had finally made it right by Pvt. David M. Gonzales -- a true American hometown hero.
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