Saturday, February 24, 2007

Gilbert Minjares laid to rest

Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Gilbert Minjares Jr. was buried Tuesday at Fort Bliss National Cemetery with a 21-gun salute and graveside services by the Roman Catholic Church, the Masonic Lodge and the Eagle Claw Warrior Society.

Minjares was killed Feb. 7 when his helicopter crashed in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, during a casualty evacuation mission. Tuesday morning, Monsignor Francis J. Smith, pastor and vicar general for St. Raphael Parish in east El Paso, presided over the funeral, which was attended by more than 400 people.

"God will call each and every one of us," Smith said. "We pray that we will be as welcome (as Minjares)."

During his sermon, Smith spoke of a letter he had received from the mayor of Tal Afar, a city in northern Iraq. The mayor of the Tal Afar was trying to find the troops who "freed his city from the terrorists," Smith said, adding that they "spread smiles on the faces of our children and gave us new hope."

"They have given us something we will never forget," Smith said, quoting the letter. "Their sacrifice is not in vain."

Police motorcycle escorts guided hundreds of cars with their lights on through city streets to the cemetery, where workers scrambled to find parking space.

Sailors -- their dark uniforms in striking contrast to the brilliant white spats, neckerchiefs, belts and gloves -- were pallbearers and painstakingly folded the flag from Minjares' coffin before presenting it to the family.

In the background, scattered clouds cast fleeting shadows on the Franklin Mountains while the snapping of American flags buffeted by the wind threatened to drown out voices in the small stone shelter where the family faced Minjares' coffin. But just as the Rev. Roberto Alvarado began the graveside service, the steady breeze momentarily stilled.

A lambskin apron tied on the casket symbolized innocence as Minjares returned to his maker, and a sprig of evergreen symbolized the "immortal spirit that will survive the tomb," said Doc Rountree, who performed the Masonic graveside ceremony.

"He is a great warrior," said Jesus Padilla of the Eagle Claw Warrior Society, who scattered sage and corn husks in the four directions on each side of the casket. "We honor you, Gilbert Minjares, for your bravery."

Minjares was posthumously given the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Badge, the Global War on Terrorism Medal and the Iraq Campaign Medal.

Friends and relatives came from Dallas and California, said Eddie Pedregon, Minjares' cousin. "He touched a lot of people."

Joseph Moncada met Minjares when they attended Desert View Middle School. Later, they graduated from Hanks High School.

"I was a center and he was the quarterback," Moncada said. "We played ball together."

Moncada said he had been out of touch with Minjares for a year and a half, but something told him to call his old friend. He talked to Minjares the night before the corpsman deployed to Iraq. Minjares was killed seven days after his arrival.

"He didn't regret going into the Navy," Moncada said. "He did it for his kids and everybody else. He didn't want anybody crying for him. He was fighting for our freedom and doing what he wanted to do. He was courageous. He wasn't afraid of going. He knew he had a purpose.

"He knew if something happened to him, he'd have open doors upstairs."

From the El Paso Times

Related Link:
Gilbert Minjares remembered

Related Link:
Gilbert Minjares killed in helicopter crash