Monday, February 19, 2007

Gilbert Minjares remembered

A world traveler once blessed by a pope, Petty Officer 1st Class Gilbert Minjares Jr. saved many lives before he was killed when the helicopter he was in was shot down during a medical evacuation in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

"He said he traveled around the world twice," Rosa Minjares, the Navy hospital corpsman's mother, said Saturday during an interview at her East Side home.

A few years ago, the family was watching a movie set in Italy, and during a scene filmed on an Italian street, Minjares pointed and said, "'There's a fountain around that corner; I've been there.' And sure enough, there was a fountain around the corner," she said.

That happened more than once, Rosa Minjares said. "He's been places we've only dreamed of."

Gilbert Minjares -- who will be buried at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery on Tuesday -- had a particular love of Italy.

Once during a blessing at the Vatican by Pope John Paul II, his mother said, the pope turned and looked Minjares right in the eye. "He said, 'I can die tomorrow and I know where I'm going,' " Rosa Minjares said. "We kind of feel we know where he's at."

Minjares was a career military man who planned to become a doctor after he retired. The corpsman's father added, "He loved what he was doing, saving other people's lives."

Minjares was born in Albuquerque, but the family moved to El Paso soon thereafter, and his father considers his son an El Pasoan through and through. Minjares attended Desert View and Indian Ridge middle schools and graduated from Hanks HIgh School in 1993.
He was an accomplished athlete whose favorite sport was football, "from peewee to varsity," Minjares senior said.

The junior Minjares was blessed with good role models.

"My mom was a nurse in Mexico," Rosa Minjares said. "When they were little, she would treat them and he said, 'Hey, she helped me. I want to learn about medicine.' "

When he was young, one of Minjares' sisters fell off the sofa and dislocated a joint in her arm. "He snapped it back in," Rosa Minjares said. However, he lacked the deft touch he would develop later in life, she said. His sister had a bump on her elbow, but the arm worked fine.

And explaining why her son joined the Navy in landlocked El Paso, she said it was a combination of the fact that her oldest brother was in the Navy and that she once lost a job when the company she worked for went out of business. "He said, 'I want to go into something that won't be shut down,' " she said.

As an adult, Minjares drank life in, his family said, unafraid to approach people and introduce himself, to tell a joke or to knock out a few dance steps.

"Some of his friends call him the 'Salsa King,' " Rosa said, standing on a tile floor in her home's converted garage as Gilbert Minjares' 2-year-old namesake son jumped and twirled during the interview. "He grew up dancing."

"He wasn't bashful," Minjares senior added.

In January, before heading to Iraq, the corpsman was able to travel back to his North Carolina base to attend the birth of his daughter, who is now a month old.

"He saw his baby," Minjares senior said. "He held her every day, every day. He got to hear that heart."

From the El Paso Times

Related Link:
Gilbert Minjares killed in helicopter crash