Friday, March 30, 2007

Eric (Orlando E.) Gonzalez dies of injuries from I.E.D.

When Pfc. Orlando E. "Eric" Gonzalez needed a place to live during his senior year of high school, Patrick LeBlanc was happy to make that happen - even though it was unusual for people to live at his camp during the school year.

Generally, campers stay at Summit Grove Camp in New Freedom during the summers.

However, Southern York School District contacted the camp looking for a place for Gonzalez - who was an incoming senior at Susquehannock High School at the time - to stay. LeBlanc, executive director of the camp, took him in.

He said Gonzalez had stayed at the camp during several summers and described him as an ambassador - outgoing and willing to "talk (anyone's) ear off."

"Orlando was an amazing young man," LeBlanc said. "He had a heart as big as this camp."

The camp, LeBlanc said, spans about 45 acres.

Gonzalez, 21, was killed Sunday in Baqubah, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near a vehicle he was riding in, according to the Department of Defense. Three other soldiers, all assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division of Fort Bragg, N.C., were killed in the attack. Two others were injured.

Both LeBlanc and Susquehannock Principal Brian Cashman said Gonzalez, who graduated from Susquehannock High School in 2005, had a difficult family situation, but they would not elaborate.

Gonzalez is the son of Orlando G. Gonzalez of Connecticut and Carmen M. Diaz. Family members could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

LeBlanc said Gonzalez was excited about joining the Army after high school. The soldier visited the camp a couple of times between boot camp and his deployment to Iraq.

"He couldn't wait to be seen in his uniform," LeBlanc said of Gonzalez's first trip back to the camp after boot camp.

The camp director said it's comforting to think of how Gonzalez - a "man of belief" who "knew where he was going" - was excited to join the Army.

LeBlanc believes "if you told him this is how it would end, he still would have went (into the Army)."

Gonzalez lived in the staff dormitory at the camp during his senior year. His dorm, along with two others, sits toward one edge of the wooded campground, which has dozens of cabins and other buildings.

It's a college setting, with campers coming from as close as the immediate area and as far away as California, said Le- Blanc, who has been the camp director for about 10 years.

During the summer, LeBlanc said, about 25 teenagers typically live at the camp. Gonzalez had been one of those summer campers, and he was known as "Speedy."

"The kid ran like a gazelle," LeBlanc said.

At one point during Gonzalez's stay, LeBlanc recalls seeing a wild rabbit darting around the campgrounds. He told Gonzalez he was probably fast enough to catch it. Gonzalez said he wasn't fast enough.

Later that day, Gonzalez showed up at LeBlanc's door.

"There he was, petting this rabbit," LeBlanc said.

From the Daily Record