Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Eric (Orlando E.) Gonzalez has services ahead of burial at Arlington

Army, Navy and Air Force veterans stood at a distance from a church in Shrewsbury.

Weathered by life and war and memories, the three men talked yesterday amongst themselves before a 10 a.m. memorial service.

These men waited to pay tribute to a 21-year-old brother in arms, Orlando "Eric" Gonzalez. It's something soldiers and sailors and airmen do for fallen comrades.

So do women like Ann Sherman Wolcott, past president of American Gold Star Mothers Inc., mothers who've lost a child to war. Her son, Rex Sherman, was 17 when he enlisted; he joined the 75th Ranger Infantry Regiment and died in 1969 while fighting in Vietnam. He was 18.

But Wolcott was there to support Gonzalez's mother, Carmen Diaz, and her four children. Wolcott exited her car, entered the church and quietly introduced herself to Diaz.

The two hugged and spoke briefly as other friends, family
and strangers offered condolences and flowers and comfort. A member of the 82nd Airborne Division, Army Pfc. Gonzalez died in the line of duty March 25, in Baqubah, Iraq.
Diaz stood near her children, Jennifer Jackson, Nathaniel Diaz, Frank Diaz and Michael Diaz, gathering them close like a lioness would her cubs.

Support: The 200 or more who gathered were there to support Diaz's family and to celebrate Gonzalez's life. Each participant filed into the sanctuary at Shrewsbury Assembly of God Church, took a seat and listened.

Leo Tate, Gonzalez's stand-in grandfather and one of many mentors, talked about the boy he'd met in 1992. Gonzalez was 6 years old and a handful, but was an easy child to work with.

He offered no excuses when he got into trouble, but simply took his lumps. With guidance and love and spiritual teachers, Gonzalez became a man who embodied humility, integrity and heart.

Gonzalez, known to his peers as Speedy Gonzalez, seemed most free when he ran, as if he were running on clouds, his sister said. His dream had been to become a soldier.

He became a platoon leader, which was no surprise to those who knew him. He was the guy in high school who made people smile when they were having a bad day, the guy who sprinted in school hallways without reprisal from teachers -- they liked him, too.

Familiar faces: And there were strangers familiar with Gonzalez.

A 70-year-old Glen Rock man said he didn't know Gonzalez although he'd encountered him during walks in the borough. Gonzalez, the man recalled, always said hello, and "was the only kid in town who called me sir. There aren't too many kids around that do that."

A Vietnam veteran who'd never met Gonzalez offered condolences to Diaz and the children. He then walked to a photograph of Gonzalez in uniform, stood at attention and saluted his fallen brother.

Nathaniel, Gonzalez's youngest brother, told the mourners, "He was my angel. I love him with everything I have."

There were more, many more, who spoke.

Wolcott did not. The grief of losing a child to war is shared, understood among parents, among mothers.

She introduced herself to Diaz. She let Diaz know that when the sympathy cards slow to a trickle, she and others will be there for support.

So too will veterans and friends and clergy.

Carmen Diaz acknowledged this when she stood at the pulpit.

"It was not in vain the many years in the ministry. It was not in vain to kneel at the altar," she said in a loud, clear voice.

She explained how each person present had cared for her son, how each impacted her son's life, his willingness to serve God and to serve his country. "I can see Eric's face. I can see Jesus spreading his arms to him. It was all because of you."

From the Dispatch

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