Dec 20, 2008

Christmas Brings Hope for Lost Loved Ones


This year will mark the 40th Christmas that Dolia González of Edinburg has spent alone, without her only child, American war hero Freddy González. But instead of sitting alone with her memories, she reaches out and is like a star shining for those around her. That is her sense of decency, honor, and civic duty, says John Flores, author of a book about the Edinburg family. Last February, Dolia González and her son were the center of attention in Edinburg, when Gov. Rick Perry, to her left, came to the three-time All-America City to bestow Texas' highest honor in memory on her son's courage in battle.

From left, are: Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Edinburg City Councilmember NoéGarza (back row); Dolia González; Edinburg City Councilmember Alma Garza (back row); Gov. Perry; and Edinburg school board president Omar Palacios.


Christmas represents sadness, faith in eternal life,
for Dolia González, others who have lost loved ones


BY JOHN W. FLORES

In February 1995. I began working on stories about the building of a billion-dollar U.S. Navy warship at Bath Iron Works, in Maine, named for a 21-year-old Marine Corps platoon sergeant killed saving his men on the morning of February 4, 1968, during the Tet Offensive in Hue City, Vietnam.

His name was Freddy González, the only child of Dolia González – who is 78 year old and still lives and works every day in the family hometown of Edinburg. She had to raise her boy alone, on the wages of a farm worker and waitress.

I was a reporter at the old Edinburg Bureau of the McAllen Monitor, the biggest newspaper covering the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Along with other duties, I kept with the González story, and a year later after leaving the newspaper, the Navy sent me alone by helicopter from Key West NAS to the ship as it headed for commissioning ceremonies in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The October 1996 commissioning drew thousands of people, including former Marine buddies who served with Freddy up to the time he was killed by an enemy rocket propelled grenade.

On our trip from Florida, across to Cuba and the across the wide expanse of ocean toward Corpus Christi, the ship accidentally caught the edge of Hurricane Josephine, and for two days the new crew of about 300 sailors endured 40-foot seas. There was some damage to the ship, but we made it in time to clean up and repair for the ceremony.

Dolia González stood on an upper deck to wave at the large crowd, standing beside Secretary of the Navy John Dalton. She was a mere waitress, and former farm worker, but she was a star that day. And though she is financially poor, Dolia does not complain. She is proud of her boy's heritage as the only American to receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic last stand in Hue City–at the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church. It was there he gathered a dozen or so anti-armor rockets, climbed to the second floor of a school complex, and fired at enemy positions before getting hit.

In 1997, Dolia González told me she had been cut off from receiving monthly benefits from her son's death many years before, and then had received a letter from the V.A. stating not only was she being cut off, but she owed the V.A. about $8,000 for "overpayment of benefits" over a period of decades.

I got on the phone with friends in the media, and wrote a story myself that was carried on AP, and soon Albertson's Corporation–a grocery store chain about to open a new store in Edinburg–read my story and contacted me, saying they were going to present a check for $8,000 to Dolia González to cover her "bill" from the V.A. I faxed over all the stories to the V.A. secretary's office, and he personally cancelled the bill. But the still has to work because she can't get any benefits, even though she is her son's only surviving family member.

She still works, part-time as a greeter at the local grocery store, and part-time as a waitress at the ECHO Hotel and Conference Cener–an old, historic meeting site for locals–just to survive.

I wrote a book, When The River Dreams, about this whole story, published in 2006. After the book came out I was honored by the Texas Senate with Senate Resolution 168, sponsored and signed by Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and the lieutenant governor. Then, on February 4, 2008, Texas Gov. Rick Perry finally honored Dolia by awarding the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, received by Dolia at Bobcat Stadium, where Freddy played football in the 1960s.

Freddy was the sixth recipient of the medal since it was established in the 1950s. Another recipient was one of Audie Murphy's commanding officers during World War II.

Freddy's high school football coach, Fred Akers, was also there. He went on to be a legendary coach of the Texas Longhorns.

To top it all off, the Navy flew three jets over the field from nearby NAS Corpus Christi prior to the ceremony.

Also, in 2006, Gov. Bill Richardson, D-New Mexico, and now President-Elect Obama' selection for U.S. Secretary of Commerce, sent me a citation for my work, similar to the Senate Resolution.

This story started for me in 1995, and it will always be a part of me.
I had the book self-published after being turned down by many established publishers, and am hoping to get a good publisher or agent for this book to be republished, so I can include much more information, especially from the Texas Medal of Honor ceremony.

I have also received many more photos from the warship USS González.

On Dolia's 78th birthday last August, she was sent by the Navy from Edinburg to Norfolk, VA, for the homecoming of the USS González. The crew on deck as it was docking all together sang happy birthday to her as she stood on the dock. That was captured on local media.

I spoke to the ship's captain and the media person on the ship about it, and have photos of that from them.

This is a great American story of hope from a great woman who, though very poor, raised her only child well. He could easily have gone into gangs, drug abuse, criminal activities. But that was all reprehensible to him and Freddy's innate sense of human decency. His sense of honor. His sense of civic duty, instilled in him in no small part by his mother.

With no husband to support her, working on paltry wages at dead-end, menial jobs, she did the best she could, and it was more than good enough.

This year will mark the 40th Christmas she has spent alone, without her only child. But instead of sitting alone with her memories, she reaches out and is like a star shining for those around her. That is her sense of decency, honor, and civic duty.

John Flores, author of When The River Dreams: The Life of Marine Sgt. Freddy González, is a freelance writer based in Albuquergque, New Mexico. He may be reached via e-mail at Flores@navyseal.com

No comments: