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57 Years Later, Hero Gets Medals

David M. Gonzales is posthumously awarded eight decorations at a Veterans Day ceremony in Sylmar. Son accepts the honors.

November 08, 2002|Stephanie Stassel | Times Staff Writer

A mistake made 57 years ago was corrected Thursday when World War II hero David M. Gonzales was posthumously awarded eight medals and badges at a Veterans Day program at Los Angeles Mission College in Sylmar.

The Army veteran's son, David V. Gonzales, stood solemnly as Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Mission Hills) handed him his father's Bronze Star medal for service in the Philippines and a Purple Heart medal to replace the one stolen from the Gonzales' Sylmar home seven years ago.

He also received a frame containing other awards his late father earned, but that the family never received: the World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Expert Rifle Badge, World War II Honorable Service lapel button, Army Good Conduct Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two Bronze Service Stars.

Berman then pinned on the younger Gonzales a Gold Star lapel button, something the family should have received after Gonzales was killed on April 25, 1945, as he tried to rescue five comrades after a bombing in the Philippines.

"When America no longer produces someone like David M. Gonzales, America ceases to exist as a beacon of liberty and freedom for the rest of the world," Berman said.

Taking a moment to compose himself, David V. Gonzales, 58, told the gathering of 200, "I wasn't expecting this ... I hope the young kids here will never forget the thousands and thousands of men who have fought for our freedom and the men and women who have died for our freedom."

His father had earlier been posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Medal of Honor, the only one given to a Los Angeles County resident during World War II. Three area facilities also bear his father's name: a Pacoima park, a county probation camp in Calabasas and an Army recruiting center in San Fernando.

Until Thursday, the family had been unaware Gonzales had earned the other awards.

The error was uncovered when Berman's office was investigating another mistake regarding Gonzales. In the late 1990s, veterans' groups and others had told the Gonzales family that the photograph on the Pentagon's Hispanic Medal of Honor Recipients display was not that of Gonzales.

Fred Flores, a Marine Corps veteran and Berman's director of communications and community relations, investigated and confirmed the photo was not of Gonzales. But while checking, Flores realized that Gonzales' service entitled him to medals that the family had never received.

"Through my experience helping other vets track down their medals, I knew that he deserved more," Flores said.

At Thursday's program commemorating the service of America's military, elected officials praised Gonzales for his ultimate sacrifice. "He was a regular guy with family back home, yet he stood up in the line of fire to save the lives of people so they could continue to fight for our freedom," Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Panorama City) said.

Later, David V. Gonzales' wife, Beatrice, addressed the gathering.

"My husband is really speechless and choked up," she said. "We are so deeply touched and so grateful. This is something we'll cherish for the rest of our lives."

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