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Micheal Mink, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic
USS Gonzalez - 08.21.2009
As she made her way across Pier 2, the 80-year-old woman stood out from the crowd gathered for the ship's change of command ceremony. Greeted like family by the ship's Captain, it clear that this is no ordinary woman, and to her it is no ordinary ship – it is her ship.
The USS Gonzalez is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named after Marine Sgt. Alfredo "Freddy" Gonzalez, a Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War. The woman is Dolia Gonzalez, mother of the ship's namesake. It has been said that she makes the trek from her home in Edinburg, Texas, every time the ship leaves and returns from deployment, and for many of the major ceremonies.
Dolia Gonzalez may not know any of these Sailors personally; but she considers each of them as her own. Since the ship's commissioning, the crew has made it their mission to treat Dolia as the ship's mother - writing letters and calling her during deployments and inviting her to special events like today's change of command ceremony.
"It means life in my blood; it's for my boy. This is my life. My son is here with me," said Dolia.
During Cmdr. Brian Fort's last duty as the ship's commanding officer he made it a point to thank Dolia for all that she's done for his crew, by presenting her with a painting by retired Marine Col. Charles Waterhouse.
"She makes our life on board here extremely enjoyable. Knowing she means all this to my Sailors," said Fort.
As the ship's new captain steps in, Cmdr. Lynn Acheson said she's excited about fostering the relationship with Dolia, and getting to know the mother who has been such an integral part of the ship's history. Acheson said, "Dolia is a model of the honor and sacrifice heroes like Sgt. Freddie Gonzalez have made."
"She's got a special relationship with the crew. I hope to continue with my own personal relationship with her, I have a lot of respect for that lady," Acheson said.
Gonzalez was born in Edinburg, in 1946 and raised primarily by his mother. He was an All-District football player at Edinburg High School in spite of his weight of 135 pounds.
Following high school graduation, Gonzalez enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in San Antonio June 3, 1965, and then enlisted in the regular Marine Corps July 6, 1965. He went on to serve in Vietnam at his own request in response to an ambush that took the lives of some of his friends.
He first was assigned to the Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, as a rifleman. On Jan. 1, 1966, Gonzalez was promoted to private first class and transferred to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam as a squad leader.
In October that year he was promoted to lance corporal, and the following December was promoted to corporal. Gonzalez completed his tour of duty in Vietnam and returned to the United States in February 1967. He was stationed with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He became a Marine instructor at Camp Lejeune to prepare Marines for the guerilla warfare.
Though he had not intended to return to war, after learning of an ambush which wiped out an entire platoon, including men who had served under him during his tour of duty, he requested a transfer and another tour in Vietnam.
He spent May and July of 1967 in a staging battalion at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, during which he was promoted to Sergeant. Gonzalez was then assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division (Rein) in Vietnam.
In January 1968, Gonzalez' unit was involved in the initial phase of Operation Hue City and deployed by truck convoy to reinforce other units fighting in the city. The convoy was attacked near the village of Lang Van Lrong and drew heavy enemy fire.
Gonzalez immediately positioned his men and directed their fire until the area was free of enemy snipers. The convoy moved on and was attacked again after crossing a river south of Hue. A Marine standing on a tank was wounded and fell to the ground in a position exposed to enemy fire.
Gonzalez ran to him, picked him up and carried him to a protected area. During the rescue, Gonzalez was wounded by fragments of exploding grenades. As the convoy was pinned down by an enemy machine gun bunker up the road, Gonzalez led his platoon to the bunker and destroyed it with hand grenades.
The convoy eventually reached Hue, where Gonzalez and his unit fought against heavy enemy resistance. He was seriously wounded on Feb. 3, but refused medical treatment in order to stay with his men. The following day, his unit was pinned down by a large enemy force and suffered heavy casualties.
Gonzalez used several antitank weapons against heavily fortified enemy positions while exposed to enemy fire. He held back the enemy advance and destroyed an enemy rocket position before he was mortally wounded. Gonzalez was hit by the last rocket fired by the enemy, and died in the Saint Joan of Arc Catholic Church, where he had taken cover.
For his actions, while being wounded several times between January 31 and February 4, 1968, Gonzalez was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His Medal of Honor was presented to his mother on Oct. 31, 1969, by then Vice President Spiro T. Agnew at the White House.
In 1996, the USS Alfredo Gonzalez, a guided missile destroyer, was commissioned in Corpus Christi.
There is a permanent display of his uniform and medals at the Hidalgo County Historical Museum.
Alfredo Gonzalez Hall, Instructor Training Battalion Headquarters Building, The Basic School, Quantico, Va. was dedicated July 13, 2007. Gonzalez was chosen to have the building named after him by the Marines of Instructor Battalion.
Mother Teresa once said, "In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love."
Dolia's son gave his life. Though she lost him, his memory and her love is kept alive through her connection with the USS Gonzalez. They'll undoubtedly be saving her seat at the next ceremony, and she'll make the trip because a mother's job never ends, and the de facto matriarch of the USS Gonzalez wouldn't disappoint her children.