Fallen GI was a jack-of-all-trades
January 8, 2009
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Cpl. Tony Gonzales took on many jobs in the Army: tank driver, gunner, Raven pilot, weapons ward. But it was the smallest of tasks that his fellow soldiers will never forget — cutting their hair as the platoon barber.
"I truly believe he cut our hair only for the practice, though," said Spc. David Beverage.
Gonzales, of Newman, Calif., was killed Dec. 28 by a roadside bomb hidden in the parking lot of a mosque in Baghdad’s Sadr City. He was 20.
A memorial service was held for him Wednesday at Baumholder’s Chapel One. Dozens of soldiers packed the pews in the sun-drenched church to pay their respects to Gonzales, assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. This was the third death in December for the Baumholder troops; the other two were not combat-related.
"Gonzales was one of those soldiers that whatever job you put him in, he loved doing it," Staff Sgt. Timothy Cannon, a noncommissioned officer who served with Gonzales, wrote from downrange.
Friends knew him by the nickname "Gonzo." He enjoyed tinkering with machines and equipment, making him a natural fit as caretaker of the company’s weapons, Capt. Andrew Slack, Gonzales’ company commander, said in a letter from downrange.
"[He was] always taking things apart and putting them back together, fashioning devices of his own making to make a job just slightly easier," Slack wrote.
His immense knowledge of weaponry was also on display when he watched his friends play the videogame "Call of Duty 4."
"He would tell everyone what each weapon was, where it came from and what it fired," said Cannon.
Everyone laughed, Cannon said. And Gonzales would reply: "Just trying to help."
Tears streamed down the face of Cannon’s wife, Sarah, who attended the memorial Wednesday. She, like everyone else, was distraught that the tall, lanky young man, whose voice sometimes squeaked, had been killed so young.
"He had this crooked smile," she said. "I had to say goodbye to him."
She said her husband had received a few solid buzz cuts from Gonzales.
"We will always have a part of you in our hearts and minds, Gonzo," wrote Timothy Cannon. "You will never be forgotten."
Gonzales was 18 when he joined the Army. He planned to follow in his father’s footsteps, first into the military and then into a law enforcement career, friends and family told the Modesto Bee in California.
"He always wanted to be a police officer," friend Matthew Clark told the newspaper. "Anytime you saw him downtown, he had that police officer swagger."
Gonzales was scheduled to return to his family in California in early January on rest and recuperation leave. His mom, Marylynn, didn’t want her son to miss the holidays, so she left the tree up. The red bows and lights were still in place, all in anticipation of his homecoming.
When she learned he died, she couldn’t bear to take them down.
"He went home," Gonzales’ sister told the newspaper. "He just didn’t go to the home he wanted."