Memorial honors two soldiers killed in Iraq
May 15, 2007
SCHWEINFURT, Germany — Two Task Force Vanguard mechanics were honored at a memorial service at Ledward Barracks chapel Monday.
Staff Sgt. Felix Giovanni Gonzalez-Iraheta, 25, and Spc. John Derek Flores, 21, were killed May 3 during a mortar attack on their forward operating base in Baghdad.
Both were “Highlanders” from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment.
A previous memorial was held by deployed members of Task Force Vanguard on Thursday in Baghdad. Members of the unit rear detachment in Schweinfurt read words by Gonzalez-Iraheta and Flores’ leaders and friends during the service downrange.
Born in El Salvador, and from Sun Valley, Calif., Gonzalez-Iraheta — “Gonzo” to his buddies — had been with 1-18 since February 2003, having also previously served in Vilseck, Germany, during his nine-plus years as a soldier.
Remembered by his boss downrange as “the best (NCO) I’ve ever met,” Gonzalez-Iraheta was an expert on Humvees and Bradley vehicles, having memorized schematic details. He and Flores were members of the 91-soldier maintenance section in 1-18 in charge of keeping the unit’s 200 vehicles running and the infantrymen who ride in them safe.
On his second Iraq deployment with 1-18, Gonzalez-Iraheta had acquired U.S. citizenship while with the unit, becoming naturalized in April 2006. He is survived by his wife, Janet, daughters Celina and Annabel, mother Christine Wertz and mother-in-law Cindy Kazuo.
Gonzalez-Iraheta’s sister-in-law told Lt. Col. Robert Whittle, rear detachment commander in Schweinfurt, that his family knew he was a hero long before he entered the Army, having saved his younger brother from drowning while on a childhood camping trip.
Joining the Army through the Delayed Enlistment Program from his native Guam, Flores had served in 1-18 since June 2005 after training to become a Bradley system maintainer. He served with distinction as tool custodian, a position of great responsibility in the maintenance section where he and Gonzalez-Iraheta worked.
“If you were stuck on a job and needed a hand, he was there to help you even if it meant he had to stay later,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew W. Colleary, reading the words of one of Flores’ friends still in Iraq. “He was happy and wanted everyone around him to be happy, too.”
Flores worked for Gonzalez-Iraheta and they had a great relationship, friends say, with Flores — a confessed Spam addict — stealing his noncommissioned officer’s meat product.
“He loved Spam and rice,” Colleary read of Flores. “When everyone else was in the mess hall, he’d be in the motor pool cooking Spam and rice. For him there was no better meal.”
Also remembered as a fine guitar player, Flores is survived by his wife, Charlene, and daughter Chloe.
Gonzalez-Iraheta and Flores are the 10th and 11th members of 1-18 killed during the present deployment.
Overall, the 2nd “Dagger” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, of which the battalion is a part, has lost 34 soldiers since leaving for Iraq in August and September of last year.