New Mexico WWII veteran’s family to finally receive medals
(Tribune News Service) — Nearly 80 years after his death, Capt. Jerry O. Gonzales is being honored for his service in the U.S. Army's 31st Infantry Regiment in the Bataan Peninsula during World War II.
Gonzales, who was from Magdalena, died in June 1942 at the age of 38, likely from malaria, in the jungle of Tayabas Province. This was after he survived the Bataan Death March that took place in April 1942.
Despite his ultimate sacrifice, Gonzales never received the proper recognition — until now. At 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 20, at the New Mexico Military Museum in Santa Fe, Maj. Gen. Kenneth A. Nava, New Mexico's Adjutant General, will present Gonzales' descendants with the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart Medal, the Prisoner of War Medal, the American Defense Service Medal with Foreign Clasp, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star, and the World War II Victory Medal.
In addition to the medals, Gonzales' descendants will also receive several ribbons and a badge — the Presidential Unit Citation with two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, the Philippine Defense Ribbon with one Bronze Service Star, the Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation and the Combat Infantry Badge.
Gonzales' tombstone will be replaced with a new one that indicates his Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Prisoner of War medals in the Santa Fe National Cemetery.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Rod Kontny was working on getting Gonzales' medals for a couple of years before the pandemic hit. In 2019, Kontny said he began collecting documents about Gonzales, which was difficult to do because a lot of those documents burned during the 1973 St. Louis National Personnel Records Center fire.
Kontny has done this before for other veterans, so he knew exactly what to do and who to contact. He actually received the OK for the medals in December 2019, but the ceremony was delayed due to the pandemic.
"He never received any of his medals, or much recognition," Kontny said. "You realize after World War II, people wanted to get on with their lives ... so, those guys that came back in caskets weren't very well honored, so I decided to do something about that."
Patrick Long, Gonzales' great-nephew, said he remembered hearing about Gonzales growing up. He said his mother used to write him letters every day when he was deployed, until one day Gonzales never wrote back. She later found out he died.
When Gonzales' family discovered how he died, Long said it was heart wrenching. Long said he likes to think that Gonzales is still "out there" and that he's really happy.
(c)2021 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at www.abqjournal.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.