Monday, May 03, 2010

Army Staff Sgt. Esau S.A. Gonzales

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Esau S.A. Gonzales, 30, of White Deer, Texas

SSgt Gonzales was assigned to the 38th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, Fort Stewart, Ga.; died May 3, 2010 in Mosul, Iraq, of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident.

American flags lined the main drag here Friday and large yellow ribbons were tied to the trees. Red, white and blue ribbons were wrapped around nearly every pole in town.

No one is sure where they all came from or who put them up, but they've all appeared since the news spread that Army Staff Sgt. Esau Gonzales died Monday in Iraq.

"Every day we're just seeing more and more and more," said Panhandle Mayor Dan Looten.

"He's a leader. He finally found his niche in life. That was serving in the military." Keri Harris

More than 100 people gathered downtown amid the flags and ribbons Friday morning to pay their respects during a brief, somber city-sponsored memorial. The close-knit community of about 2,600 had been seemingly immune to the casualties of war. But news of the 30-year-old's death came as a tremendous shock.

"It could have been any one of us," Looten said. "We are a family. We're just a large, extended family."

Looten's wife taught Gonzales in school. Albert Garcia, who drove from Clayton, N.M., to pay his respects, attended school with Gonzales at Panhandle High School. Sherry Dougwright's son was a good friend. Keri Harris, now of Stratford, used to live next door and watched Gonzales grow up.

Townspeople even painted patriotic signs on store windows. "Thank you Esau," read one. "God Bless our Troops," read another.

"Everybody's hurting, the whole community," said Wally Lanier Jr., Gonzales' uncle, fighting back tears. "It's broken everybody's hearts. It's the first kid we've lost. Hopefully the last."

The U.S. Department of Defense on Friday declined to confirm Gonzales' death or to release any details. The U.S. military said Tuesday that two soldiers died in Iraq on Monday in separate incidents unrelated to combat. The military said the deaths were under investigation.

Lanier said the family still has few details on what killed Gonzales. He said his nephew, on his third tour of duty, helped deactivate explosive devices in Iraq.

Gonzales, a 1998 Panhandle High School graduate, first served with the Navy before joining the Army and volunteering to serve overseas, said Dougwright.

"He just loved what he was doing," said Lanier, who noted that his nephew planned to come home soon.

Harris, an Army veteran herself, said she knew Gonzales as "smart, intelligent and handsome."

"He's a leader," she said. "He finally found his niche in life. That was serving in the military."

Esau is remembered and loved by a family that includes his wife, Melissa, and their two children, Ava Milagro and Sam Atanacio, who are only four and two, his father, Atanacio, his mother, Sandra, his sister, Sue Ann, and numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Army Staff Sgt. Esau S.A. Gonzales was killed in a non-combat related incident in Iraq 5/3/10.

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