Marine Sgt. Adan Gonzales Jr., 28, of Bakersfield, Calif.
Sgt Gonzales was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died Aug. 7, 2011 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations. Also killed was Marine Sgt. Joshua J. Robinson.
Sgt. Gonzales remembered as 'a good man'
BY STEVEN MAYER, Californian staff writer
Robert Otto plays the taps at the funeral for Marine Sgt. Adan Gonzalez at Hillcrest Memorial Park on Wednesday afternoon. It was perfectly fitting that the funeral of U.S. Marine Sgt. Adan Gonzales Jr. was held at the east Bakersfield church where he grew from a boy into a man.
And it was doubly so when Father John Warburton, who served at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church back when Gonzales was in youth ministry, was able to return Wednesday to officiate at his funeral.
Warburton spoke to the hundreds of mourners who crowded into the church -- many wearing military uniforms -- of the value of the shared experience.
"Over time our grief will fade," he promised. "But the faith, hope and love that we share will last forever."
The Mass, punctuated by sometimes mournful, sometimes joyful Mariachi-style hymns, was a chance for Gonzales' family, friends and his entire hometown to say goodbye to the 28-year-old father of three. The veteran of one combat tour in Iraq was shot and killed in a firefight Aug. 7, several months into his second deployment, this one to Afghanistan.
Those who gathered in the old church sat in hushed silence as Marine Staff Sgt. Pablo Avalos read aloud from a letter Gonzales wrote to his grandmother in April.
In it, he spoke of his faith and his desire to share God's promise with his comrades. And he welcomed each day as a gift.
"I marvel at his creation every day," Avalos recited from the letter. "With every sunrise and every sunset ... I look out into the distance and see the serene landscape of mountains and the beautiful Helmand River that flows through the land, keeping it green and fertile.
"I thank him every day I am here, and I thank you for your prayer," Gonzales wrote. "But Grandma, it's not just me that could use your prayer... Every man here can use your prayer. From the highest ranking to the lowest. Especially the lowest, because they are the youngest and newest Marines that take the most risks."
Cpl. Madison Jefferson, who was with Gonzales' unit in Afghanistan before being wounded in June, spoke about his friend's quiet strength.
"He never said much," Jefferson recalled. "He let his actions speak on his behalf."
Now his brother Marine is "in that ultimate guardian angel position," Jefferson said, to watch over those who need it most.
"It was an honor to serve with you, Sgt. Gonzales," he said. "You will always be our brother."
Following the funeral Mass, a graveside service was held on the Hill of Valor at Hillcrest Memorial Park east of Bakersfield.
Even as the punishing August sun rose high overhead, a cooling breeze occasionally washed over the mourners, causing a small set of wind chimes in a nearby tree to ring softly.
Babies tested their new voices in the near silence. And prayers were recited.
"May we who mourn be united some day with our brother," Father Warburton prayed.
Soon a seven-man Marine rifle team aimed its guns skyward and fired three volleys in honor of its fallen brother. Military veteran and longtime VFW volunteer Bob Otto played a mournful rendition of taps on his cornet. And in a touching display of tenderness and respect, a team of Marines presented several American flags to various members of the Gonzales family.
Tears flowed. Hugs were shared. Final respects were offered.
Anjelina Bravo, who attended the service with her daughter, Cristina Subia, said she has shared a friendship with Gonzales' mom, Yolanda Gonzales, for nearly 30 years.
"He came to see me two days before he deployed," she said of Sgt. Gonzales. "He brought his kids."
Wednesday was a difficult day in a difficult week, she acknowledged. The loss of such a fine young man is almost too much to bear.
"But I don't have to wonder where he's at," Bravo said. "I know where he's at. That comforts me. That comforts his family.
"He was a good kid," she said. "He was a good man."
As the service wound down, close to a dozen white birds were released from their cages. Their wings beat against the warm air, lifting them through the trees. They climbed higher, moving westward toward the horizon like a swirling puff of smoke.
And then they were gone.
Marine Sgt. Adan Gonzales Jr was killed in action on 8/07/11.