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A salute to my brother and all who served
Brothers Rufino (left) and Alfred Gonzales
By Alfred “Fred” Gonzales
As Veterans Day approaches, I am reminded of a then-18-year-old who received his draft notice in 1943. He was and is my brother, Rufino Gonzales. Although I was 6 years old, one thing remains etched in my mind. That is the difference between the fresh-faced, excited young man who acted like he had just won a lottery when he left and the quiet, somber man of 20 who returned in 1945 after being discharged from the naval hospital in Norfolk, Va.
Part of the reason for that change was the fact that this young man had never been outside of Floresville. In fact, he mostly had spent his life working alongside my dad as a sharecropping farmer and on some migrant worker trips. The most exposure he had to the outside world was watching Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies at the Arcadia on Saturdays (at least he could yodel when milking the cows). The bigger reason though was the result of his service in the Pacific War specifically onboard an aircraft carrier (USS Sangamon) at the Battle of Okinawa.
Because he is almost 12 years older than I, I didn’t know my brother very well. However, since he’s been “enrolled” (October 2011) at the Frank M. Tejeda Texas State Veterans Home, I visit with him frequently. As a result, I have become “acquainted” with him. Because of my interest in learning everything I can (particularly about people’s reactions to their environment), I pump him quite a bit about his war experience. Although reluctantly, he has given me some insight on what he (and many others) went through.
Surprisingly, because of the elapsed time, he had some vivid memories. This is particularly true of the days during the last and desperate surge by the kamikaze (suicidal) attacks by the Japanese air fleet. According to him, it was relatively short but brutally relentless (around the clock). You couldn’t see anything even though it was during the day sometimes. As a gunner, he couldn’t understand why these planes kept coming even when they were hit directly. You can just imagine the result of a plane with a 500-pound bomb directly hitting a ship with more than 1,000 men and quantities of potent ammunition on board. On a day sometime in late 1944 or early 1945 (he can’t remember exactly), his ship was hit by several of these. While his ship was badly damaged and suffered many casualties, my brother survived and as a result, ended up back in Norfolk.
While my brother is not a jokester, he made a statement when arriving at the veterans home that was poignant in its simplicity. Like a lot of his fellow residents, he is getting along in age and has significant physical limitation. One day while we were sitting in the dining room, he looked around and said, “And we won the war with these folks?” I reminded him that he/they was/were 18 years old.
I salute my brother and all the others like him who sacrificed so unselfishly and are heroes although most of them don’t know it. A special salute to Mr. Pedro “Pete” Devora, who served alongside my brother from the time they left Floresville until their ship was hit.
Alfred “Fred” Gonzales is a resident of Floresville, Texas.
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