The Beaufort Gazette
April 24, 2003

One of Their Own: Loved ones mourn Cpl. Gonzalez's death

 By MICHAEL KERR
 Gazette staff writer

 Teary-eyed and somber, about 700 Marines and sailors stood at attention Wednesday morning as the
 sound of "Taps" played by a lone bugler echoed through the chapel at Marine Corps Air Station
 Beaufort.

 They gathered to honor and remember the life of Cpl. Armando Ariel Gonzalez, a fallen friend who
 gave the ultimate sacrifice for the country he loved and fought for.

 "He not only touched me, he touched a lot of Marines," Sgt. Elijah A. Williams said before the
 memorial. "He was just one of the best Marines I ever encountered."

 Gonzalez, 25, a motor vehicle operator with Marine Wing Support Squadron 273, was killed in a
 non-combat-related accident last week in Southern Iraq while deployed with Operation Iraqi
 Freedom.

 He left behind his wife, Liudmila, who is pregnant with their first child, and, friends said, a legacy of
 leadership and professionalism demonstrated in his all-too-short career.

 Gonzalez was always talking about his unborn child and his love for his wife, Cpl. Javier
 Colon-Figueroa said in the eulogy.

 "He took pictures of the sonogram and took them to work to show them to everybody,"
 Colon-Figueroa said. "It's hard to describe how happy he was."

 Gonzalez fled Cuba by raft in 1994 in search of the freedom his home country didn't provide. He
 found a home and reunited with his father and two brothers in Hialeah, Fla., where his family
 remains.

 Having lived without personal freedoms made Gonzalez appreciate life in the United States even
 more, Colon-Figueroa said.

 "Cpl. Gonzalez loved being here. He loved this country. He loved the freedom we have," he said. "He
 risked his life to come here and live in this country to have the freedom we enjoy today."

 Gonzalez was anxious to serve his country and help liberate the oppressed people of Iraq, said Staff
 Sgt. Michael A. Speir, who knew Gonzalez for about two years.

 "He wasn't even a citizen yet, but he wanted to go over there and help people," Speir said. "Being
 an immigrant himself, he really knows what being without freedom is like. He wanted to go to Iraq to
 do his duty and help those people. He has my highest respect."

 The Department of Defense is working with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services to
 give Gonzalez posthumous U.S. citizenship.

 Gonzalez graduated from recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island on Feb. 2, 2001,
 and reported back to Marine Wing Support Squadron 273 at the air station on June 6, 2002.

 He was one of nearly 2,000 Beaufort-area Marines and sailors deployed in the Middle East to topple
 Saddam Hussein's regime. There is still no word on when those troops, including the other members
 of his squadron who are scattered and serving with other units, will return to Beaufort.

 Unlike any civilian job, Marines must always be prepared to deal with the loss of a friend, Speir said.

 "It just comes with what we do," he said. "It is a great loss. I feel bad for his family, for his wife. That
 is sad. His child won't ever meet him. He'll know him only from stories and see him only in pictures."

 Although they knew Gonzalez willingly put himself in harm's way, and would do the same themselves,
 it was still difficult for many of Gonzalez' friends to deal with the news of his death.

 "When I heard the news, it was like a boulder had hit me in my chest," Williams said. "I could not
 speak. I had to sit down. I felt like I couldn't breathe. It hurt for me to know that something like this
 could happen to one of our Marines."

 For Lance Cpl. Phillip Smedley, who had known Gonzalez for about a year, it was hard to put his
 feelings into words.

 "It's hard to explain how it makes you feel," he said. "It's like you lost a part of yourself. Marines are
 brothers and sisters. When someone is a part of your unit, they're a part of you."

 Copyright 2003 The Beaufort Gazette