Retired veteran receives medal for heroism, 46 years after the act
November 8, 2013
Retired Staff Sgt. Alejandro Gonzales was presented with a long overdue Army Commendation Medal with Valor Device by Congressman Ron Barber, Arizona District 2, Nov. 6, at Alvarado Hall. Gonzales received the medal for an act of heroism in the Republic of Vietnam, during the Vietnam War.
On Feb. 27, 1967, in Vietnam, Gonzales' unit received several direct hits from heavy caliber rocket fire. One of the rounds hit the barracks where Gonzales and his men slept, setting the quarters on fire.
With complete disregard to his personal safety, Gonzales endlessly worked to evacuate the injured by removing debris and timbers, guiding them to emergency responders waiting outside. Following this, he continued his bravery by supervising the firefighting efforts, according to the citation.
Gonzales' immediate response to this traumatic event undoubtedly saved several lives.
Col. Jeff Jennings, chief of staff, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, opened the award ceremony. "You don't get a valor award unless you are putting yourself in danger to assist others," he said. "I want you to look around the room and see that we have 275 or so Soldiers and civilians here to focus on you. This is about you today and what you have done for us, and for those like us, in the past."
Following the event in 1967, the 1st Signal Brigade recommended Gonzales for an Army Commendation Medal with Valor Device but unfortunately, there was no follow-through and the actual medal was never presented.
Barber was the guest speaker at the event. As he addressed the attendees, he explained that this ceremony was an attempt to correct what should have been done for Gonzales a long time ago.
"This is an award that has been [many] years in the making," Barber said. "It is for [his] heroic actions that we are recognizing [Staff] Sergeant Gonzales today."
The honored Veteran rose from his wheelchair and visibly shaken, he accepted the long-awaited medal with great pride.
Speaking on his behalf, Gonzales' son, Michael, reiterated how happy Gonzales was to receive his medal in front of an audience so full of active duty Soldiers in uniform.
Following the ceremony, Jennings presented Gonzales with a USAICoE coin on behalf of Maj. Gen. Robert Ashley, commanding general, USAICoE and Fort Huachuca.
Gonzales joined the Army April 20, 1950, at 17. Following basic training, he was assigned to Korea for service during the Korean War. After he departed Korea, Gonzales served three tours during the Vietnam War. Duty stations included Phu Bi, Da Na and Cam Rahn Bay, among others. Gonzales retired from the Army in 1970.
The retired Army staff sergeant is married to his wife Irma and currently resides in Sierra Vista. They have two sons, Michael and Kenneth.
The ceremony concluded after all attendees stood and sang the "Army Song," as Gonzales clutched his well-deserved medal in hand.