ALFREDO CANTU GONZALEZ (1946 ~ 1968). Medal of Honor Recipient Alfredo "Freddy" Gonzalez was born on May 23, 1946, in Edinburg, Texas, to Andres Cantu and Dolia Gonzalez. Gonzalez's mother raised him by herself for most of his life, supporting them a waitress's salary. Gonzalez grew picking cotton with his family. He played football at Edinburg High School before graduating in 1965. Gonzalez enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in San Antonio on June 3, 1965, and then enlisted in the regular Marine Corps on July 6, 1965.
After completing his training he was assigned to the Headquarters and Service Company, First Reconnaissance Battalion, First Marine Division, as a rifleman. On January 1, 1966, Gonzalez was promoted to Private First Class and transferred to Company L, Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, Third Marine Division in Vietnam as a squad leader. In October of that year he was promoted to Lance Corporal, and the following December was promoted to Corporal. Gonzalez completed his tour of duty in Vietnam and returned to the United States in February 1967. He was stationed with the Second Battalion, Sixth Marines, Second Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Gonzalez hoped to be transferred to the Marine contingent stationed at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, which would put him close to his family, friends, and girlfriend back home. Instead, he was chosen to instruct Marines at Camp Lejeune to prepare them for the guerilla warfare they would face in Vietnam. He told his friends that he would never return to Vietnam, partially because he felt a kinship to the Vietnamese who worked hard in the fields as he had as a boy.
However, Gonzalez soon learned of an ambush which wiped out an entire platoon, including men who had served under him during his tour of duty. His friends insisted that he had already honorably served his country, but Gonzalez's sense of responsibility to his fellow Marines urged him to request transfer and serve another tour in Vietnam.
He spent May and July of 1967 in a staging battalion at Camp Pendleton, California, during which he was promoted to Sergeant. Gonzalez was then assigned as a platoon commander to Company A, First Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division in Vietnam.
On January 31, 1968, Gonzalez's unit was involved in the initial phase of Operation Hue City and deployed by truck convoy to reinforce other units fighting in the city. The convoy was attacked near the village of Lang Van Lrong and drew heavy enemy fire. Gonzalez immediately positioned his men and directed their fire until the area was free of enemy snipers. The convoy moved on and was attacked again after crossing a river south of Hue. A Marine standing on a tank was wounded and fell to the ground in a position exposed to enemy fire. Gonzalez ran to the soldier, picked him up and carried him to a protected area. During the rescue, Gonzalez was wounded by fragments of exploding grenades. As the convoy was pinned down by an enemy machine gun bunker up the road, Gonzalez lead his platoon to the bunker and destroyed it with hand grenades.
The convoy eventually reached Hue, where Gonzalez and his unit fought against heavy enemy resistance. He was seriously wounded on February 3, but refused medical treatment in order to stay with his men. The following day, his unit was pinned down by a large enemy force and suffered heavy casualties. Gonzalez used several antitank weapons against heavily fortified enemy positions while exposed to enemy fire. He held back the enemy advance and destroyed an enemy rocket position before he was mortally wounded. Gonzalez was hit by the last rocket fired by the enemy, and died in the Saint Joan of Arc Catholic Church, where he had taken cover. For his actions between January 31 and February 4, 1968, Gonzalez was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
His Medal of Honor was presented to his mother on October 31, 1969, by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew at the White House. In 1996, the USS Alfredo Gonzalez, a guided missile destroyer, was commissioned in Corpus Christi. Gonzalez's mother was asked to be the ship's sponsor; in 1996 she still worked as a waitress. There is a permanent display of his uniform and medals at the Hidalgo County Historical Museum. In Edinburg, Freddy Gonzalez Elementary School and the Alfredo Cantu Gonzalez American Legion Post are both named in his honor. Students at Edinburg High School can receive the Alfredo Gonzalez Athletic Award. The Alfredo Gonzalez Dining Hall at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi is named for him, as is Alfredo Gonzalez Boulevard at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. There is also a Freddy Gonzalez Drive in Edinburg. Gonzalez is buried at the Hillcrest Cemetery in Edinburg.
Bibliography: "Above and Beyond: The Medal of Honor in Texas," Capitol Visitors Center, State Preservation Board of Texas. "Alfredo (Freddy) Gonzalez," USS Gonzalez Webpage, http://www.gonzalez.navy.mil/freddygonzalez.htm, April 26, 2006. Flores, John, "The Ballad of Freddy Gonzalez: The Navy names a battleship for a Hispanic Marine 28 years after his death in Vietnam," Hispanic Magazine, November 1996. Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, University of Texas, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/GG/fgoqp.html, April 26, 2006.