Doila Gonzalez, right, sponsor of the destroyer Gonzalez and mother of the Marine whose name it carries, meets with Cmdr. William Gantt and Cmdr. Christopher H. Inskeep, the incoming and outgoing commanding officers of the ship, after a Feb. 21 change of command ceremony. (Capt. Jane Campbell / Navy)
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Gonzalez (Capt. Jane Campbell / Navy)
NORFOLK, VA. — Dolia Gonzalez is more than a ship’s sponsor. She is a ship’s mother.
So when her house was damaged during a recent break-in, hundreds of her surrogate offspring on the ship named after her son took action.
The 84-year-old Texas native was on hand for the destroyer Gonzalez’s Feb. 21 change of command, as she is with most of the ship’s ceremonies, deployments and homecomings. Only this time, the crew did something unexpected — they presented her with more than $2,500 to cover her damages and losses.
“I was so shocked,” Gonzalez told Navy Times. “They make me feel so proud.”
The fundraising drive was led by the ship’s first class mess, who says she’s family, pure and simple.
“The entire Gonzalez crew sees Dolia Gonzalez as a part of our family, and we take care of our own,” said Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Lance Morrison, president of the ship’s First Class Petty Officer Association. “Dolia’s response impacted all of us — not just the First Class Association. We are all very thankful to be in a position to help a part of our family recover from a horrible event.”
Indeed, this was an especially tough trip for the ship’s sponsor. Her sister had died only 17 days earlier. And damage to the house in late 2013 was especially painful.
She bought the house 45 years ago, right after the death of her son. Marine Sgt. Alfredo “Freddy” Gonzalez had planned to help his mother buy a house, and asked her to postpone a purchase until he returned from Vietnam. That day never came; her only child gave his life in the battle of Hue City in 1968.
The sergeant wasn’t even supposed to be there. He had pulled his tour in Vietnam. But the infantryman saddled up for a second deployment when many of his closest friends were killed in an ambush.
The platoon commander and his Marines were sent in on Jan. 31 to relieve the pressure on the beleaguered city. The days were filled with intense enemy fire. On one occasion, Gonzalez attacked and destroyed the hostile position with hand grenades.
He was seriously wounded on Feb. 3 but refused medical treatment and led his men on another attack. When the enemy pinned the company down the following day, Gonzalez grabbed light anti-tank assault weapons and “fearlessly moved from position to position” and silenced the fortified emplacements before falling mortally wounded, according to his Medal of Honor citation.
According to reports, Gonzalez took cover in the Saint Joan of Arc Catholic Church, where he died — something that gives comfort to his mother, a woman of great faith.
The destroyer named in his honor was commissioned in 1996. Dolia Gonzalez has been its mother every day since. She remains in close contact with former crew members and skippers; they share phone calls and birthday cards. Sailors from the ship’s past and Marines who served with her son visit her in Edinburgh, Texas.
“I left the ship in August 2009 and, to this day, my wife Kelli and I speak with Dolia at least every other week, sometimes weekly,” said Capt. Brian Fort, a former Gonzalez CO who is now the No. 2 at Destroyer Squadron 26. “She is a special part of all of our lives.”