“They were calling us baby killers and spitting at us and I ... I couldn’t believe what was happening,” recalled Rodriguez, who had been asked to escort Gonzales’ body back home for burial in April 1968. “They didn’t know Tomas. He wasn’t a baby killer. He loved his country. All he wanted to do was serve his country, and here these people were cussing him and spitting at the hearse.”
When the two finally arrived by plane in Corpus Christi, they received a vastly different reception.
“Thousands of people were at the airport to pay their respects to Tomas,” said Rodriguez, who now serves as the chaplain of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Tomas Gonzales Post 929. “They were crying as they passed by the casket, and I was crying too. We were all devastated by the death of this boy, who touched so many lives.”
Rodriguez and hundreds of other Bee County residents gathered at a solemn Memorial Day ceremony on the north lawn of the courthouse on Monday to pay tribute to Tomas Gonzales and 87 other servicemen from Skidmore, Pettus, Pawnee and Beeville killed in wars over the last century.
“Memorial Day is traditionally a day of reflection and remembrance,” said guest speaker U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa. “It is a day to honor those who were lost while proudly serving this great nation. Without the brave efforts of all the soldiers, the sailers, the airmen, the Marines, the Coast Guardsman and their families, our country would not stand so boldly, shine so brightly, and live so freely.”
After the ceremony concluded, A.C. Jones High School Junior Naval ROTC students and Moreno Middle School history teacher David Vickers, playing the bagpipes, led the crowd across the street to the Veterans Plaza for the dedication of the “battlefield cross” statue.
Hinojosa and Oscar Toliver Jr., who serves as the assistant veterans service officer for Bee County, unveiled the bronze statue.
The statue, a pair of combat boots supporting a rifle covered with a helmet, was purchased through a fund-raising effort by the Veterans Plaza Committee.
The committee raised more than $5,100 in individual donations and an $11,000 grant from the Beeville Economic Improvement Corporation.
Hinojosa said the statue will help identify the plaza as a place to remember those who “paid the ultimate sacrifice while defending their country,” as well as a place to say thanks to those veterans “who fought to keep our country free.”
The $16,000 or so also paid for bronze wall-mounted service medallions, security fencing for the statue and a sound system that can play reveille each morning and retreat each evening.
Hinojosa also helped unveil a new section of paver bricks inscribed with the names of Bee County’s war dead.
“This Bee County Veterans Plaza stands as a tribute to those men and women who performed extraordinary service.”
Afterward, A.C. Jones High School band director Chuck Knowlton played Taps on a trumpet to end the dedication ceremony.
Bee County residents who died while serving their country include:
World War I – Raymond B. Chambliss, Joseph Collins, Cayetano Gonzales, Robert D. Goza, John W. Kurtz, Joseph E. Maley, F.R. McCambell, Andrew A. Silvey Jr., Eddie M. Sugarek and Frank J. Vavrusa.
World War II – James A. Barron, Dorsey W.F. Beauchamp, Cornelius C. Black, George Boyer, James D. Branch, Weymon Brown, Harris E. Cox, Fisher Curry, John Mitchell Davis, Santos Del Bosque, Robert L. Dodson, James R. Dougherty Jr., Charles Edwards Jr., Otto B. Engelking, Adan Farias, Wayne J. Ferguson, Tino M. Flores, Benito Garcia, Enrique Garza, Howard W. Grover, James W. Hedrick Jr., Leslie James Helm, Raymond H. Hill, George Hoot, Frank W. Hunt Jr., William J. Kirschner, Marshall A. Langley, Allen L. Lindeman, Jack W. Laudermilk, Charles H. Lytle, Alfonso R. Martinez, George E. Miller, Octavio V. Pacheco, Patrick B. Quinn, Martin B. Rodriguez, Aubrey Shipp, Capen R. Simons, Ruben Sylva, Edward Sliva Sr., Dale V. Stice, Glenn Teel, Robert R. Tenberg, George I. Tindol, William E. Vaughn, August C. Vollmering, John Washburn, Nathan E. Webb, Jack W. White, M. J. White II and George M. Williams.
Korean War – David Arrivee, Harry F. Carter, Doroteo Espinoza, Frank G. Flores, James H. Stout, Edward Sliva Jr. and David Warfield.
Vietnam War – Amado Alaniz Jr., James A. Angermiller, Rafael Avila, John H. Baker, Dionicio G. Carrizales, Ysrael P. Garza, James R. Golding, Tomas Gonzales, Sammie D. Hoff, Michael L. Hosea, Aubrey G. Martin, Silvestre Martinez, Daniel F. Perez Jr., Robert L. Salinas, Leo J. Schroller Jr., Allen E. Starr, Thomas H. Swinnea, Don C. Thompson Jr., Larry P. Tyson, William Vaught and Rodolfo Ybarra.
• Read the names of those from Bee County who died in battle during WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
• Read the comments made during the Memorial Day ceremony by U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa.