After 50 years, medals lost in fire returned to family of WWII vet from Mercedes

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The World War II Victory Medal posthumously awarded to the family of veteran Francisco Gonzalez by U.S. Congressman Vicente Gonzalez at Mercedes City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

MERCEDES — In 1973, Francisco Gonzalez lost his veteran’s records in a fire.

Tuesday afternoon his family got them back in a ceremony at Mercedes City Hall.

“I’m very happy,” said Francisco Gonzalez’s daughter, Martha Gonzalez.

“He was a very good dad,” she said.

A community of supporters had gathered to see Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, D-Brownsville, present those reconstructed records to the veteran’s family.

“Mr. Gonzalez was a World War Two veteran from Mercedes, Texas,” the congressman told the veteran’s family who had gathered for the event along with members of the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary.

“He served honorably in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945,” Gonzalez continued. “Mr. Gonzalez’s daughters are here to receive their father’s rightfully earned recognitions.”

One of those daughters, Martha Gonzalez, reached out to the congressman last year and explained the challenges she’d encountered trying to get her father’s records reconstructed. The congressman was the perfect man for the job. His father’s Korean War records had been lost in the same fire and he’d had those reconstructed.

Martha Gonzalez is presented with the World War II Victory Medal posthumously awarded to her father veteran Francisco Gonzalez by U.S. Congressman Vicente Gonzalez at Mercedes City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in Mercedes. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

“We were able to contact the National Personnel Records Center to request their assistance in identifying where Mr. Gonzalez had served so parts of the records could be reconstructed,” the congressman said.

“They’ve been reconstructing these records through information that’s been brought to the families and some of the records in other places and sometime other countries,” he said. “They were able to confirm Mr. Gonzalez was in active service and his honorable discharge status last year Nov. 2023.”

Upon that confirmation, the National Personnel Records Center issued Mr. Gonzalez his long-awaited World War Two Victory Medal and an Honorable Service Lapel Pin,” said the congressman. “I am overjoyed today that we were able to help this family honor their fathers service and dedication to our country.”

Everyone applauded as the veteran’s three daughters accepted the medals.

It was bittersweet for some, such as his daughter Leticia Ortega, because he died in 1993.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s something that should have been done when he was alive. I’m very glad that they were able to.”

Everyone described him as a quiet man who earned an honest dollar as a truck driver.

Friends of Francisco Gonzalez remembered him well. Guadalupe Garcia, 86, used to ride with him when he’d take migrants up north.

“We got along really well,” Garcia said. “He was a very wise man.”