Michael Luis Gonzalez
Specialist, United States Army
Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
IMMEDIATE RELEASE No. 729-08
DoD Identifies Army Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Specialist Michael L. Gonzalez, 20, of Spotswood, New Jersey, died August 28, 2008, in Baghdad, of wounds suffered by an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 340th Military Police Company, Fort Totten, New York.
For more information media may contact the
Fort Monmouth public affairs office at (732) 532-1258; after hours (732)
Funeral services will be held Saturday morning
for a 20-year-old Army reservist from Spotswood who was killed last month
Friends may call from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at The Brunswick Memorial Home, 454 Cranbury Road, East Brunswick. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Spotswood Reformed Church, 429 Main Street, Spotswood. Gonzalez's cremated remains will be entombed at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, with full military honors on September 10, 2008.
Memorial contributions may be made to the US Adopt a Soldier program, 7440 South Blackhawk Street, Suite 15-106, Englewood, Colorado 80112, or online at adoptaussoldier.org, or to any local food bank or blood bank.
Gonzalez, a 2006 graduate of Spotswood High School, was assigned to the 18th Military Police Brigade, 95th Military Police Battalion, of the 340th Military Police Company. His home unit was the 430th Military Police Detachment in Red Bank.
Gonzalez is at least the 102nd member of the armed services with ties to New Jersey to die in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He is survived by his parents, Pedro and Ida Leiby Gonzalez; his brother, Troy; his paternal grandparents, Maria and Alberto Gonzalez; his cousin, Jonathan Nourse; and his girlfriend Tiffany Loving. He was predeceased by his maternal grandparents, John B. and Lillian Leiby.
NOTE: Specialist Gonzalez was laid to rest
with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on 10 September
Spotswood family honors son's legacy
Ida and Pedro Gonzalez seek to 'make a difference'
BY MARY ANNE ROSS Correspondent
Courtesy of The Sentinel
One life can make a difference in the world, and so can one death. Michael Gonzalez's was one such life, and sadly his death this past summer in Iraq was one such death.
Michael grew up in Spotswood, worked part time at the ShopRite stores in East Brunswick and Spotswood, and enlisted in the U.S. Army during his senior year in high school. He was serving with the 340th Military Police Company when an improvised explosive device took his life in Baghdad on August 28, 2008. He received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his sacrifice. He was 20 years old.
Many people who knew and loved Michael have been honoring his heroism in a variety of ways. His co-workers at the Spotswood ShopRite donated food and collected almost $1,300 for the borough's food pantry. They also dedicated the store's flag in his memory. The East Brunswick store also held a memorial service.
"The first Saturday of every month, we will have a box where people can donate food in honor of Michael," said Debbie Barker, who works at the Spotswood store. "He was very kind, a nice person, and a good person to work with, always willing to lend a hand."
Thousands of mourners attended funeral services for Michael in September, so many, in fact, that the service had to be broadcast live at the high school for the overflow crowd. Many people have made donations on his behalf. His family requested that they be sent to the U.S. Adopt-A-Soldier program or to any food pantry or blood bank.
Michael's mother, Ida, adopted a soldier named Liza through that program. Liza said she needed some nice-smelling shampoo. When Ida told the staff at the Voi Salon in East Brunswick about the young woman's request, a representative of the business donated 20 boxes of salon products. The seniors at Woodmere Senior Housing in Spotswood not only ran a food drive, they collected and sent all kinds of items to the soldiers serving in Iraq.
Ida has decided to keep the good work going by starting her own nonprofit organization.
Reminders of Michael are everywhere in the Gonzalez home, where his parents, Ida and Pedro, live with his brother, Troy. His Christmas stocking is hung along with the rest of the family's. A smiling high school portrait adorns the living room wall. A digital picture frame with images of his funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery sits among the family photos on a side table next to the Christmas tree.
The coffee table is piled with letters the family has received from his fellow soldiers.
"They say he kept their spirits up. They say he was charismatic. They say he was always kind," Ida said, her voice mixed with sadness and pride.
"He always wanted to help people. He would give the kids in the street candy and play soccer. He gave them hope," she said of his work in Iraq. "The night before he was killed, he helped save the life of one of his fellow soldiers who was experiencing a seizure."
Ida struggles with her grief.
"I felt such a pain in my heart," she said. "But I have a 15-year-old son and a husband to take care of. I have to go on."
She is grateful for the kindness of people she calls "my angels." It was seven days from the time she was notified of her son's death that the casket arrived. Friends stayed with her day after day. Support and compassion came from everywhere. A woman in Utah who creates oil portraits of fallen soldiers made one of Michael, for example. Ida is touched by the many letters she has received, and the tributes people have made to her son.
She is not alone in her grief. "My husband Pedro is my rock. He is the strong, silent type," she said. Faith and a loving 23-year marriage are helping them get through the loss of their son together. The two have gone back to church. They are now regular attendees at the Spotswood Reformed Church. She has joined the choir, and Pedro has joined the men's group.
Her nonprofit organization is called the Butterfly Circle of Friends. She wants to make the world a better place and intends to start close to home.
"I was raised in Spotswood. I want to help my town. I want to help my church," Ida said. "They need new bathrooms. I am going to help get them installed there and at Saint Peter's [Episcopal Church]," she said.
Her husband recently donated funds to the Spotswood Junior Police Academy for a flag, and Ida has also joined the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.
"We are both very much aware of what's going on in the community. You can't change the world, but you can make a difference," she said, thinking of her son and her own plans for the future.
Donations to the Butterfly Circle of Friends can be sent to P.0. Box 187, Spotswood, NJ 08884.
Posted: 3 September 2008 Updated: 10 September 2008 Updated: 30 October 2008 Updated: 29 December 2008 Updated: 24 January 2009 Updated: 26 February 2009 Updated: 19 April 2009
Photos By Holly, April 2009
Photos By Holly, February 2009
Photo Courtesy of Troy Gonzalez, January 2009