Family of Marine killed in Vietnam working on one final way to honor his legacy

22-year-old Rudy M. Gonzalez was days from returning home to Harlingen, Texas.

By Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Voces Oral History CenterMay 24, 2024 3:10 pm, ,

From the Voces Oral History Center:

In 1966, a young Marine from Harlingen, Texas, was killed in Vietnam just days before he was due to return home.

Rudolfo M. Gonzalez’s family took steps to keep his memory alive, including naming four of his nephews after him.

“To even think that we’re also named after him is quite an honor for us,” said Rudy Gonzalez, one of those nephews. “Part of our heritage as a family is to honor his memory and the sacrifice that he made for us – also for the United States for America. I mean, my uncle, at the time when he volunteered, was not even a U.S. citizen.”

Rudy M. Gonzalez was nine when his family moved to the U.S. from Mexico, so when he died at 22 in Vietnam, he was a Mexican citizen.

He graduated from Harlingen High School in 1964 and joined the Marines. From there he was shipped to Vietnam.

His sister, Frances Garza, remembers those last days with her brother.

“He took me to the movies, he took me out to eat and we talked, you know, and he told me to stay focused, to be careful, don’t disappoint mom and dad,” Garza said. “I remember him talking to me, and now that I think about it, he was talking to me like I was never gonna see him again.”

Courtesy of the Voces Oral History Center

Members of Rudy M. Gonzalez's family pose with copies of his portrait.

Rudy M. Gonzalez was just days from returning home, his sister recalling how the family had already started receiving his stuff when they got the noticed that he had been killed. His nephew, Jerry Gonzalez, recalls how his grandparents kept up hope that he would still return.

“Any knock on the door would be ‘could it be? Could it be?,” Jerry said. “Every knock on the door was a moment of anxiety. A moment of, ‘could it be? Is it possible that he’ll walk through that door?’ Til their last breath, they never accepted his death.”

Jerry Gonzalez is chipping away the paper work to have his uncle’s U.S. citizenship granted posthumously, lacking only his discharge papers – his DD214.

He says finally achieving that designation for his uncle would mean a lot for the family, but also honor his uncle’s legacy.

“I think it’s important that he be recognized that he was all in for this country,” Jerry Gonzalez said. “That meant something to him and that meant something to my family, and it means something to me.”

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