For the past two and a half weeks,17 News has profiled the recipients of this year's Red Cross Real Hero awards. We continue our series by paying tribute to a fallen marine and a married father of three, who was killed in Afghanistan.
Sergeant Adan Gonzales was killed by small arms fire on August 7th, 2011 in Afghanistan. The Ridgeview High School graduate, who friends called Gonzo or Adam, lost his life at 28.
As a scout sniper, Gonzales spent time isolated from the rest of the world, hunkered down with his fellow marines waiting for an ambush. "He did it as a way of protecting our country, protecting his home," said his father Adan Gonzales, Sr.
Adan called Bakersfield home. But, serving his country was something he wanted to do, even when his family tried to convince him otherwise. "He said 'Dad, I swore on oath to protect and defend those who can't protect themselves and protect our liberty and freedom. I'm going'," said Gonzales, Sr.
In May 2006, Adan Gonzales deployed to Iraq, while his wife was pregnant with their second child. His family waited for his return. "You get the guys that go there to do their job, to do the fighting. But, A.J. saw past that. Before he left he was reading up on the Taliban's religion. The day he deployed, his bag was full of books and all the other guys had cookies and snacks," said Nichole Chavez, Adan's sister.
Adan had a passion for the people in Afghanistan, especially children. "He would get into battles at nighttime, and with all the firing he could hear kids crying. It haunted him. It disturbed him," said his father.
When Gonzales wasn't fighting, he handed out Matchbox cars and candy to the Afghan children. At Gonzales' memorial in Afghanistan, the people who knew him best talked about his passion and commitment to his country.
"One characteristic was undeniably noticeable by all, devotion, fearless devotion. He would give every ounce of his energy, heart, and ability to see it through and then he would give some more," said one marine.
As Gonzales supported his troops more than 7,000 miles from home, his family's support from Bakersfield never stopped. Gonzales leaves behind a wife, Catalina, and their three young children. "I saw him as my best friend. I lost my husband. I didn't lose my marine. I lost Adam," said Catalina Oseguera.
Instead of a father's hand to hold, Gonzales' children now hold onto a shoe box full of handwritten letters. The letters are reminders of how special their dad was.
"There's honor in the men that go and know that they are in a higher risk, who sit down with their wives and say 'I want to come back, but there's a chance I may not.' And, there's something really noble about what my husband did," continued Oseguera.