"Fort Davis' One Man Army" Awarded Diploma, Petition For Medal of Honor After Passing

"Fort Davis' One Man Army" Awarded Diploma, Petition For Medal of Honor After Passing

Anum Valliani

NewsWest 9

FORT DAVIS -  They call him "Fort Davis' one man army." Sgt. Manuel Gonzales is a hometown hero for his duty during World War II, but he didn't exactly get his due. 

"Hispanic soldiers were overlooked a lot in history books, and we're bringing it back to light,"

Executive Director of the Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce

Robert Alvarez said.

Now the Chamber is helping  those like Gonzales reclaim what's rightfully theirs, starting with a high school diploma.

"Hispanics didn't have the door open to them a hundred percent educationally. He attended high school, but never graduated. And never really had an opportunity to demonstrate the qualities of leadership he did in the military service," Veteran and Board Member for Historical Society, Robert Gray said.

The veteran's niece Francis Escovedo was present to accept the honor on behalf of the deceased hero. With tears in her eyes, she described how happy she felt, something she would express to him the next time she takes flowers to his grave near Alpine.

But the diploma isn't the only reason the notable crowd came out to the Hotel Limpia Ballroom to show their support for Sgt. Gonzales. A petition was also circulating, calling for reconsidering his military history and awarding him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Arnulfo Hernandez Jr is a big part of these missions. The lawyer and co-author of a book featuring Sgt. Gonzales and others titled, Toughest Fighting Chicano Soldiers of WWII: Company E of El Paso, TX, has helped other living veterans in that company to get their long-awaited diploma as well. He said according to state law, they're entitled to it. And as for the other distinction, Hernandez believes there's a strong case to be made. 

"Folks that have received the Medal of Honor with all due respect they deserve it, but very few of them have been this wrecking ball that Manuel Gonzales was," he said. Hernandez described the Gonzales as being "one very formidable soldier" who was quiet, yet intimidating with his 6 ft. 220 lbs frame. That's why he was nicknamed "Feo," which means "ugly" in Spanish, despite Hernandez asserting Gonzales was a very good looking man. Either way, when he landed in Salerno, he became the immediate hero of the entire 36th division, the Texas division. "He went in and knocked out 4 machine gun nests all by himself, and then he kept going," Hernandez said. So now local officials are hoping to take the steam from this campaign and run with it.

"We're going to pursue that with the chamber of commerce and other county agencies and hopefully it'll bring more attention about what this man did for our community and the nation, and it'll bring even more attention to Fort Davis," Alvarez said.