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Norwalk honors war dead at Memorial Day program

NORWALK — A U.S. Navy veteran who persevered against injury and cancer and a young woman about to start her career in the U.S. Marine Corps were guest speakers at the Memorial Day program May 27 in Patriot’s Square behind City Hall. American Legion Post No. 359 and the city co-sponsored the event.

Gerardo Castro Gonzalez served as a first responder during his naval career from 2004 to 2011, working as a fireman and hazardous material technician.

“I was deployed throughout the South Pacific until I suffered my hip injury,” he said. “I had to have an operation and it took me six months, with physical therapy, to learn how to walk again.”

He worked a desk job in the United States for a period of time but the hip problem reoccurred. 

“I went on as long as I could but the pain was too much and I needed a second operation,” Gonzalez said.

After that he successfully battled cancer and diabetes, he said, adding “I couldn’t have made it without the help of my wife and children.”

Gonzalez is hoping life will be better after graduating recently from Cerritos College with a degree in computer science.

He looks back with pride at his naval career and, as for his perseverance in overcoming  injury and illness, he said “you should not only remember the deceased military veterans, but you should live for them.”

Eva Beteta, 17, who will graduate in June from Southeast Academy High School in Norwalk, said on Memorial Day she is “grateful to the Southeast Academy for preparing me for my future and my mother, a single parent, who supported me.”

Norwalk Mayor Margarita Rios, who has said she is also he product of a single mother, told the audience, “I think of Memorial Day with a deep sense of sadness followed by a sense of hope.”

Rios said that while some cities have dropped their Memorial Day programs, “Norwalk will continue to honor our fallen veterans, who served with valor, devotion and love of country.”

Becky Bullard, of the American Legion Post No. 359 Woman’s Auxiliary, commented on the origin of the poppies, adopted by the Army as a way to remember fallen soldiers. They were discovered growing in abundance in the Field of Flanders in France, believed fertilized by those fallen in battle at that location.

“Freedom isn’t free,” she said. “Our veterans have paid a high price to keep out country safe.”

Bullard joined Past Commander Wayne Carrigan and Bradley Schoep, commander of the Sons of the American Legion Post No. 359, in placing a wreath on a frame in memory of the fallen veterans.

Carrigan and legion member Elpidio Andrion also paid tribute to four members of the post who died during the past year.

Women’s Auxiliary member Fran Powell and junior member Desiree Alvarado paid tribute to prisoners of war and those missing in action with a table and empty chair, symbolic of the hope that the POWs and MIAs would someday return to sit at the table, reserved for them.

Music was presented by the Norwalk All-City Youth Band, directed by Frank Hinojov. Band trumpeter Fernando Calderon played “Taps.”

Presentation of the flag and retiring of the colors were conducted by Norwalk Public Safety Cadets and Post No. 359’s color guard.

Arnold Adler