The Wall Brings Back a Wave of Memories About the Day Their Brother, Corporal Mario Gonsalez, was Laid to Rest
SAN ANGELO, TX — The following is the story of Army Corporal Mario Gonsalez, who was killed in Vietnam on March 5, 1970. He was 21 years old. It is emotional and even graphic in parts. But the words represent the experience of his family, and the story they wanted to tell. These are the words of Mario’s sisters, Estela Salas, Barbara Castellano, and Mary Rodriguez.
Estela: “It was Sunday and our mother was still at church. I was at my house when I got a call that Mario’s wife and some military men were at our mother’s house, and my sister-in-law’s parents were with her.
“Right then I knew what had happened because her parents were never with her like that. I knew what had happened.
And by then my Mom came home … and she was really in bad shape. She was really upset. That’s what I remember.”
Above: Army Corporal Mario Gonsalez, killed in Vietnam on March 5, 1970. (Contributed photo/City of San Angelo)
Barbara: “When our Mom saw them she knew something was wrong, and she got out of the car and said “what happened to my son?” And Mario’s wife said “lo mataron.” In English that means ‘they killed him.’ There was nothing gentle about the way she said it.”
Mary: “My mother went crazy. It was a horrible day. She fell to the ground. My stepfather was in the bedroom and she got up and went running to him and she fell again. It was a horrible day. Horrible. Even though I don’t think we understood it all that day. It was confusing.”
Estela: “I don’t think the military men ever came back.”
Mary: “After that, oh my gosh, the people that came. It was non-stop, people coming to the house. The Girl Scouts were there every day bringing us something, making sure we had coffee and just everything.
Barbara: “The block was full of cars. “
Mary: “When we went to the airport with the hearse to get his body there was such a long line of cars behind us. There were two accidents in the procession because there were so many people.
Estela: “It felt good, though, having so many people there.”
Barbara: “When he was in the casket we couldn’t touch him because he still had metal in his face. So they had a glass on top so we couldn’t touch him. The casket was open at the top part like it is for anyone, but there was a glass covering because he still had metal embedded in his face. He body was swollen.”
“At the cemetery listening to Taps and the gunshots, it was just so sad. It was so cold that day, so cold. I remember that so well.”
Estela: “We were only a year and two months apart. So we were really close. Whatever mischief one got into the other one did too. It was very hard for me.
“It’s not something you can forget. I won’t ever forget. It’s like it was last week. It’s like it was yesterday. I’m 68 years old. I was 18 then, and I won’t ever forget.”
“Our mother was never the same after that. He was her baby, her baby boy. She had always gone to church, even before Mario was in the service. But she never went back to church.”
And yes, they have a rubbing of Mario’s name from the Wall That Heals.
CPL Mario Gonsalez is honored on Panel 13W, Line 85 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He was born in Tom Green County on Sept. 12, 1948. He was killed March 5, 1970 in the Quang Tin Province of South Vietnam. The sisters were found at The Wall That Heals, a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., that travels throughout the country. The Wall was in San Angelo last week at the grounds of Fort Concho.