Veterans Day is a family affair for the Gonzalez family of Newton. Eight sons from the family — all who lived to adulthood — served in the military during WWII and Korea, each coming home safely.
Carmen Gonzalez, born in 1920, served in the Army with the 78th division from 1942 to 1945. The division was one of the first to cross the Rhine River in Germany.
Socorro Gonzalez, born in 1922, served in the United States Army Air Forces as an engineer in the Pacific from 1943 to 1945.
Socorro Gonzalez still remembers the long boat ride to Australia, exercising every morning on the top deck. After landing, they found they were an object of curiosity.
"We could see the girls open the curtains and look at us," Socorro Gonzalez said.
Not allowing themselves to be distracted, the soldiers hiked 10 miles to set up camp.
"The first thing we did was put our tent up and make our bed. It was a bed; it wasn't on dirt," Socorro Gonzalez said. "We had a bed, we had our own cook and we had a kitchen."
Those small comforts helped relieve the long days of work.
"Our job was to build bridges and blow them up," Socorro Gonzalez said.
In the jungles of New Guinea, he could see the lights of Japanese airplanes overhead.
"My enemy was snipers, bombs, strafing airplanes," Socorro Gonzalez said. "They came over and there were seven or eight dead and 30 wounded, so we had to take care of them."
After that experience, he and his fellow soldiers determined they would take the war seriously.
"From there on, we changed. We weren't playboys anymore. We were living our lives for somebody else," Socorro Gonzalez said.
Socorro Gonzalez was away from home for three years, but unexpectedly saw one of his brothers — the third Gonzalez son, Doroteo.
In August 1944, Socorro Gonzalez was writing a letter home when he heard a voice yelling, 'hey, Gordo!' Confused at hearing the nickname his family gave him, he looked around, but did not see his brother until he emerged from behind a tree.
"We cried and embraced...I said, 'you write to mama and I'll write to daddy to let them know,'" Socorro Gonzalez said.
The brothers were soon separated again.
"He said, 'I'll see you at home,' and that's the way it was," Socorro Gonzalez said.
Socorro Gonzalez got back to Newton first.
"I didn't want anybody to see me, so I got off at the depot and started walking to First Street," Socorro Gonzalez said. "When I was coming, I saw some guys playing."
Having been gone three years, he didn't recognize any of the boys. Socorro Gonzalez gave a whistle — a signal each of the Gonzalez children knew — and it turned out one of the boys was his youngest brother, John. John whistled back and then ran inside to tell his mother Socorro had returned. Apparently, he was not believed, because she chased John out of the house with a broom.
"John turned around and said, 'Mama, look! There he is!' She threw her broom down and ran and embraced me," Socorro Gonzalez said.
Doroteo Gonzalez, born in 1925, served in the Army's 24th division in the Pacific from 1943 to 1946. He led a squad that captured Sacred Hill near Davao City in the Philippines. After being shot, he received a Purple Heart Medal.
Daniel Gonzalez, born in 1926, was drafted and served with the Army from 1944 to 1946, attaining the rank of corporal. He went to basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
"We were supposed to get 16 weeks of training, but they cut it short to 14 weeks on account of they were losing a lot of men overseas," Daniel Gonzalez said. "We went over as replacements. ...At that time, we didn't know where we were going, we just knew we were going overseas somewhere."
Landing in Naples, Italy, in winter, they found it was too snowy for the trucks to travel.
"We had two enemies there — the weather that was really bad and the German army," Daniel Gonzalez said.
He spent most of his military service in the artillery, which was tasked with dislodging the Germans, but neither army could move until the spring of 1945.
"Things started thawing out, so we started moving a little bit at a time to wherever they needed us," Daniel Gonzalez said.
Running out of ammunition and food, the German army retreated north to Switzerland.
"We were right behind them, pushing them all the way up," Daniel Gonzalez said. "When they got to the Swiss border, the Swiss army was waiting on them."
With the African-American 2nd Infantry on one side and the Japanese-American 442nd regiment on the other, many German soldiers surrendered.
"We had so many prisoners, we just let them go," Daniel Gonzalez said. "We stripped them of their arms and all that and let them get home however they could."
Upon reaching Milan, Daniel Gonzalez remembers seeing the dead bodies of Benito Mussolini and Clara Petacci hanging by their heels in the Piazzale Loreto.
"When we got there, they were already dead, but people were throwing rocks at them," Daniel Gonzalez said.
He returned home in August 1946.
"The same Liberty boat that brought us over took us home," Daniel Gonzalez said.
Antonio Gonzalez, born in 1928, served in the Army from 1950 until 1952, spending time in Germany.
Ramon "Raymond" Gonzalez was born in 1931. He served in the Marine Corps from 1951 until 1953 and was the only brother who did not serve overseas.
Reynaldo "Ray" Gonzalez, born in 1932, served as a corporal in the Army's 2nd Division from 1953 to 1955. He clearly recalls the night he and Lester Hensley, a friend from Newton, landed south of Incheon, South Korea.
"We landed at night and got on the barges to go to shore," Ray Gonzalez said. "We were hoping we would stick together."
The two men were soon separated into different groups.
"We shook hands and said goodbye. I told him, 'if you get back before I do, go see my folks. If I get back before you, I'll do the same,'" Ray Gonzalez said.
It was not long before machine gun fire tore into their tents and they hit the trenches near the camp.
"We could hear guys say, 'they're over here,' and you could hear shots all over the place," Ray Gonzalez said. "Pretty soon, somebody yelled, 'we got 'em, we got 'em.' So we waited another few minutes and got up."
After a week and a half, a cease fire was called, much to his relief.
"I only saw about a week of action, thank God. I saw enough in a week — what (my brothers) saw in two, three or four years," Ray Gonzalez said.
For the cease fire, each side had to move back three miles, but neither side wanted to carry all their bombs.
"We both went at it. It was like daylight — our guys firing at them and them firing at us," Ray Gonzalez said.
It still took three days to move all the other supplies back the required three miles.
"Some of us would just drop and sleep for a few hours before getting back up to help," Ray Gonzalez said. "We continued being alert at all times, because we didn't know if they'd keep their word."
Assigned to a motor pool, Ray Gonzalez drove a jeep up narrow trails to resupply outposts with ammunition. Once, when working to turn a trailer around by hand, he narrowly escaped death.
"There was hardly any room and it was icy," Ray Gonzalez said. "In turning that trailer around, I slipped and fell."
Clinging to the trailer's tongue, he realized he would have to pull himself up. Swinging to one side, he let go of the trailer and hauled himself back onto the road.
Another tense moment occurred while he was driving down a trail by himself at night.
"I had been through that road before, and I don't know why, but when I made that turn to come down, before I knew it, I was on the edge," Ray Gonzalez said.
With the left front wheel off the road, he decided to turn his lights on to signal for help. The only response he got was angry yelling.
"Good thing I knew my gears," Ray Gonzalez said. "I put it in reverse, stepped on the gas and got it back on the road."
Even in recreation, there were times of danger. When he took several men down to a river to get sand for the motor pool, they all decided to take a swim. Though he could swim, he was out of practice and found himself in trouble as he tried to make it to a rock in the middle of the river.
"As I was going, I started to get cramps in my legs," Ray Gonzalez said. "I yelled at the guys that I was in trouble."
He went under three times before another soldier came to rescue him.
"I was gone," Ray Gonzalez said. "He came after me and got ahold of me. I fought him, but he got me up and took me to shore and they pumped all the water out of me. I have not been in water since."
He is proud of his family's military service.
"Even though it was a hardship on my mom and dad, we had to go," Ray Gonzalez said. "We had to serve our country and God brought us all back home."
Juan "John" Gonzalez, born in 1934, served as a lance corporal in the Marine Corps from 1957 to 1960.
"Like all my brothers, I wanted to serve my country, and so I joined right before I graduated from high school," John Gonzalez said.
After going through boot camp in San Diego, he chose to go to Okinawa, Japan.
"On the ship, boy, was I sick," John Gonzalez laughed.
Before reaching Japan, the marines landed in the Philippines to practice maneuvers and John Gonzalez was put on guard duty.
"My post was the main gate into the Marine Corps camp," John Gonzalez recalled.
One Sunday, he heard voices coming from the trees beyond the camp and saw a group of around eight people come out, swinging machetes in the air.
"In front of them was another Filipino, wearing a red shirt," John Gonzalez said.
The man in the red shirt knelt in front of him, begging for help as John Gonzalez yelled for help himself.
"I couldn't understand them and they couldn't understand me," John Gonzalez said.
Finally, one of the machete-wielding group communicated that the man was being chased out of town for being a Communist sympathizer.
"I didn't have time to be scared or to run back. That was not my job," John Gonzalez said. "I had to stand my ground to protect my buddies behind me."
John Gonzalez said he and his brothers had divine protection as they served.
"I prayed when I was overseas," John Gonzalez said. "We'd say our Rosaries and open our Bible to read."
Declining to re-enlist, he left the Pacific and headed home to Kansas.
"When I saw the Golden Gate Bridge and the lights of San Francisco, I said to myself, 'I'll never leave the United States again.' And that's the way it's been," John Gonzalez said.
"They went through a lot and thank goodness all my brothers came home safe," said Josie Victorio, the Gonzalez' sister.
Several younger generations of the Gonzalez family have also participated in military service.
"I'm very proud of all of them — nieces, nephews — everybody who is protecting our country," Victorio said.