Cpl Armando Ariel Gonzalez
Cpl Armando Ariel Gonzalez 25, of
Hileah, Fla.; assigned to Marine Wing Support Squadron 273, Marine Wing
Support Group 27, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort,
S.C.; killed in a non-hostile accident when a commercial refueler collapsed
at Logistics Supply Area Viper in southern Iraq
.BY TERE FIGUERAS
Armando Ariel González hoped to be an American citizen, a firefighter and a father. And he longed for his mother, whom he left behind in Cuba when he fled on a raft eight years ago, to join him in the United States.
Family and friends of the 25-year-old Hialeah newlywed -- a Marine corporal believed to be the first South Floridian killed in the war with Iraq -- watched Tuesday as most of those dreams were realized, albeit posthumously, at a funeral Mass at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
González mother, Dolores, arrived with special permission from Cuba to pray over her son's body.
Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez promised that González, who had hoped to join the city's fire department when returnning from active duty, would be named an honorary fireman.
And González's wife, four months pregnant, was presented with framed documents declaring her husband's posthumous naturalization as an American.
Later, while the soldier was laid to rest with full military honors at Vista Memorial Cemetery, Marines presented Liudmila González with the folded American flag as befitting a military widow. González's mother, who arrived from Cuba last week, also received the American ensign.
The story of the Armando Ariel González, who fled his Communist homeland with his father and brother in 1995, is a story of many lessons, said the Rev. Alberto Cutié.
''He is not one of our fictitious heros in our society. He is the best of what it means to be an immigrant in this country, a political exile,'' said Cutié, who delivered the homily at the funeral Mass officiated by Monsignor Agustín Román, auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami.
''He took a flag, a flag he adopted as his own, and took it to the other end of the world to defend what that flag stands for,'' Cutié said.
Marine Saluting Courtesy Sgt Michal S. Williams
González, who joined the Marines three years ago, was a driver in the Marine Wing Support Squadron 273. He died when a refueling tanker collapsed as he was working underneath it on April 14, weeks after shipping out from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina -- and just hours after talking to his wife, Liudmila, during a rare phone call from Iraq.
'A fallen Marine is a fallen Marine,'' said Capt. Don Caetano, spokesman for the Beaufort air station. ``Regardless if a soldier dies from an enemy's bullet or from injuries sustained from a vehicle accident.''
Marines at the air station remembered González at a service last week, and a half dozen soldiers flew from South Carolina to attend Tuesday's Mass and burial. They stood at attention as the a rifle detail of local Marine reservists fired a three-volley salute over González's grave.
The dozens of mourners also gathered at the grave site, bordered by flapping American flags and two Cuban banners fashioned from flowers, and bowed their heads as a bugler played Taps.
In a few months, Liudmila González, widowed after less than a year of marriage, will give birth to her child. Solemn and composed throughout Tuesday's services, the young mother-to-be is still grappling with shock and sorrow.
''She's devastated,'' friend Melba Monzon said, walking with her daughter across the cemetery.
Natalie Monzon, 11, could only shake her head in disbelief. ''He used to pick me up from elementary school almost every day,'' she said. ``When he left for Iraq, I gave him a big hug and told him to take care of himself. That was the last time we saw him.''