Serving country a family tradition

Courtesy photos: Nick Gonzales From left, sons Major Daniel Gonzales, Major Alex Gonzales, Lt. Col. Nick Gonzales and Lt. Victor Gonzales are pictured with their father, Sgt. Major Celestino Gonzales in the center.

Courtesy photos: Nick Gonzales
From left, sons Major Daniel Gonzales, Major Alex Gonzales, Lt. Col. Nick Gonzales and Lt. Victor Gonzales are pictured with their father, Sgt. Major Celestino Gonzales in the center.

By Alisa Boswell

PNT Managing editor

aboswell@pntonline.com

It’s not often one finds one family with over 125 years of combined military service, but the Gonzales family is one such legacy.

After growing up in San Jon, Ruperto “Bob” Gonzales started the family’s legacy by joining the U.S. Army in 1943.

“My grandfather was very patriotic,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Nick Gonzales. “He’d say, we have a great country, and we must do everything to protect it.”

Five of Ruperto’s sons followed in his footsteps, including Celestino Gonzales, who served two tours in Vietnam as an infantryman.
Celestino retired as a sergeant major in 1986 with two bronze stars and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

His final assignment was with the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at Eastern New Mexico University where he later obtained his criminal justice degree after retiring. After graduating with his degree, he went to work for the juvenile probation office in Clovis.

“He just loved the area and he loved the culture,” Nick said of his father, who moved to San Antonio, Texas in 2009 after living in Clovis for a few years.

“And it (eastern New Mexico) allowed him to pursue his other loves of hunting and fishing. And my mom was from that area, so really, it was home for them,” Nick said.

All seven of Celestino’s children attended ENMU, including Nick, who graduated from Portales High School in 1981 and ENMU in 1985.
Nick retired from the Army in 2008 at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

“He was an enlisted man, so he encouraged us to go get our degree and go in (the Army) as officers,” Nick Gonzales said of his father. “I think it was a huge stepping stone on the road to success attending ENMU and getting that degree. Not only does it give you that education and experience, but you also cannot be commissioned as an officer without that degree.”

Nick’s older brother, Victor, also recently retired from the Army as a lieutenant, having also served as support during the 1980 New Mexico prison riots in Santa Fe while working for the New Mexico National Guard.

And now Nick’s daughter, Lt. Nicole Gonzales-Martinez, is currently serving in the Army Reserves, along with her husband, Lt. David Martinez, who is currently deployed to Kuwait.

His other daughter, Amanda currently attends ENMU.

Celestino passed away in 2012 with his wife, Maria, following six months later.

“He was a soldier through and through, no matter what he was talking to you about or guiding you with, he would tie it back to the military,” said Celestino’s son, Major Alex Gonzales, currently stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. “It was his life. Anytime he talked to you about leadership, team work or fear — there was nothing my father did or spoke about that was not tied back to the military.”

Nick and Alex both said there was never any pressure from their father to serve in the military, but it was something that was ingrained in them to do, as part of their surroundings.

“To me, there was no option of what I would do in life,” said Alex. “Our dad did not push it on us by any means, but it was so much a part of our lives, I think it was just a known factor to me and my brothers that we would serve in the Army.”

And for Alex, all his family who served before him are the exact reasons why he is proud to wake up and don his uniform every day.

“I’m always happy to share the story of my family, and people are always amazed to hear it,” Alex said, adding that he has a picture frame on his wall at home that has a picture of each of his family members in their uniform.

“When people look at it, they just say, wow, because it really paints a picture,” he said. “It’s something I walk by every day, and that’s why I do what I do is because of them.”

And now, Alex’s 14-year-old son, Bobby (after Alex’s grandfather), is already determined to further carry on the family tradition even though, Alex said, he has placed no pressure on him to do so.

“He came to me one day and said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to be like you.’ I thought, wow, but then he said, ‘I want to be like grandpa; I want to be an infantryman,’” Alex said. “To me, that was really significant and made me proud. His idol is his grandpa and his great grandfather, because that’s what he wants to be is an infantry man.”

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