They always got a laugh as they related the story about how the young man who would grow up to be a strapping Marine got seasick while fishing as a boy with his father.
Mario Gonzalez and his son of the same name had to debark and walk three hours in the Baja California sand to their car.
“We would always talk about it,” said the elder Gonzalez, 48, of La Puente. “And everyone laughed. He was always trying to find a smile in everyone.”
The stories that the young Marine told when he first went overseas, to Afghanistan, were more serious. Yet his father was always impressed by his calm, the tone of his voice, his refusal to linger on the bad.
Iraq was different. The few times that Marine Lance Cpl. Mario D. Gonzalez, 21, called, the strain in his voice jarred his father. So did the stories that crept out, reluctantly.
“He sounded fatigued, and he sounded worried,” his father said. “He told me, ‘Don’t worry, Dad.’ But I understood that they were in constant danger. They slept with their weapons ready. They had their uniforms and body armor all the time.”
The elder Gonzalez and his wife would light a votive candle, place it on an altar for the Virgin of Guadalupe and pray.
Their son, who grew up with his father in La Puente, was killed Nov. 14 by an improvised explosive device in Al Anbar province. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
The elder Gonzalez said his son, whose middle name was Daniel and who went by Danny, liked to go camping and fishing with the family while growing up. They would go to Mexico or Kings Canyon National Park.
He said his son struggled in school for a while and went to a continuation school, where he studied harder and graduated. He began working full time, unloading trucks, his father said, but increasingly began to focus on his dream of being a police officer. “Ever since he was 8 or 9, he wanted to be a cop,” his father said.
More than two years ago, Gonzalez joined the Marine Corps. He told his father that it would give him the experience to become a policeman.
Last year, he spent eight months in Afghanistan. His family would send him energy drinks and other items, and he would tell stories about firefights. But he always closed their conversations with reassurances.
“He would say, ‘Hey, we’re all right, Dad, don’t worry. I have to do what I have to do to get back,’ ” his father recalled.
The Marine returned from Afghanistan early this year, saddened by the death of a friend. He wore a black armband.
Back with his family, he liked to cook with his brother, Gustavo Gonzalez, 16. He liked his father’s cooking, especially barbecued ribs. Before he left for Iraq, his father asked what he could cook for him. The Marine looked at him with a smile and an incredulous look and replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world: “Ribs, Dad!”
In September, the Marine was deployed to Iraq. His father pressed his family to write to him. They did, though not as much as they would later wish.
But they thought he would be back. They had gone to church as a family to pray. They had lighted candles at a makeshift altar.
When Marines knocked on the door of his home, the elder Gonzalez invited them in. They asked him to take a seat, and he knew. His wife, Enedelia Garza, the Marine’s stepmother, saw them and burst into tears. “But we lit a candle for him so that he would be OK,” she said, crying.
In addition to his father, stepmother and brother Gustavo, Gonzalez is survived by his mother, Patricia Arreola of Baldwin Park; two other brothers, Ricardo Gonzalez, 24, and Rogelio Morales, 17; and a sister, Karina Gonzalez, 17. He was buried with military honors at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Covina Hills.