Army specialist Moises Gonzalez dies in vehicle accident
In life, and even in death, the joys and sacrifices of Army Spc. Moises Gonzalez attracted little attention.
He was born in Nicaragua, grew up in Huntington Park and Maywood, had children young and joined the Army to support them, according to friends and family. He died in April in Balkh province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained from a vehicle rollover. He was 29.
And then, thanks to TV station KGET in Bakersfield, Gonzalez became a viral sensation on the Internet.
As the station reported in one of its most-viewed stories ever, Gonzalez had not divorced his first wife before marrying his second.
After interviewing Gonzalez’s second wife, Ruth Bayona of Bakersfield, KGET sent cameras and two reporters to Gonzalez’s funeral at St. Mathias Catholic Church in Huntington Park in May. Footage showed images of Gonzalez’s first and second wives, who both had sons with him, and noted that a third woman, who also had a son with the fallen soldier, was also there.
Media outlets as far as England and Nigeria picked up the story.
Suddenly, Gonzalez was everywhere, but in a way that horrified his grief-stricken family.
“He was a great, great human being, and they painted him as if he were some gigolo.... Who were they talking about? They aren’t talking about him,” said a cousin, Maggie Gonzalez. “Nobody was talking about the beautiful ways he had with people, the way he gave his life for us.”
After a decade of war in which more than 6,500 American service members have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, any number of soldiers have left behind secrets.
Ami Neiberger-Miller, who heads public affairs for Tragedy Assistance for Survivors, said her organization sees five to 10 cases a year in which family members learn only after a service member is killed that he had fathered a child. Another situation is for parents to learn that their son or daughter had married someone they had never met or known of.
“People often get surprised by things their loved one did,” Neiberger-Miller said. But she could not recall any situation like the one that confronted Gonzalez’s family.
Army officials declined to comment on the details of Gonzalez’s case.
Neiberger-Miller said that all Gonzalez’s children would be entitled to education, healthcare and financial benefits, so long as they are officially recognized by the military as his.
Months after the media circus of the funeral, most of Gonzalez’s family is refusing to talk to the press. Messages left for family members, including Bayona, were not returned, and a reporter’s visit to the Gonzalez family home in Huntington Park was greeted with a refusal to comment.
But a few of those who knew Gonzalez said they wanted to set the record straight about him.
“I want to remember Moises for what his intentions in life were: his kids and his family,” said Cynthia Pace of Clarksville, Tenn., who met Gonzalez when he was stationed at Ft. Campbell in the same unit as her godson’s father.
He was so devoted to his children, Pace said, that he had their names tattooed on his body, and whenever he returned from deployment, he rushed to get them gifts. He was so dedicated to his family that he carried his grandmother’s rosary, and fondly recalled dancing salsa with her as a child.
He was also known for his fun-loving streak. He played practical jokes, including on his beloved grandmother.
“No matter what the situation was, he was happy,” his cousin said. “There was a bright light on him, all the time.”
Both Pace and Maggie Gonzalez said they are at a loss to explain how Gonzalez could have been a bigamist. His cousin speculated that perhaps he, like others in Los Angeles County and across California who do not hire lawyers to get their divorces, thought he was divorced when he wasn’t. Or that maybe there was another document somewhere that explained it all.
“He’s not here to explain himself,” Bayona told KGET.
Gonzalez stressed that her cousin should be remembered for his sacrifice and his love of his family. He had talked of helping his mother start a business.
“He just wanted to change his kids’ life,” Gonzalez said, sobbing. “He wanted his kids to have everything they needed.”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.