July 27 was Korean Armistice Day. On that day in 1953, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William Harrison and North Korean General Nam Il, signed the armistice ending operations in a stalemate.
The fighting was hard, and the weather even harder. Conditions like these often bring out the best in service members. One of America’s best is Marine Veteran and San Antonio resident, Fidel Gomez. The young Gomez, 17, who in his service photo could pass for 15, was inspired by the Halls of Montezuma and the Mexican American War and joined the Marine Corps in 1949.
Fidel Gomez receives care at the South Texas VA and is a member of Fox Company 2/7, but most importantly, he is a rare member of the Frozen Chosin. The latter title refers to the group of Marines from Fox Company who were given the near-impossible order of holding off an overwhelming Chinese Army and defending a narrow passage out of the Chosin Reservoir for a United Nations force of 8,000 saving them from possible slaughter.
Gomez was greeted by fellow infantry Marine, and South Texas VA Fisher House program manager Erik Zielinski. It didn’t take long to begin telling stories of Marine life, despite their service being five decades apart. The instant bond lends credence to the motto, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
“The Marine Corps is one branch of the service that sticks together,” Gomez said. “Sure, our captains are a little tough and have no soul, but you know, you get to love them,” the 86-year old said with a grin.
Gomez’s smile and spirit grew as Zielinski brought back Marine Corps vernacular Fidel has not heard in some time. Everything was covered, from beanies and weenies, to what was the best beer you’ve had which transitioned to a request for a cold one right there in the room.
Then the topic turned to something that transcends through time and every battle Marines have fought in…taking care of your feet. Gomez knows a thing or two about taking care of feet, seeing many of his fellow Marine’s fall to frostbite, losing toes, limbs and even their lives. “Our unit started with 300 men and some got frostbite even before the fighting started,” Fidel said. “I was from South Texas, but even I knew I had to change my socks.”
He explained one of the difficult things is that his unit was fitted with boots more suited for hunting.
Another long-held tradition the two Marines shared was the military coin. Zielinski presented Gomez with a Marine coin that had “once a Marine, always a Marine” etched on it.
It made an impact on the elder Marine, clutching it tightly and refusing to hand it over to family members that wanted to add it to the makeshift Marine Corps display in his room.
To reciprocate, he presented Zielinski with a Korean flag they took off a disabled vehicle. Over several Fox Company reunions, members of the illustrious group signed it with messages. The plan for the special flag is to have it mounted in a Veteran’s museum in Texas.
As Zielinski read out names, it jogged the memory and brought with it, a whirlwind of emotions.
One of those names was David Goodrich who Fidel went to high school with and who also joined the Marines at 17. David was severely injured in the fighting. “When I saw him, I thought he was dead, his head was wounded badly, so I picked him up anyway,” Fidel managed to say with a voice even more reserved.
Fast forward three decades during an engagement party in 1980 for his daughter Linda. The future groom’s cousin, Michael was talking about being in the Marines. Once Michael began talking about the exploits of his father and Fox 2/7, Fidel realized it was the same man he had pulled off the snow that November day in Korea.
“Here walks in uncle David, and these two gentlemen had not seen each other,” Linda said. “My dad thought he had been killed and he turned white after seeing him.”
In true straight-forward Marine Corps fashion, Fidel described the reunion. “I visited him, he’s worse off than I am,” Fidel said. “If I’d known he was going to wed my girls, I’d left him there,” he said laughing before he could finish the sentence.
With consummate humility, Gomez reflected about his fortune, knowing that everyone wasn’t so lucky. “They flew me home because I was hurt,” he exclaimed. “They said I was a prisoner of war, but I made it home, I made it home.”
Gomez said that 98 Marines out of the 300 in his unit made it back home.
He did make it home and by any account, made the most of it by marrying and having three wonderful daughters. They have been staying by his side in the Community Living Center and at the South Texas VA Fisher House.
After his return, he also began working for the Defense Department and continued to serve his country and fellow Veterans by moving up the ranks and worked many years with Veterans service organizations.
So for all you have done for this country Mr. Gomez, Thank you and Semper Fi.
About the author: Steve Goetsch is a public affairs specialist with the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.