Courtesy photo: Billy Gonzales Joe Luis Gonzales enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1968, he died in during an exercise board the USS Evans when an aircraft carrier ran through the ship in Australia.
Joe Luis Gonzales is not a forgotten sailor. He’s a sailor who people barely remember. In fact, the Curry County Veterans Council overlooked him five years ago when members did research for a war memorial at the Clovis-Carver Public Library. Gonzales was killed more than 40 years ago.
Then there’s Sgt. Garrett Misener. He’s a soldier that everyone remembers. More than 400 mourners attended his funeral.
Both men, who left different impressions when they were alive, will leave one final mark on Clovis.
The two are being honored by the veterans council with a ceremony to commemorate their addition to the Curry County War Memorial 10 a.m. Saturday at the Clovis-Carver Public Library.
Gonzales was born in Clovis in 1949, he went to school in Clovis, graduated from Clovis High School, and in 1968 he enlisted in the Navy a month short of his 19th birthday.
Seven months later, he died while serving aboard the USS Evans during a naval exercise in Australia. An aircraft carrier sliced through the USS Evans and half of the ship sank. Prior to the exercise, the USS Evans supported ground troops in Vietnam.
Gonzales’ body was never recovered, but the family had a funeral service for him. After that, most of Gonzales’ family closed the book on him, according to his nephew Billy Gonzales.
“Nobody would bring up his name, he was a teenager, he passed away very young, people tend to forget he was around,” he said.
But Billy Gonzales never forgot. In fact, he was inspired by his uncle to enlist in the Navy.
And there’s a dearth of information about Gonzales. Nolan Craig, a former Clovis teacher and a crew member of the USS Evans, has tried finding more information about Gonzales.
Craig said he remembers Gonzales as one of his students when he taught English at Gattis Elementary School. However, Craig can only remember that Gonzales was a student, nothing more.
Craig served aboard the USS Evans long before Gonzales did. He said he went to San Diego to visit the USS Evans in the spring of 1969 and heard of the accident in which 74 men died, including Gonzales. He remembers going through the list of crewmen who died and Gonzales’ face flashed before him as he read the name.
“I remembered his face and I remembered him being at Gattis,” he said adding he can’t recall much else about his former student.
He also comes up short when he interviewed survivors of the accident about Gonzales during reunions. All they can say is he was a quiet man who didn’t make any waves, so to speak.
“He wasn’t really well known,” Craig said.
Veterans council member Jim Cowman said a story in the Clovis News Journal about Gonzales brought him to their attention.
Craig said he is happy the veterans council is honoring Gonzales, because no matter how faint of an impression he left in Clovis, he still sacrificed his life while serving his country.
And he adds that the placement of the memorial is fitting. The memorial sits at the entrance of the old Clovis High School before it moved to its location at Thornton Street.
“It is on the very aorta of Clovis High School. Practically every class picture was staged on the steps,” he said.
Misener’s case is different. While he was born in Clovis, he moved to Utah then to Memphis, Tenn. According to Cowman, Misener was inspired to join the Marine Corps by his grandfather, who served in World War II. Misener was killed in December while serving in Afghanistan. He was 25 years old.
According to his obituary, He was active in church and was also an accomplished vocalist and musician. He was involved in the Memphis Youth Symphony, all-west and all-state Tennessee orchestras, several local bands, the Cordova High School rugby team and Cordova’s PACK TV, where he graduated in 2003.
He served seven years and went on four overseas deployments, according to a 2nd Marine Division Public Affairs news release. He also received several medals for his service including the Iraq Campaign medal and the National Defense Service medal.
At his funeral, WREG in Memphis reported that an estimated 450 mourners came to pay their respects.
Misener and Gonzales were sons of Clovis who payed the ultimate price for their service. Both men left different impressions in life. But in their death, their service will be honored, according to Cowman.
Gonzales may not have left as big an impression as Misener, but to Billy Gonzales, his uncle will always be remembered.
“It means a lot to me, a lot of people forgot about him,” He said. “All of a sudden he was not there anymore. But I always thought about him.”