Al Gonzales knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity.
“I was told I was too old, too short and couldn’t speak in public, but I taught myself how,” Gonzales, told the Harker Heights Rotary Club on Feb. 13.
He was born in Brownsville, one of six siblings, and lost his mother when he was 5. His beginnings were difficult and impoverished. He spent his years as a young boy working in the fields of South Texas picking tomatoes, peas, beans, corn, okra, cabbage, lettuce and cotton.
By the time he was 14, he dreamed about escaping the hot, blistering days in the fields. Wanting more, one week before turning 16 he hitched a ride to Harlingen 30 miles away, lied about his age and enlisted in the Army. He served his country for 22 years and spent the last half of his career serving as a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger and Green Beret.
In 1968, he volunteered for combat duty in Vietnam and requested assignment to a long range reconnaissance unit. He served with Company F, 58th Infantry and Co. L, 75th Rangers of the 101st Airborne Division, “Screaming Eagles.” The unit conducted combat missions into the northern part of South Vietnam. Those missions were launched from fire support bases and one of those bases was named Eagle’s Nest.
To honor the memory of those that gave it all, he chose to name his company Eagle’s Nest International.
After being demoted from sergeant to private after going absent without leave, Gonzales was able to make a career out of the service. “It’s a privilege and honor to be with winners, leaders and people who care about their community,” he said about being stationed at Fort Hood when he was 17.
Gonzales said going to Ranger School when he was 37 was not the easiest thing he ever did. “I am the oldest honor graduate in the history of Ranger School.”
Gonzales talked to the group about setting and reaching goals. “You must have a road map to get to your destination,” he said. “There’s a difference between setting and achieving a goal; the difference ... is discipline and that’s a deep inside commitment.”
Gonzales told the group not to let anything get in the way of achieving their dreams. “I don’t have the qualifications to stand before you academically, but God had a plan for me and that was to be a champion for people,” he said.
For more information about his book, “Who Wants to be Somebody?” go to eaglesnestusa.com.