February is a tough month for the Gonsalves family. It was on Feb. 13, 2006, that their beloved son Chad Gonsalves, an Army Green Beret, was killed in action while fighting in Afghanistan.
Since his passing Marsha Gonsalves has kept up a memorial adorned with American flags in honor of her son and his three fallen comrades. The memorial was a reminder of the service and duty to country that her son held dear, so, it was a horror-filled moment when she discovered last week that a thief had stolen the flags from the memorial outside their rural Turlock home.
“I was devastated, heartbroken and crushed. All those empty feelings,” Gonsalves said. “It was like they robbed his grave. I just cried and cried.”
The four smaller flags had been snapped off the sign and a larger flag had been pried off the railroad tie it was attached to and taken.
It wasn’t the first time the memorial had been vandalized. Previously someone had torn the small flags off and left them in a field across the street. But this blatant disregard for the sanctity of the memorial really got under Gonsalves’ skin and she wasn’t about to let it pass unnoticed.
“There is no name that would fit a low-life that would do this,” she said. “I was now a mom on a mission.”
She erected a new sign reading “Flag thief rot in hell.” Soon her story was being reported on nationally, which is when the first two flags showed up.
Just like the morning she had discovered the theft, Gonsalves went outside to fetch her mail and this time she found two new flags planted in the ground. Gonsalves doesn’t know who left them, but her gratitude for them is far-reaching.
“It really touched my heart that someone would do that for us,” she said.
Later that night a neighbor and her 9-year-old son came by and put up several more flags and by Sunday, the fifth anniversary of Chad’s death, the Gonsalves’ front yard was full of stars and stripes fluttering in the wind.
“It’s been amazing, truly amazing,” she said. “It just shows there are by far more good people than the rotten apples.”
The acts of kindness have more than just brought the Gonsalves family some needed strength. As the story spread the family was contacted by people near and far offering support, including some soldiers who served with Chad.
“Hearing their stories about my son has been wonderful,” Gonsalves said. “These are the stories that I didn’t know about and that I can share with his sons.”
It was Chad Gonsalves’ dream as a youngster to become a Green Beret. Serving in Afghanistan he volunteered for a mission to rescue some stranded soldiers, a mission that put his vehicle into the path of an improvised explosive device.
In addition to his mother, father and brother, Chad left behind a young wife and three sons, Cody, now age 9 and twins Dylan and Blake, 7.
Over the years since his death the memorial his mother maintained had become a testament to sacrifice for both mother and son. As horrible as the theft was, it has helped shed a new light on the price of freedom.
“This is giving me the opportunity to instill in people the meaning behind our flag and it keeps my son’s memory alive,” Gonsalves said. “Taking the flags has backfired on the thief.”
And if anyone thinks taking the flags again would dampen Gonsalves feeling and pride, they would be sorely mistaken. This is a woman undeterred in her course.
“I hope and pray that it doesn’t happen again, but I won’t quit,” Gonsalves said. “I will get back up and keep going. No matter what, I’ll continue to fly the flag.”
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.