World War II veteran Sus Gonzales received the second highest military medal that the British offered in World War II after the Victoria Cross and the highest honor a non-subject of the crown could receive.

By RIMSIE McCONIGA
rmcconiga@leavenworthtimes.com

World War II veteran Sus Gonzales received the second highest military medal that the British offered in World War II after the Victoria Cross and the highest honor a non-subject of the crown could receive. The citation was signed by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1854 during the Crimean War as a means of recognition for acts of gallantry in action.
He was presented with the Distinguished Conduct Medal on Jan. 29, 1945, while he suffered from wounds in Belgium. He died the next day.

Gonzales had a childhood like many others in Kansas in the early 1900s. He was the oldest son in a family that included seven siblings. He attended schools in Marion and Augusta, Kansas, and played football for the Augusta Orioles. He dropped out of high school during the Great Depression and enlisted in the Army in 1941.

Gonzales’ nephew, Rob Hoskins, said Sus served with H Company, 504th Parachute Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne Division and made combat jumps in Sicily, France and the Netherlands (Operation Market Garden). He took part in combat operations in North Africa, Sicily, France, the Netherlands and Belgium.
“During Operation Market Garden, the 504th was given the objective of seizing the longest bridge in Europe over the Maas-Wall rivers and several other bridges over the Maas-Wall canals which are located near Nijmegen in the Netherlands,” said Hoskins.

“On Sept. 20, 1944, American paratroopers crossed the Waal River in 26 tiny boats. Lacking proper oars, some soldiers had to use their rifle butts to row. Half of the 260 U.S. soldiers involved were killed or wounded. Only 13 of the dinghies could be used for a second crossing. After making the historic crossing and heavy fighting against German forces that outnumbered the paratroopers, the town of Nijmegen and the bridges were captured. During the crossing many boats became separated by the current. The boat with Sgt. Sus Gonzales had drifted away and he had to fight his way back to rejoin H Company. He fought with a British unit as he was making his way back to H Company. They were pinned down by a German patrol and he came forward to their aid. Sus shot down two dozen German soldiers. The British were very thankful. He was cited for his bravery and nominated for the Distinguished Conduct Medal.”

The 82nd was deployed to Belgium during the epic Battle of the Bulge. During this battle Gonzales suffered combat wounds that later led to his death. After the British presented him with the Distinguished Conduct Medal on his deathbed, his family was never made aware of his actions or the award. And history was lost due to there being no record found in the archives of the 82nd Airborne. But the information was discovered recently and the Ministry of Defense of Great Britain authorized that the medal be re-issued and presented in a special ceremony on Veterans Day to Gonzales’ sister, Esther. Members of his unit, the 82nd Airborne, have been granted permission to attend, and they are bringing with them the British liaison.

Heroes were common in the Gonzales’ family. Sus’ brother, Frank, earned the Silver Star, the U.S. military’s third-highest personal decoration for valor and gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States in combat. He was killed in action in 1944. Second Lt. Frank Gonzales was inducted into the 35th U.S. Infantry Division Hall of Fame, which is designed to recognize individuals who have had or have a service connection with the 35th Division at any time, beginning in 1917 with the initial activation of the 35th Infantry Division. Gonzales is the first Hispanic American to be inducted into the 35th Division’s Hall of Fame.

His descendants recently witnessed his posthumous induction at a ceremony in Kansas City. Gonzales and his brother Frank are buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Augusta, Kansas.

His nephew does not know why his uncle was never cited or recognized by the U.S. military, but he is determined after 72 years to turn this private hero into a public one and to get him the recognition he deserves.