David Velasquez takes after his uncles. He departed for a third tour overseas with the U.S. Marines on Nov. 6 headed to serve in Afghanistan.
The sacrifices of military service are nothing new to the Velasquez family. The family lost two members, David’s uncles – David and Raymond – to military service as well as a cherished family friend, Michael Fonseca.
The Velasquez and Fonseca families landed in Gardner during the 1900s. In the early years of the 20th Century, railroad companies would pick up immigrants on the Texas-Mexico border and transfer them by rail to work for them.
After raising several generations in the Gardner community, and being members of the Sacred Heart Parish, the Fonseca, Ayala, and Velasquez families have deep roots in the local community.
Raymond Velasquez was born in Gardner on Feb. 15, 1936 to Juan Velasquez and his wife Jessie (Ayala) Velasquez. Raymond graduated from Gardner High School in 1954. He received a track scholarship to Emporia State, and
received a teaching degree in 1958. Soon after, he decided to join the Marines. He served time overseas, then when he returned to Kansas he taught high school social science and coached basket ball and cross country at Lehigh, Kan.
Raymond’s younger brother, David Velasquez was born in Gardner on March 5, 1946. Jessie and “John” Velasquez had nine children in all, four boys, Raymond, John, Larry, David, and five girls, Esther, Rita, Linda, Stella, and Virginia.
David was also an excellent athlete and excelled in basketball, football, and set records in track at Gardner High School. He graduated in 1964, and in June of 1965 he decided to join the Marines.
“There were not many jobs in the Gardner area at the time and my brother David planned to make a career for himself in the Marines,” Larry Velasquez said.
After basic David was sent to Okinawa, Japan for Machine Gunner training. Around this same time David’s older brother, Raymond, decided to rejoin the Marines and he became a Company Commander in Vietnam. Raymond’s plan was to get close to David and work with him.
But that was never to be.
In late January of 1966 David Velasquez was sent to Vietnam. Walking with his battalion in the region of Quang Nam, South Vietnam David stepped on a land mine and was killed on Feb. 6, 1966. He was 19 years old.
“David was only in Vietnam six or seven days before he was killed by a land mine,” his brother Larry said.
Larry and his junior college roommate were doing laundry at Larry’s house in Gardner when the Velasquez family heard the news.
“There was a knock at the door, and my mother looked out and could tell it was the military and knew it wasn’t good,” Larry said. “When she opened the door and they gave us the news that David had been killed, my mother just froze.”
After David died, his close friend Michael Fonseca decided to join the Marines and serve in David’s honor. The pair had grown up down the street from one another.
Michael Fonseca graduated from Gardner High School in 1966 where he excelled in football. He was also a good artist and enjoyed drawing sketches. Michael even drew sketches in his letters to family and friends at home. He worked as a janitor for Jack Donovan at the high school until he was shipped to basic training in October 1966.
Fonseca arrived in Vietnam on July 23, 1967.
On Oct. 21, 1967, he wrote a letter to his brother Vic telling him of an upcoming dangerous mission.
“This could be it on the 23rd. We’re supposed to go up the hard core of the V.C. There is supposed to be three battalions of us going up there, so you know it’s going to be rough,” Michael wrote.
He spoke of the same mission in another letter to his sister Christina.
“They say it’s going to be one hell of an operation,” he wrote.
It was a mission Michael wouldn’t survive. Rifle fire during a mission in the area of Thua Thien, South Vietnam riddled his body and he died at the age of 20.
His parents learned of his death by telegram on Oct. 29, 1967. At their request, Michael’s body was escorted home by his cousin, John Tinoco, who was a Private First Class in the Army stationed in Vietnam.
The last time Michael Fonseca visited Gardner before his death was in May of 1967. He told his mother then, “Don’t be afraid if I don’t come back.”
“He was never afraid to go to Vietnam. He really intended to go to Vietnam for David all the time,” his mother said shortly after his death.
Vic Fonseca, Michael’s older brother, said Micheal and David had always been very close.
“He felt David’s death was a reason for continuing the fight for freedom,” Vic said.
Mike Hutton who graduated high school with Michael Fonseca and was a good friend remembers when he found out about Fonseca’s death.
“I was driving into town and I came upon Michael’s younger brother Tommy walking with their cousin and they were crying,” Hutton said. “I stopped and asked them what was going on, and they told me the family had just received a telegram stating Michael had been killed.”
Michael was survived by his parents, Cirilo and Antonia Fonseca, two brothers, Victor and Thomas, and three sisters, Christina, Suzie, and Janie.
Unlike his brother and his friend, Raymond Velasquez made it home from Vietnam. He married and had four children, three daughters, and a son who he named David in honor of his younger brother.
Around 1969, Raymond returned overseas and became a Leading Orienteer in the U.S. Marines. Major Raymond Velasquez also represented the United States in the Orienteer Cross Country games in Switzerland in the summer of 1969 and again in 1970 in Denmark.
His 13 year military career came to an abrupt end on Aug. 17, 1971 in Korea.
On a routine mission Major Raymond Velasquez was riding in a helicopter as a consultant to the Korea Marine Corps. when in flight they hit a telephone wire strung between islands and crashed into the sea. He was reported missing soon after. His body was recovered a few days later. Raymond Velasquez was 35 years old.
Raymond’s brother, Johnny Velasquez of Gardner, also served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Johnny served six years in the Air Force.
Larry Velasquez’s son, David, was sent for a third tour overseas with the U.S. Marines last Saturday. He will serve in Afghanistan.
“My son David takes after his uncles and feels its his duty to serve,” Larry said.
David has worked on SWAT teams in Kansas City, Mo. and in Lenexa, and was hired to help with SWAT training in Florida and California.
He’s also been wounded in the line of civil duty.
When he was 21, David sustained a gunshot wound to the chest. At the time he was an officer with the KCMO Police Department, and his bullet proof vest saved him.
Hutton was a good friend of Michael Fonseca’s and also served in Vietnam.
He said people at home can write to soldiers.
“Letters really do mean a lot to soldiers. It lets them know that we still care about them, and that there is still a whole other world back here called home,” Hutton said.