Man denied enlistment finds another way to serve country for 60 years
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - You might say Hector Gonzales’s hands were made for service. At age 82, he’s been on the production line since before his co-workers were even born. He’s spent more than half a century making brooms, mops, and packing dinner trays.
“His work here not only serves Lighthouse. It serves our community,” Hector’s boss and Lighthouse Louisiana CEO Dee Budgewater said.
But Hector’s original idea of service was quite different. As a newly-sworn US citizen back in 1957, he felt a higher calling. He could barely speak English when he tried to enlist in the US Army—not once, but three times.
Each time, he got the same answer from the in-take sergeant.
“He said, ‘No! We cannot use you!’” Hector said. “I said, ‘Why not?’ “Because you’re too f-ing blind! Yeah! You’re too f-ing blind!’ Out loud too.”
Hector said the sergeant’s voice echoed through the cavernous recruiting center and stopped people in their tracks. “I was disappointed,” said Hector, “It kind of hurt my heart. I said, ‘Damn, I can’t serve.’”
But Hector wasn’t done. He had one request for the sergeant who had just shredded his dreams.
“I asked the sergeant, ‘Can I buy that flag.’ The real flag—the American flag,” he said. “‘No! You have to go somewhere else and buy it.’ I still have it. Every year, every holiday I put it on the porch. They tell me it flies real pretty when the wind blows.”
A few years after his hostile encounter with the Army sergeant, Hector found Lighthouse Louisiana. The organization provides services and job opportunities for the hearing and visually impaired. He’s been here for 60 years.
“It’s not work. It’s service,” said Budgewater. “He’s the epitome of what service looks like.”
Five days a week, you’ll find Hector on the line counting, packing, sealing, and boxing cardboard trays for Lighthouse’s largest customer: the US Department of Defense.
Then they are shipped to Army and Navy mess halls around the world.
Earlier this month, for his service to his community and his country, Louisiana’s congressional delegation presented Hector with an American flag flown over the US Capitol in his honor.
“It means a lot,” said Hector. “This is the flag that I swore allegiance to when I barely knew English.”
We all have our own visions of how we can best serve the people around us. Hector is proof that all you need is a willing heart, and hands made for service.
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