NEW FREEDOM, PA, USA U.S. Army PFC, TROOP A, 5TH SQUADRON, 73D CAVALRY, 3 BCT, (25 ID), FORT BRAGG, NC BAQUBAH, IRAQ 03/25/2007
Private First Class Orlando Eric Gonzalez was born June 27, 1985 in Bridgeport, CT and lived there until he was 6 years old before going to live with his mother in PA.
When Private First Class Orlando E. “Eric” Gonzalez needed a place to live during his senior year of high school, Patrick LeBlanc was happy to make that happen – even though it was unusual for people to live at his camp during the school year. Generally, campers stay at Summit Grove Camp in New Freedom during the summers. However, Southern York School District contacted the camp looking for a place for Gonzalez – who was an incoming senior at Susquehannock High School at the time – to stay. LeBlanc, executive director of the camp, took him in.
He said Eric had stayed at the camp during several summers and described him as an ambassador – outgoing and willing to “talk (anyone’s) ear off.”
“Orlando was an amazing young man,” LeBlanc said. “He had a heart as big as this camp.”
Both LeBlanc and Susquehannock Principal Brian Cashman said Eric, who graduated from Susquehannock High School in 2005, had a difficult family situation, but they would not elaborate. He enlisted in the Army directly after graduation, both to pursue a career and because he was passionate about being able to serve his country. He was always dedicated in everything that he did in church, schooling, friendships, his family, and especially the Army.
Eric was excited about joining the Army after high school and visited the camp a couple of times between boot camp and his deployment to Iraq. “He couldn’t wait to be seen in his uniform,” LeBlanc said of Eric’s first trip back to the camp after boot camp.
The camp director said it’s comforting to think of how Eric – a “man of belief” who “knew where he was going” – was excited to join the Army. Eric lived in the staff dormitory at the camp during his senior year. His dorm, along with two others, sits toward one edge of the wooded campground, which has dozens of cabins and other buildings. During the summer, LeBlanc said, about 25 teenagers typically live at the camp. Eric had been one of those summer campers, and he was known as “Speedy.” “The kid ran like a gazelle,” LeBlanc said.
At one point during Eric’s stay, LeBlanc recalls seeing a wild rabbit darting around the campgrounds. He told Eric he was probably fast enough to catch it. Eric said he wasn’t fast enough. Later that day, Eric showed up at LeBlanc’s door. “There he was, petting this rabbit,” LeBlanc said.
Eric, 21, was killed 29 March 2007 in Baqubah, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near a vehicle he was riding in. He was the son of Orlando G. Gonzalez of Connecticut and Carmen M. Diaz of Pennsylvania. Eric’s family is proud of his accomplishments in church, school, and the Army. His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Combat Action Badge, and the Parachutist’s Badge.