Having grown up in a military family, with a grandfather who served during World War II and a father who served right after the end of the Vietnam War, Manny Gonzalez planned from a very young age to join the military following the family tradition. After graduating high school, Manny joined the Marine Corps and headed off to Basic Training. In 1995, he became a Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Warfare Specialist and was assigned to Camp Pendleton in California.
July 18, 1996 started as just another routine training day. Manny’s unit was conducting a Battle Skills Training exercise, including the use of CS (tear gas) grenades in the area. The terrain consisting mainly of dry brush, immediately ignited, forming two separate fires. The order to evacuate the area was given. Manny grabbed his gear to escape the flames. Then he saw a Marine on the ground at the base of a hill. Without hesitating, this young Marine ran towards his fallen comrade. The only escape was through the flames.
Manny’s doctors, nurses and family began the fight of his life. He spent two and a half months in the UCSD Burn Unit before returning home and spending another month at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, with an additional year in outpatient therapy. Manny’s fight for his new life had begun.
Manny was medically retired from the Marine Corps in 1998 due to the severity of his injuries. Faced with the challenges of coming to terms of not being able to make a career in the Marine Corps were at times overwhelming. He had to reevaluate his life and his future. Manny became determined to help others. Over the years, he has volunteered as peer supporter to burn survivors in Texas, Illinois and Florida. He also has been a camp counselor for the children’s burn camp in Illinois, is a volunteer with the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors and is a Board Member of Operation Warrior Wishes.
He felt blessed when his wife Laura entered his life.
He felt the blessed joy of fatherhood with two incredible stepchildren, Patrick and Rosie.
He was blessed a third time with the birth of his son Johnny.
A family of his own.
Live life to the fullest, everyday, without exception.