The banner is a point of pride. But it also represents months of waiting for Joann and James – waiting for their son to come home.
James said he gets emotional when he thinks of taking the banner down. And he expects to shed some tears when it comes down.
“It’s the waiting that’s hard,” Joann says.
Their son, Marine Cpl. Joseph Gonzales, 23, just completed a second tour of duty in Afghanistan and arrived back in the states Monday evening.
“He graduated from Woodsboro High School in 2009 and went straight into the Marine Corps,” Joann said.
Her son’s decision to join the Marines was no surprise.
“He was dead set on it. His oldest brother was a Marine. He always talked about it, so we knew it was coming,” she added.
Joseph’s uncle, Eddie Abila, of Woodsboro, also was a Marine.
“He looked up to his uncle, and they talked about being a Marine,” Joann said.
So, after Joseph graduated in June 2009, he joined the Marines and went to boot camp in San Diego, Calif.
Joseph then married. He came home for a couple of weeks after boot camp and then took his wife and children to Cherry Point, N.C., where he is based out of.
Joann said Cherry Point is where she acquired the banner when Joseph was first deployed to Afghanistan for a year. She said the star or stars on the banner represent one or more family members who are in a war zone.
“They do it up to five stars,” she said.
Joseph is in MALS 14 attached to VMA 231 Operation Enduring Freedom. He works as an air frame mechanic.
“Every time I walk in the door, I think of him. I’ll be elated to take the banner down. It means he’s home and back on U.S. soil,” Joann said.
“People always ask me what the banner is. Not many know what it means,” James said.
The banner originated in 1917 when U.S. Army Capt. Robert L. Queisser flew it, honoring his two sons who fought in World War I.
The idea was embraced by the public and government, and on Sept. 24, 1917, the banner was put in the Congressional Record when an Ohio congressman read this: “The world should know of those who give so much for liberty. The dearest thing in all the world to a father and mother – their children.”
“Once he returns home, he has a year and three months left on his five-year contract with the Marines,” Joann said.
She said re-enlisting is on the table for Joseph.
“Money isn’t a big issue. The benefits are still there – insurance, housing and health care,” she said.
“In my heart, I feel like he is going to re-enlist,” she said.
Joann recalls how she prayed before Joseph went to Afghanistan.
“We always pray for our kids. We want them safe. When you have one in a war zone, you go to a different level of prayer,” she said.
Joann said she has gone deeper into prayer and become closer to God more than ever before.
While Joseph was gone, she always wondered, “Am I going to get to hear from him today?”
She said Joseph didn’t call too often, but he would message her.
One of the more recent text messages was this: “Looks like the U.S. is having more problems than us in Afghanistan,” alluding to the Boston bombing.
“He’s still glad to come home,” Joann said.
Nicole, Joseph’s wife and also a Woodsboro graduate, phoned Joann on Friday to say he had boarded a plane at 6:30 a.m. in Afghanistan and was on his way home.
“On a mother’s part, you have no idea how happy I am ... knowing he’s safe, and he’s home.”