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Two wars, two sons lost

Two wars, two sons lost

Aug. 25, 1952:  Mrs. Rita M. Duarte is comforted by relatives at the funeral of her son, paratrooper Philip Duarte, 19, killed in the Korean War. Rita Duarte’s grief was compounded by government mix-ups that took 57 years to correct.

The Mirror, sister paper to the Los Angeles Times, reported the next day:

A 19-year-old paratrooper killed in action in Korea was buried in Calvary Cemetery yesterday without the guard of honor to which he was entitled.

The lack of the guard capped a series of tragic misunderstandings that brought additional grief to the family of Philip Duarte of Basilone Homes (Sun Valley).

The Army has not explained why the honor guard was not furnished.

The youth was buried beside his half-brother David Gonzales, 24, Los Angeles’ only Congressional Medal of Honor winner in World War ll.

Rita Duarte’s oldest son, David M. Gonzales, died in 1945 during fighting in the Philippines. After rescuing three soldiers buried under debris, he was hit by enemy gunfire. President Harry Truman posthumously awarded Gonzales the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Gonzales was buried with military honors at Calvary Cemetery in 1949.

In 1950, Philip Duarte was killed in Korea. His body, escorted by an Army sergeant, arrived at a mortuary in San Fernando. Usually the military escort remains with the family through burial. But after a meeting with the Duarte family, the sergeant left.

A promised $75 government check never arrived. Rita Duarte had to pawn family furniture to cover the $247 burial costs.

Rita Duarte, mother of 14 children, died in 1977.

In 1998 family members discovered that websites and exhibits honoring Congressional Medal of Honor winners had the wrong photo — it was not David Gonzales in the image — of someone else.

While correcting the image, the military discovered that Gonzales had earned eight other medals never awarded, including two Bronze Stars and a gold star for Rita Duarte.

The photo was corrected and the medals were awarded to the family by Congressman Howard Berman in 2002.

In 2006, Los Angeles Times writer Cecilia Rasmussen, outlined the long list of misfortunes in her story “A Family Finds Closure for Long-Ago Sacrifices.”

Following both World Wars and Korean War, families usually had to wait several years for the return of soldiers’ remains.

The Mirror, owned by the Los Angeles Times, was closed in 1962.

February 2, 1949: Sgt. Ralph Harrison, who accompanied the body of Pfc. David Gonzales, Congressional Medal of Honor winner, to San Fernando, shows dog tags, attached to coffin, to Gonzalez’s widow, Steffanie, son David Jr., 4, and the weeping mother, Rita Gonzales Duarte. This photo ran on the front page of the Feb. 3, 1949, Los Angeles Times.  (Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive/UCLA)

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