Large crowd, family ushers fallen soldier into city

The jet carrying the body of Sgt. Gutierrez rolls down the

Patty Gutierrez met her fallen husband at the Hollister
Municipal Airport Wednesday morning along with about 200 people
silently waving American flags.
Patty Gutierrez met her fallen husband at the Hollister Municipal Airport Wednesday morning along with about 200 people silently waving American flags.

The military transport plane carrying Army Staff Sgt. David H. Gutierrez’s body roared overhead then touched down just before 10:40 a.m.

Her eyes shaded by dark glasses, Patty Gutierrez stood silently as uniformed officers lowered her husband’s flag-draped casket from the chartered airplane. Falling into step with her three young sons and several family members, she slowly approached the gleaming metallic casket as onlookers huddled in a circle around her. For a moment, she placed her hands on the American flag that covered the casket before collapsing to one knee, her sobs the only sound that pierced the silence. Surrounded by her family, she grieved openly, clutching her oldest son to her chest while a family member cradled her youngest.

“This just hit so close to home,” said Hollister resident Lauretta Avina, 45, as she dabbed her eyes with a tissue. Avina said she counts her blessings every day since her husband of 22 years returned safely from Iraq. “It could have very well been my family. I can’t imagine losing my best friend, let alone the father of my sons. I’ve worried about that knock at the door.”

Like many others who gathered to stand behind the Gutierrez family, Avina held a large American flag in her hand, the brisk morning breeze catching it every now and then.

“It’s important for us to be here,” she said. “This wasn’t in vain.”

Sgt. Gutierrez, the 35-year-old father of three young sons, was killed in Afghanistan by a hidden roadside bomb on Christmas Day while on patrol.

Decked out in riding leathers, more than 50 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group dedicated to supporting veterans, rumbled off behind the family after the ceremony, forming a motorcade replete with flags and military garb that wound its way on Highway 25, then north on U.S. 101 back to Gilroy.

The Patriot Guard was “born out of what happened to Vietnam vets,” said Gilroy resident Mark Zappa, 51, proudly wearing his United States Air Force cap. Riders woke up at 5 a.m. and came from as far as Sonoma and Santa Rosa to pay their respects.

“When I saw some of the things that went on, for a long time, I had a lot of hate for the country,” said Patriot Guard member and retired Marine Corps Vietnam veteran Gus Guastamachio, 66, then corrected himself. “Well not for the country, but for the people.”

“This is tough,” said Bernie Ramirez, 59, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9242 in Hollister who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder after returning stateside. When Ramirez returned from the war in 1970, “there was nothing and no one” to support him, he said. “We want to make sure that what happened after Vietnam doesn’t happen again.”

“For me, it’s an honor to do this for them,” Ramirez said, apologizing as his voice cracked. “I get a little emotional. Unfortunately, we’re going to bring a lot home like this.”

Patty Gutierrez’s Casualty Assistance Officer, Daniel Morak, who was assigned to the Gutierrez family, said, “She is an amazing woman. She amazes me every day. They are a very strong family and they have tons of support.”

Dozens of police officers and firefighters from the surrounding communities stood along the perimeter of the throng of mourners.

“In essence, he is all of our son,” said Hollister resident Linda Lampe, 62, as she passed out flags before the plane landed. Lampe’s brother died in Vietnam when he was 27 and, since then, she’s worked to provide support to military families.

“We believe in the flag and everything it represents,” she said.

A vigil service will be held at 7 p.m. tonight at St. Mary’s Church, 11 First St., and a funeral Mass will be held at the church at 10 a.m., Thursday, followed by military graveside services and a reception at the Gilroy Veterans Hall, 74 W. Sixth St.

Sgt. Gutierrez’s nephew, Sonder Raymundo, who served in the United States Air Force and “was inspired by his Uncle Dave’s military career” will speak at the Mass, Patty Gutierrez said early this week.

Sgt. Gutierrez will be buried in Gilroy alongside his daughter, who died silently at birth from a rare disease in 2008.

Patty Gutierrez said she and her mother-in-law will receive an honor from a military general at the grave site and that her husband’s full military honors will be bestowed at a service scheduled for Monday at Fort Lewis, Wash., where her husband was stationed. A coveted amateur football honor, the Black Lion – given for commitment and selflessness – will also be awarded at that time.

Sgt. Gutierrez’s mother, the former Olga Montez, was born and raised in Gilroy. She and her family lived on Swanson Lane while her son went to kindergarten and on Martin Street while he was at Las Animas Elementary School, Montez said Monday from Fort Lewis, where she is helping her daughter-in-law with funeral and family arrangements.

“We have a lot of family in Gilroy,” she said. “We moved back and forth from San Jose for different reasons, but the roots are in Gilroy.

“David was a very happy man, that’s all I can say,” she said.

Sgt. Gutierrez’s father, Hector, served in the Army’s storied air assault 101st Airborne Division – known as the Screaming Eagles – in Vietnam. Sgt. Gutierrez’s uncle, Edward Montez, is a retired fire chief at the City of Salinas.

Patty Gutierrez, her voice filled with emotion, said Monday that the Gilroy community has been “overwhelmingly generous.”

The Veterans Hall is donating the hall for a reception; the Hilton Garden Inn is donating rooms for her, her three boys and the casualty assistance officer; and Adam Sanchez – former car dealership owner and recent winner of the Gilroy Garlic Festival recipe contest – will cater the reception.

Councilman Bob Dillon, a Vietnam veteran, is hoping the community will line First Street from St. Mary Church west to the cemetery much the way the community did when Marine Lance Cpl. Jeramy Ailes was buried after being killed in Iraq in November 2004 at age 22.

“(Gutierrez) is a fallen soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Dillon said.

“David had so many wonderful qualities, I don’t want to leave a single one out,” Patty Gutierrez said Dec. 28 – the date of their 13th anniversary. “He was a very good man, very comforting. All he had to do was open up his arms, so I could fall in and I knew things would be all right. He was my go-to guy, and it was the same way in his career. Everyone could rely on him.”

Gutierrez’s parents were married at St. Mary Church, Patty Gutierrez said. Most of the family has moved away from Gilroy, and his parents have remarried after divorce.

David played football at Gavilan College for one year, then transferred to San Jose City College, his wife said. He went to high school at Santa Teresa in San Jose.

David talked with his family via a web camera and instant messaging near midnight West Coast time Dec. 23.

“The kids were up, so they got to talk to him, too,” Patty Gutierrez said. “It was Christmas Eve there … just before he went out on patrol I’m guessing.”

Sgt. Gutierrez was deployed from Alpha Company 2-1 5th Brigade Stryker Unit of Fort Lewis. He was on dismounted patrol in Howz-e Madad when he was killed by an improvised explosive device, according to the Department of Defense. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment of the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Gutierrez enlisted Oct. 22, 1998, in San Francisco. He served at Camp Casey in Korea from September 2000 to August 2001 and Schofield Barracks in Hawaii from October 2001 through October 2006. While stationed in Hawaii he was deployed to Iraq from January 2004 to February 2005. He came to Fort Lewis in October of 2006.

David and Patty met at a sports bar called San Jose Live, Patty said with a laugh.

“He was the bouncer, and he kept me waiting out in the cold while he checked my I.D. – to flirt with me.”

Gutierrez and Patty Smith were married Dec. 28, 1996, “off the strip” in Las Vegas, Nev.

“We didn’t want to be married at a cheesy place or a drive-through, so my aunt who lived in Las Vegas recommended this nice little chapel.”

Their first of three sons, Andrew Daniel Gutierrez, was born Nov. 3, 1997. Jeremiah joined the family in 2003 and Gabriel in 2005.

In 2008, Patty was pregnant with their fourth child, a girl. Later in the pregnancy, it was discovered she had a chromosome disorder called Trisomy 18, more commonly referred to as Edward’s Disease. Reyna Patricia Gutierrez was born silently Oct. 2, 2008, at Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis and was laid to rest in Gilroy.

In Washington, Sgt. Gutierrez continued to enjoy his passion – football. He played fullback for an amateur football team, the South Sound Shockers near Fort Lewis, starting in the spring of 2007. His wife even became the team photographer so they could spend the weekend game day together.

“At practice, he was always smiling and you could tell he loved to be on the field,” said Shockers Coach Steve Matychowiak.

Sgt. Gutierrez inspired him, Matychowiak added.

“David was aces,” Matychowiak said. “When people die, I know they are often put up on a pedestal, but he really was a wonderful guy.

“He was married 12 years or so, and he told me this year that he was just as head over heels for his wife as when he first knew she was the one. That’s how he inspired me, I wanted my marriage to be more like that.”

Sgt. Gutierrez was assigned to Fort Lewis May 8, 2008, and deployed to Afghanistan in July. It was his second deployment.

His awards and decorations include two Army Commendation Medals, four Army Achievement Medals, three Army Good Conduct Medals, a National Defense Service Medal, a Korean Defense Service Medal, a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, an NCO Professional Development Ribbon, an Army Service Ribbon, an Overseas Ribbon, a Combat Infantry Badge, an Expert Infantry Badge and an Air Assault Badge.


7 p.m. Wednesday

St. Mary’s Church

11 First St.

Funeral Mass

St. Mary’s Church

10 a.m. Thursday.

Followed by full military graveside services and a reception at the Gilroy Veterans Hall, 74 W. Sixth St.

To help

There has been a trust fund set up for the three Gutierrez children. The address is: Commonwealth Central Credit Union, P.O. Box 641690, San Jose, CA, 95164, Patty P. Gutierrez family.

Leave your comments