Meet Alameda’s Medal of Honor Recipient

Courtesy U.S. Marine Harold Gonsalves was born in Alameda in 1926

Meet Alameda’s Medal of Honor Recipient

Eric J. Kos

A life celebrated in glory for the United States, that of Marine Corps Pfc. Harold Gonsalves, began in Alameda, and ended far too early in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. Gonsalves started life in the bustling little city of Alameda in January 1926.

According to’s Katie Lange, who compiled a “Medal of Honor Monday” article for him, Gonsalves was “an active high school student who played sports and sang in the glee club but dropped out after two-and-a-half years to start working.”

As World War II broke out, many youngsters rushed to enlist. In the 1940s, the military accepted enlistments from boys as young as 16 with their parents’ consent, but they preferred 17. (The youngest to serve snuck in at age 12.) Once Gonsalves turned 17 in 1943, he went to the recruiters in May and soon after began service in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Over the next year, Gonsalves, with his unit, the 22nd Marines, fought to success in the Pacific Theater at the Marshall Islands and in the liberation of Guam. He would then transfer to the 4th Batallion, 15th Marines, 6th Marine Division and with this unit appear on the shores of Okinawa on April 1, 1945.

An important foothold close to the main islands of Japan, taking Okinawa would be a critical blow clearing the path to a final invasion. The last major amphibious assault of World War II, the Battle of Okinawa “lasted 82 brutal days during which 77,000 Japanese died. They took with them 14,000 Americans,” writes Mark Stout on Stout added, “the Americans wanted air fields on Okinawa from which they could attack the main islands of Japan. Of course, the defenders fought tenaciously to stop them.”

Gonsalves, now 19, served as part of the forward observation team for his fellow artillerymen who fired away at a tall mountain stronghold on the Montobu Peninusula. “Gonsalves repeatedly braved his way through bullets and mortars to determine where to aim,” wrote Lange.

Gonsalves and other Marines volunteered to lay telephone line back from newly drawn front lines. Just as they were about to begin, a grenade landed among Gonsalves and his work crew. The Island City native didn’t hesitate to throw himself onto the live grenade to protect his fellow marines. Gonsalves gave his life to protect his friends who continued their mission unharmed.

The battle lasted until June 22, 1945, when U.S. forces secured Okinawa. Their new position not only devastated Japan’s air forces, it cut off critical sea lanes and isolated Japan’s remaining island strongholds in the Pacific.

“For making the ultimate sacrifice for his country, Gonsalves was awarded the Medal of Honor. His family accepted it on his behalf on June 19, 1946,” wrote Lange. “He’s the only Hispanic Marine to have earned the honor during World War II.”

He was buried with full military honors at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno. According to Lange, “he was honored again many years later, when Camp Gonsalves, the home of the Jungle Warfare Training Center for Marines in Okinawa, was named for him in 1958.”

Locally, a display in Alameda Museum describes Gonsalves’ life, and an engraved bench at Alameda’s Veterans Park on Bay Farm Island was dedicated in his honor.

Eric J. Kos has co-authored several local history books with Dennis Evanosky including Lost San Francisco and Bay Farm Island: A Hidden History of Alameda.

Courtesy A scene from the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. Mark Stout of says the carnage of the battle illustrates “the obscenity of war.”