Vietnam vet's daughter struggling for US burial

James Gonsalves spent his last years in Jaffa.

By
July 8, 2010 10:26
3 minute read.
James Gonsalves

James Gonsalves 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The daughter of a Vietnam War veteran who moved to Israel 20 years ago and worked as an actor is struggling to give her father, who died on Sunday, the burial he always dreamed of in a war veteran’s cemetery in the US, The Jerusalem Post heard on Wednesday.

“He was so proud of the years that he spent in the [US] army,” Aliza Gonsalves said of her father, James Henry Gonsalves, during an emotional telephone interview. “He never took a dime from the state for his role in the Vietnam War and it was his last wish to be buried in a US cemetery that would recognize his part in that war.”

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However, after two days of intensive meetings at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, including appeals to a representative responsible for assisting US veterans in Israel, Gonsalves said she is none the wiser as to how to get her father’s body out of the country and have it buried in the country of his birth.

“They told me they were trying to help me but that ‘it does not look promising,” the 24-year-old student, who grew up here and now lives in Florida, told the Post. “When I went [to the embassy] yesterday, they could not even find information that he had served during Vietnam. The irony is that there is a department for veterans but this is the first time they have come across such a situation; they did not know how to act.”

Gonsalves said her father died after spending the last few years living rough on the streets of Old Jaffa; he was a long-time alcoholic. She explained that she had fallen out of touch with her father over the past two years and only heard from neighbors last month that he was homeless.

“I tried to help him from the US, but when I saw that it was impossible I flew out here to help him and try to get him into rehab,” said Gonsalves, who is a university student and has no funds to fly her father’s body to the US. “He was a great man but was deeply traumatized by his experiences in Vietnam,” she said.

Gonsalves said her father was also wounded in the terrorist bombing of the Mike’s Place bar in Tel Aviv in 2003, and “never fully recovered emotionally from that.”

“I just don’t know what to do,” Gonsalves told the Post. “I’m a student and my father left nothing. He never took [state] benefits either here or in the US. The least they could do now is to try to help fulfill his dying wish.”

Gonsalves described how attempts to help her father over the past few weeks had been to no avail and that he had been turned away from a state-run rehabilitation center in Ra’anana, ending up back on the streets last week.

Born in the US 67 years ago, James Gonsalves served in Vietnam before making his way to Hollywood where he worked as an actor on the TV series Mission Impossible. Gonsalves said her father was friendly with stars such as John Lennon and actor Robin Williams until he visited the Netherlands, met her mother, an Israeli, and ended up moving to Israel in the early 1990s.

Although he did not convert to Judaism, James Gonsalves became an Israeli citizen and often worked as an actor for the Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv. Comic actor Mony Moshonov is a good family friend, said Aliza Gonsalves, who has been staying at the Israeli actor’s house for the past few weeks.

“My father was well-known in Jaffa,” she said. “He used to write songs about living in Jaffa and even wrote one about the [flea] market there.”

She does not know how much it will cost her to fly her father’s body back to the US, but conservative estimates reach more than $10,000, Gonsalves said. She told the Post she is planning to set up a bank account to accept donations.

“I just want to get him buried but the bureaucracy from every angle has just been a nightmare,” Gonsalves said. “I just want to make sure that my father’s last wish is fulfilled but sadly I just don’t know how to.”

A spokesman for the US Embassy said that he was unable to comment on the matter due to his country’s privacy laws.


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