Memorial Day announces the beginning of summer, conjuring longer days and maybe a patriotic parade. For military families, Memorial Day is much more personal and powerful; a remembrance of those who have served our country. This will be the first year Bob and Donna Conde of Loveland will recognize the day without their only son, Gabriel.
They celebrated his life and his ultimate sacrifice for country earlier this month after Gabriel was killed in action by enemy attack in Afghanistan.
Army Specialist Conde’s death is still under investigation but the Army issued a statement saying he was killed by small arms fire in the Tagab District of Afghanistan. Despite the ongoing investigation, Conde was immediately recognized as an American war hero. One other U.S. soldier was injured in the attack and several Afghan allies also lost their lives. In a statement issued by the U.S. Army, General John Nicholson, Commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said, “My thoughts and those of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan are with the families and friends of our fallen and wounded service members. Their valiancy in battle, and that of the brave Afghan partners they fought alongside, will endure in our hearts and history.”
Conde enlisted in the Army in 2015 and prior to deployment to Afghanistan last fall, had been assigned to the Elmendorf-Richardson Joint Base in Alaska. Conde was 22 when he died on April 30th. He had only one month left in his deployment before his battallion was scheduled to return to the U.S.
In an interview with La Voz television partner, Denver 7, Conde’s mother Donna told reporter Anne Trujillo that the day she learned of her son’s death was, “The worst day of my life.” She noted that Gabriel had returned to Colorado last year on leave, just in time for Mother’s Day, which was one of the best celebrations Donna had. She said that this year’s Mother’s Day would be the worst.
Conde’s last communication with his parents was via text where he wrote, “We are about to embark on a quest, please pray that it is lively and God is glorified.” Donna now wears a gold star necklace around her neck, a gift from “another gold star mom” who also lost her son in service.
A deeply religious upbringing led Gabriel to participate in multiple church missions to Mexico where he helped build facilities for needy children including playgrounds. Conde was born in Missouri but came to Colorado as a teenager when he attended Berthoud High School where he was a noted student-athlete. He finished one year of studies at the Colorado School of Mines before enlisting in the Army. He was known as the protector of his two younger sisters.
Conde was remembered by his colleagues at the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division where he was assigned. On May 2, Colonel Jason Jones, Commander of the Combat Team, posted on Facebook, “Gabriel is everything you want in a Paratrooper, smart, physically fit, and willing to take the initiative to accomplish the mission. Gabriel will always be a Spartan, and we vow that the sacrifice he made will never be forgotten.”
Conde’s body was returned home on May 11th to the northern Colorado airport in Loveland via chartered aircraft. Numerous military officers and his family and friends received the body in advance of a procession of tribute on May 14th. State Representative, Kevin Lundberg, Republican from Senate District 15 attended and posted on Facebook, “Today I and my wife Sandy joined the procession to Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver to lay to rest Specialist Gabriel Conde. With flags flying at half-staff and people standing on the side of the road in respect for this American hero, it was a moving tribute that we will never forget.” One of Conde’s sisters has served as an intern in Lundberg’s office for the past three years. Lundberg’s final comments were, “He died defending his unit in a firefight. He died a hero.”
Conde’s final resting place is at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver where a military burial took place. His obituary picture shows Conde in his signature white cowboy hat, something his family said he wore, along with his cowboy boots, whenever he was out of uniform. A section of his obituary reads, “In the short time he spent in Afghanistan, Gabe was fortunate to do some things he always wanted to do, in keeping with his warrior instinct to defend the weak and to ‘vanquish evil.’ He also spoke warmly of befriending several Afghan Army soldiers and of the rugged beauty of the landscape beyond the war-torn contested lands.”
After Conde’s death, General Nicholson emphasized continued resolve to control the war-torn region, “Actions like this only strengthen our steadfast commitment to the people of Afghanistan.” He continued, “… we stand with our Afghan partners in defeating those who would threaten the people of this country, whose cries for peace are being ignored.”
It is hard to see the end of a war that three successive U.S. presidents have tried to end quickly. Though Conde’s death is the first casualty in action this year in Afghanistan, approximately 14,000 other U.S. soldiers and thousands of Afghan allies are still trying to stabilize the region and hand off policing duties to the Afghan government. About half of those U.S. troops are working through NATO to help ready Afghan police and security personnel to take over.
In a brief ceremony starting with the national anthem, part of the division with which Conde served, was welcomed back to the United States earlier this week. Their families waited impatiently through an invocation and presentation by the commanding officer. He thanked them for “their honorable and dedicated service.” At the conclusion of the ceremony, family members could be heard calling soldier’s names and running to welcome them home.
Conde’s family has set up the Gabriel David Conde Memorial Fund. They ask that any donations be mailed to Howe Mortuary, 439 Coffman St., Longmont, CO. 80501 or submitted to any First Bank.