SGT. MAJ. FRANK MARTINEZ FORONDA (RET.)
January 24, 1938 – January 7, 2017
By Katharine Blossom Lowrie
A U.S. Army Hero
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Even though I wrote this some time ago, I wanted to pay tribute to Frank Foronda, a true hero.]
Frank Martinez Foronda, Sgt. Maj. (Ret.), a passionate spokesman for veterans’ issues and recipient of the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars, died peacefully at home in Little River, South Carolina on January 7, 2017, his adored wife, Ila Jean (“I.J.”) Hurley, by his side.
In an illustrious U.S. Army career that spanned 30 years, Foronda—who will be buried with full military honors at Whiteville Memorial Cemetery in Whiteville, North Carolina—served multiple tours of duty all over the world, including three in Vietnam.
He was awarded the Silver Star for extraordinary bravery in Vietnam when, on March 20th, 1970, he pulled wounded U.S. soldiers to safety after their firebase was overrun with Viet Cong. Foronda and his unit retook the area the next morning.
He rose above racial differences
His proudest achievement during his Army career, he said, was his ability to “guide soldiers from different ethnic and economic backgrounds to work as a team and rise above racial differences.”
Among his numerous awards: the Legion of Merit, Combat Infantry Badge, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Army Occupational Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and Joint Services Commendation.
Son of a migrant farm worker, Foronda, who spoke four languages, was equally proud of his work on behalf of veterans. He lobbied members of the House and Senate on issues ranging from disability benefits to healthcare. He worked as a veteran’s employment counselor for the North Carolina Employment Security Commission from 1988 to 2003.
“I felt it was my duty to let my elected officials know that someone cared about the problems of people who had served their country,” he often said.
Born Jan. 24, 1938 in Davenport, CA to Francisco U. Foronda, a Pilipino farm worker, and Frances Martinez, a housewife, Frank was the oldest of four children. Only five when his mother died tragically, “Paco,” as he was called, was raised by his father, a man of strong family values.
Combing the traits of his Mexican mother and Pilipino father, young Paco had flashing dark eyes and dark hair and was often mistaken for Indian. A lover of Pop Warner football, he admitted to being a less than a sterling student in his early years and somewhat wild during his days at St. Ignatius High School.
Once he straightened out, Paco headed for boot camp.
He married Virginia Gayle Collier of Whiteville, and the two had one daughter, Lori Ellen. Their union lasted 37 years, until her death.
Foronda met his present wife, “I. J.” Hurley (“the love of my life,” he called her) in 2010, when the two got acquainted via the Internet. Hurley described her 5’7” husband, who weighed 235 lbs. (despite trips to the gym), as “cute as a button.”
A thoughtful man, Foronda “remembered every little occasion and was so protective,” Hurley said. His passion for history led him to read extensively, “newspapers, magazines, books, anything he could get his hands on.”
Never too late for a BA in history
After 30 years and retired, he decided to enter the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he earned a BA in history in 1988. Always on the go, Foronda loved movies, dancing, going out to dinner, fishing, football (both college and the NFL) and, yes, he even liked working out at the gym.
“He was such a loving guy,” said Betty Nye, a South Carolina neighbor and close friend of the couple. “If you needed him, he would be right there.”
What impressed Nye was Foronda’s love for children, especially Kimberly Thao, an outstandingly bright little girl from Albemarle, NC. “Kimberly brought an extra-big smile to his face,” Nye said. “He called her his granddaughter.”
Gregarious, yet unafraid to express his opinions, Foronda viewed the world through the lens of a military man, expressing the hope that his two grandsons would grow up valuing “God, country and family.”
Influenced by multiple tours of duty, drawn to the people he met along the way and hungry to learn, the outgoing Army officer spent time in places ranging from Germany to Japan to Saudi Arabia. Along with English and Spanish, he became fluent in Arabic and German by soaking up the local culture and taking language classes through the Department of Defense.
Headed an ROTC detachment
Before retiring from the Army in 1986, Foronda served as senior enlisted advisor to a National Guard brigade in Chicago, IL, the last five years at Shippenburg University, PA, where he headed an ROTC detachment.
A lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Foronda served as commander of NC Post 8073 (1991-2002) and NC Department Hospital Chairman (2004-09). He belonged to Disabled American Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart and was a charter member of Vietnam Veterans of American and the Combat Infantrymen’s Association, serving as the national membership officer (2006-08).
He is survived by his loving wife, “I.J.” Hurley of Little River, SC; his daughter, Lori Ellen Foronda Sloan, husband Kevin Sloan, and grandson Kristopher Gaskins, all of Sanford N.C., and grandson, Zachary Gaskins of Clarendon, N.C.; a sister, Victoria F. Russell of Norfolk, VA; granddaughter Kimberly Thao of Albemarle, N.C.; stepson Kyle F. Blackmon and wife Nancy A Blackman, and daughters, Lilley Grace and Bryn Elizabeth of Greenville, N.C.; stepdaughter Ginger Paige Blackmon of Little River, S.C. His brother, Richard M. of Madera, CA passed away in 2006.
A graveside funeral occurred at 2 pm, Thursday, January 12, 2017 at Whiteville Memorial Cemetery, 1013 James B. White Hwy North, Whiteville, NC 28472.
Visitation was held at Lee’s Funeral Home, Little River, N.C. at the corner of Hwy 90 and Sea Mountain Hwy.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Veterans Memorial Park of Columbus County, PO Box 1003, Whiteville, NC 28472.