Marc Gonsalves – Bristol Native

Bristol Bits: Marc Gonsalves shares an incredible story of survival

(reprinted September 19, 2010 with permission of Bob Montgomery)

Fall of Fame President Dave Mills and Marc Gonsalves

Three times a year, the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame holds a Leadership Council Breakfast, a get-together of Hall of Fame leaders, generally a speaker and Leadership Council members, juniors from Bristol’s three high schools who are looked at in being their sport team leaders as seniors. The purpose is to help them become stronger in these roles.

The most recent gathering this week at Nuchie’s, hosted by Bristol attorney Mark Ziogas, a director of the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame, featured Marc Gonsalves as the keynote speaker.

Marc was raised in Bristol and is the son of George Gonsalves and Jo Rosano. His spoke about his ordeal from Feb. 13, 2003 to July 2, 2008, when he was captured by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia after the plane he was in went down. He was later rescued, in Operation Jaque, along with a women, two fellow American contractors and 11 members of the Columbian security forces.

“I would never wish that on anyone,” he told those in attendance.He said it said it was important he wasn’t alone, because he had been moved to the country with two other American contractors, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes, the first to which he was chained to for long periods of time.

“I’m glad Keith and Tom were with me, he said. “It was important to have them with me. With three different people, one would fill in when one of the others suffered. One of us would compensate for the other or others.”

This point was directed to the students so they would better realize every member of a team is valuable. You can’t do it alone. Sometimes there are differences or problems in games that have to be addressed and there’s always someone who will step up, he said.

He went on to say they over-analyzed things that passed their way, but the thoughts of others were valued. It kept their minds alive and working, sometimes giving hope for the future.

“The value of people around, you might not realize how important they are,” he went on to say. “We needed each other, thus we survived.”

The abduction took place when Gonzales and his two co-workers were on a drug surveillance mission in Columbia’s cocaine-producing southern jungle. They were part of a dozen or so pilots and technicians overseen by the U.S. Southern Command and their mission was dubbed the Southcom Reconnaissance System, part of a process to lessen the drug traffic from Columbia. The three worked for Northrup Grumman, which held a contract for the work.

The day their single-engine plane crashed, the three Americans were onboard with an American pilot, Tom Janis, and a Columbian army intelligence officer, Sgt. Luis Alcides. The latter two were immediately taken out and shot after the crash, while Gonsalves and his two co-workers were forced to march with the guerillas deep into the jungle. It was just one of many such journeys they would face while being moved around.

In time, a Columbian journalist, Jorge Botero, was able to contact and tape the three to prove they were alive and eventually an escape plan was devised. In the meantime, it was five and a half years of sitting on the ground during the day, chained, and under a small canopy at night to lessen the chance of getting drenched by the heavy rains.

Among the many things they talked about while held hostage was writing a book and the three accomplished this two years ago. “Out of Captivity” is the title and the three were assisted by author Gary Brozek and, of course, it talks about their days as hostages of the FARC guerillas.

As far as I’m concerned in being at the event, it was a story I’ve never heard in person before nor will ever forget. A story of three men overcoming many obstacles to remain alive and sane.

However, it is interesting to note Mark Gonsalves is back and working for the same company.

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