Frank Martinez Foronda, 78, St. Maj. (Ret.), a passionate spokesman for veterans’ issues and recipient of the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars, died peacefully in Little River, S.C. Saturday, Jan. 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, N.C., 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 20, 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.
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 other 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, lobbying members of Congress and the 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, Calif., to Francisco U. Foronda, a Filipino 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.
He married Virginia Gayle Collier of Whiteville, and the two had one daughter, Lori Ellen. Their union lasted 37 years, until her death. 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).
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.
Before retiring from the Army in 1986, Foronda served as senior enlisted advisor to a National Guard brigade in Chicago, Ill., the last five years at Shippensburg University, Pa., where he headed an ROTC detachment.
A lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Foronda served as commander of N.C. Post 8073 (1991 – 2002) and N.C. Department Hospital Chairman (2004-2009). 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 – 2008).
A graveside funeral is planned for 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12 at Whiteville Memorial Cemetery, 1227 South Madison Street, Whiteville, N.C. 28472.Visitation will be held after the funeral at the National Guard Armory, 929 Washington Street, Whiteville, N.C. 28472.
He is survived by his loving wife, “I.J.” Hurley of Little River, S.C.; his daughter, Lori Ellen Foronda Sloan and her husband, Kevin Sloan, and grandson. Kristopher Gaskin, all of Sanford and grandson Zachary Gaskin of Clarendon; one sister, Victoria F. Russell of Norfolk, Va.; like a granddaughter, Kimberly Thao of Albemarle; stepson, Kyle F. Blackmon and his wife, Nancy, and granddaughters, Lilley Grace and Bryn Elizabeth, all of Greenville; stepdaughter, Paige Blackmon of Little River, S.C.
He was predeceased by his brother, Richard M. Foronda, who passed away in 2006.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Veterans Memorial Park of Columbus County, P.O. Box 1003, Whiteville, N.C. 28472.
A guestbook is available at www.leefhandcrematory.
Lee Funeral Home & Crematory of Little River/North Myrtle Beach is serving the family.