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Ennis baseball players remember missing sailor

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JIM WILLIAMS
Ellis County Press
ENNIS - Anthony Drive Baptist Church Pastor Eddie Ricks prayed for a miracle, for Tim Gauna to have survived through a possible air pocket in one of the ship's flooded compartments.

Ennis High School pitcher Chad Pennington then whispered something to his own mother.

She put an arm around him.

Ricks spoke during the church's Sunday morning service of the young man from the Ennis area.

He said Gauna's mother, Sarah, had said if her son had been killed, he was in a better place - with God.

She still asked if Tim was dead why God took him and didn't take her instead.

As of press time Sarah Gauna said she hadn't given up hope her son was still alive as she watched CNN on television for reports of the incident.

She asked reporters who were at her home not to presume her son dead, even if the authorities were.

She said she had to see his body to believe he was dead.

However, the United States Navy was going to fly Gauna family members this week to Norfolk, Va., the ship's base, for a memorial service.

Sarah Gauna has sat, rocking back-and-forth in a chair with tears streaming down her face as she hugged a large wooden-framed photograph of her son in his Navy uniform.

Naval personnel; A.C. and Sherry Baker of Arlington, Texas; and a 'Navy Moms' group have visited with Sarah Gauna at her home in Rice.

The Bakers are the parents of one of Gauna's shipmates, Eric Baker, who survived the terrorist attack.

Both being from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area, Gauna and Baker had traveled home together on granted leaves of absence from the Navy.

But their parents had never met until recently.

Sarah Gauna said her grieving for her missing son had turned from grief to anger because he hadn't been found after several days of divers searching.

A 21-year-old seaman, information systems technician on the USS Cole, Tim Gauna had played baseball for EHS in the mid-1990s when the Lions began their winning prowess in the sport, qualifying for post-season play nearly every year since.

Along with Pennington, EHS infielder/outfielder Zac White was another current member of the Lion baseball team in attendance at Anthony Drive.

Former EHS ballplayer Phillip Brazier was also there.

Brazier had played on the same Lion squad as Gauna.

'Everything's shaken up,' Brazier said during a dinner following the worship service. 'The whole community is shook up. I can't believe something like that happened to someone my age.'

Robert Brazier, minister of music at Anthony Drive, said the people in the Middle East have total disregard for life. He said it must be taught into their religion that it's all right to kill one's self as long as he or she takes others with them.

Flags have flown at half-staff throughout the Ennis area since the incident occurred late last week.

The Wal-Mart department store here has been offering red, white and blue ribbons to customers as a show of support.

Someone said it felt as though the entire community had been attacked by this act of terrorism.

Phillip Brazier plays in an adult softball league with two of Gauna's family members - James Gauna and Joe Adams.

Brazier recalled when he was a junior and Gauna was a senior during the 1996-97 school year at EHS.

'Tim was pretty excited about going into the Navy,' Brazier said.

Ex-Lion Aaron Graff of Ennis spoke by telephone Sunday afternoon about Gauna playing outfield and pitching some for the same EHS team of whom his younger brother, Jeremiah Graff, also played. Jeremiah Graff now lives in Lubbock.

A pitcher and catcher for the Lions, Aaron Graff said after he graduated he helped EHS head baseball coach Kevin Kalinec with the team when Jeremiah and Gauna were playing.

Kalinec said Gauna's baseball talents were average, but improved from desire and hard work.

Kalinec recalled Gauna staying after practice and working extra to become a good player.

Aaron Graff said his brother, Jeremiah, and Gauna moved up together from the school's junior varsity squad to varsity.

Aaron said Jeremiah and Gauna graduated together.

'He [Gauna] was a real good athlete,' Aaron said.

He said he had played softball with Gauna, even as recently as this year, in Ennis and Waxahachie leagues, and in Dallas tournaments.

'He could play on pretty much any team he could play on,' Graff said.

Those who knew Gauna remembered him as quiet and a good student, particularly in art class.

Economics teacher Ruth Strunc said he could have easily gone to college.

Rice Police Chief Joe Bishop said a temptation of attending college tuition-free has lured a number of youngsters from Ellis and Navarro Counties into military service.

He had been a member of the Church of God here where a special prayer vigil was held Sunday morning.

A mass was said in Spanish here at St. John Catholic Church.

Family and friends continued to show support at the mother's home in Rice as media camped on the doorstep.

Gauna's younger brother, Albert Ramirez, 19, said he had been planning to join the Navy, but was going to wait until there was closure in the ordeal concerning his older brother.

He said joining the Navy would be like following in his footsteps.

Ramirez said he might change his last name to Gauna.

Ramirez graduated from in EHS in 1999.

Another brother, Daniel Gomez, 16, and two sisters, Frances Gomez, 15, and Rosalinda Guillen, 13, all currently attend schools in the Ennis Independent School District.

Grandparents are John and Naomi Adams of 901 S. Dallas St. in Ennis.

Among other family members include a cousin, Jeremy Gauna; an aunt, Diane Carrillo; and Brian Barcus, a friend who considers himself a cousin.

Gauna's immediate family had moved from Ennis to Rice the week prior to last Thursday morning's suicide bombing of the USS Cole in the Persian Gulf next to the port city of Aden, Yemen, south of Saudi Arabia.

In his last telephone conversation with family members, they said Gauna had told them he couldn't tell them of his crew's upcoming mission.

His mother said he did, however, tell her they were in dangerous waters and to watch the news.

His girlfriend, Missy Rodriguez of Rice was the last person to speak with Gauna.

Rodriguez said Gauna called her the day before the attack.

She said he was depressed and crying.

Rodriguez said Gauna said he didn't want to be there any longer.

She said he said he just wanted to come home.

Rodriguez said Gauna was reluctant to return to duty at the end of a leave this past summer.

She said she had told him he couldn't be a quitter.

Rodriguez said Gauna had dreams of attending the University of Texas at Austin and playing professional baseball.

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