Sunday, June 06, 2010

Marine Lance Cpl. Derek Hernandez

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Derek Hernandez, 20, of Edinburg, Texas

LCpl Hernandez was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died June 6, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Also killed were Sgt. Brandon C. Bury and Cpl. Donald M. Marler.

From the precise neatness of the canvas belts and camouflage caps on the walls to the giant map of Afghanistan and the “Oorah!!” scrawled on a marker board, Lance Cpl. Derek Hernandez's bedroom breathes U.S. Marine.
A circle on that map now shows where he died Saturday. Hernandez, 20, was one of three Marines killed in a convoy traveling through Helmand Province.

The news came Sunday afternoon, said Tony Reyna, Hernandez's godfather and one of his many uncles. Details of the incident were unclear, but Hernandez's body was expected to reach the United States today.

“We're all very close and that's why it hurts us so much,” Reyna said. “His whole thing was to make (his mother) proud and she was. He didn't have to do this.”

An American flag hung from the doorway to the home Monday, flapping in a sudden rain squall. The doorbell rang every few minutes with family, friends, and church members offering prayer and support.

Photos of Hernandez — in military dress, as a safety with the Edinburg High School football team, at his boot camp graduation — lined a low table in the living room.

The bedroom of Lance Cpl. Derek Hernandez remains as it was before he deployed to Afghanistan less than two months ago.

Photos of the smiling young Edinburg man line the mirror on his dresser; a hand-drawn calendar marking his progress through basic training is still tacked to the wall less than two years after he graduated.

A circled star marks Helmand Province on a large Afghanistan map, marking where he had been deployed. “He was a very meticulous young man,” said his aunt, Anita Reyna. “Everything had to be perfect.”

Hernandez, 20, died Sunday alongside two fellow Marines in Helmand Province.

Hernandez is the 31st member of the armed forces from the Rio Grande Valley — and the fifth Edinburg native — to die in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2003.

Hernandez’s mother, Virginia Reyna, said she learned of her son’s death early Sunday afternoon, when two officials showed up at her door and told her her son died while traveling in a vehicle. No further details were available, she said.

“It’s just so hard he’s gone,” Reyna said. “As soon as I saw those soldiers out there, I knew it.”

Reyna grieved alongside relatives at her north Edinburg apartment Monday morning. She said she last spoke with her son on Wednesday, when Hernandez said he had just received one of the care packages that she sent — he had asked for sandals and toothbrushes. “He said everything is going to be OK,” Reyna said.

Relatives described Hernandez as a bright, driven young man devoted to his hometown, his friends and, especially, his family.

Hernandez worked as a Military Police officer when stationed at Camp Pendelton, Calif., and served as an infantryman when he was deployed on his first tour of duty in late April. Upon ending his time in the Marines, relatives said Hernandez wanted to enter a career in law enforcement and to help his community.

“His thing was to accomplish this,” said his uncle, Tony Reyna. “Nothing was going to hold him back. Nothing.”

Hernandez’s body is expected to return to the Rio Grande Valley within the next two weeks, his family said.

A safety for the Edinburg Bobcats high school football team, Hernandez spent most of his time with his friends and cousins. In all the photos of him in his bedroom and living room of the small apartment he shared with his mother, only his Marine portraits show him without a smile.

“The only reason he wasn’t smiling is they wouldn’t let him,” Anita Reyna said.

Hernandez maintained a unique blend of discipline with kindness, relatives said. No more clearly does that show than in the meticulously hung camouflage caps and the huge Afghanistan map alongside the Whataburger table tent and Chick-Fil-A cow that sit on his dresser.

Anita Reyna said her nephew marked the map on Helmand Province so his family would always know where he’d gone. “He always said, ‘Don’t touch or mark anything, because I’m going to be home.”

Family members said both he and a cousin were born on the same month, day and year and had both joined the Marines together.

Members of the community have already begun to reach out to the Hernandez family. Texas State Rep. Aaron Peña (D-Edinburg) called Hernandez a "hero" on his blog.

"I am saddened that we have lost another young man to war," Peña wrote. "My condolences and prayers go out to his family. Derek Hernandez will not be forgotten. He will be woven into the tapestry of selfless service to country that has made this city a "Hometown of Heroes."

Edinburg was recently dubbed the "Hometown of Heroes" by Texas Governor Rick Perry. Mayor Richard H. Garcia said Derek Hernandez is the fifth soldier from Edinburg to be killed in the line of duty.

"Unfortunately, as in the case of Derek Hernandez, some brave young men pay a high price for our freedom," Garcia said in a written statement.

Marine Lance Cpl. Derek Hernandez was killed in action on 6/6/10.

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