Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Marine Lance Cpl. Jose A. Hernandez

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Jose A. Hernandez, 19, of West Palm Beach, Fla.

LCpl Hernandez was assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died Dec. 14, 2010 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations.

True hero: Lake Worth Marine steps on land mine, protects unit

The family of 19-year-old Lance Corporal Jose Hernandez was understandably grief stricken Wednesday night.

But they found some solace by his last moments alive when he committed an act of heroism.

Lance Cpl. Hernandez was on foot patrol with his unit Tuesday in the Helmand province in Afghanistan when all of the sudden he stepped on a land mine.

What this marine did next, his sisters say, is nothing short of heroism.

"He stepped on the mine and stood there until everyone evacuated. In other words, he sacrificed himself for everyone else," said sister Aronica Nava.

The shrapnel from the explosion killed Hernandez instantly. No one else in his unit was injured.

"He always wanted to make sure everybody was safe, so when we heard he did this it sounded just like him because that's what he always wanted to do," said sister Yollanda Morales.

Friends from Lake Worth High stopped by to console the family and light candles in his memory next to photos of Hernandez and his marine dress hat.

Ironically, Hernandez told his sisters that the thing he feared the most about war was stepping on a land mine.

LAKE WORTH, Fla. - Lance Cpl. Jose A. Hernandez sacrificed himself and that's where his big heart comes in because he would rather put himself first.

Wednesday night , his sisters, aunts, cousins and close friends gathered at his Greenacres home to remember the fallen hero.

"He used to live with us when he went to high school and he was like a brother to me," said his nephew Richard Nava.

Hernandez died after stepping on an IED while on patrol in Afghanistan. He had been in the Marines Corps for two years and would have come home in just four months.

Hernandez graduated from Lake Worth Community High School in 2009 and participated in the R.O.T.C. program there. Former R.O.T.C. members say being a Marine was a goal Hernandez always had and he died making that dream a reality.

"I would always ask him in high school what do you want to do when you grow up and it was always to be an infantry soldier in the Marines," said friend Jordan Foe.

Though they are saddened by his death, those who knew him best try to reflect on how he lived and not how he died.

"Great kid. Great kid. And not one bad bone in his body," said his aunt Marciela Madino.

"Always making people laugh even if you were so mad or if you were upset or even scared," added his sister Yolanda Morales.

Foe, who was in the R.O.T.C. with Hernandez, says his heroic act is something even he couldn't fathom. "Anybody can just easily say but when it comes time to do it takes a lot of guts.".

"The people who fight for us are doing it for a reason so that when we go outside we can do what we want without having to worry about stepping on something or getting hurt and these people, like my brother, sacrifice their lives for our freedom," Morales said.

Lance Cpl. Hernandez was assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Jose Hernandez would have turned 20 next week.

Wednesday the flag at Lake Worth Community High School flew at half staff.

Family members say they are grateful his body remained intact and they will have an open casket funeral service. Hernandez will be buried in Colorado.

From the time Jose A. Hernandez was a child, he hoped someday to become a Marine, his family and friends said Wednesday.

"He just wanted to serve his country. He just wanted to be a Marine," Hernandez's cousin, Clara Rodriguez said.

Hernandez, 19, realized that dream, joining the Marines after graduating from Lake Worth High School in 2009. The dream ended this week, when he was killed on Tuesday in combat in Afghanistan.

According to Rodriguez, Hernandez was inspired by his older brother, Don, who also served in the Marines. Hernandez would have celebrated his 20th birthday on the day after Christmas, said his sister, Aronica Nava, of Greenacres.

"He was just a good person," Nava said. "Nobody had anything bad to say about him."

As a child he loved soccer, but "his main thing was joining the Marines," Nava said. He thought he might study aviation after completing his service, she said.

Brad "Scooter" Michael, 19, of West Palm Beach, said he met Hernandez when the two were both enrolled in the ROTC program at Lake Worth High. Michael said he learned of Hernandez's death Tuesday night.

"It was just one of those moments that stop time," Michael said.

Michael said he last saw Hernandez over the summer, when Hernandez was home on leave.

"When he was on leave, he came to my house," Michael said. "My step dad is a Vietnam veteran. When he left in his service blues, my step dad saluted him, my mom gave him a hug and that was the last time I saw him."

Michael described Hernandez as a devoted Marine."

"He was a hardcore Marine, through thick and through thin," Michael said. "He was definitely a jarhead. Definitely, it was hoo-rah all the way through."

Jessica Norris, a friend and fellow Lake Worth High graduate, said of Hernandez: "He was a great guy. Funny. If you were sad, he could absolutely make your day. I remember when he was up north in North Carolina, every night we'd talk on the phone and he'd always make my day.

"Before he left, we promised each other we'd write in our journal every day to each other and then when he came back, that we'd exchange our journals," Norris said. "Unfortunately, that won't happen."

Mario Pagan, a Lantana native stationed with the Marines in California, said he had classes with Hernandez before transferring in his senior year to complete his studies at Gateway High School in Boynton.

"I definitely cried," said Pagan, who arrived home on leave Wednesday night. "You can't stop tears for someone that you knew in person and shared life with. He's not going in vain."

Marine Lance Cpl. Jose A. Hernandez was killed in action on 12/14/10.

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