Valley Parents Recount Memories of Their Fallen American Hero
EDINBURG – Many families of fallen heroes throughout the Rio Grande Valley will forever remember the ultimate sacrifice their loved one gave to the country.
One family recalls the prized memories of their hero, their son, whom they lost seven years ago.
In 2010, Lance Cpl. Derek Hernandez, son of Virginia Reyna and Israel Hernandez of Edinburg, died while serving in Afghanistan.
“I’m still in love with him because he’s my precious son,” said Israel.
Hernandez’s mother pointed out that at the Veterans War Memorial of Texas in McAllen, his picture is displayed on one of the granite panels.
“He was my biggest baby of all my three children. He was the biggest,” recounts Reyna. “He was very to himself, but a lot of times he was around family and friends. He was something else. He loved being a clown around everyone else.”
“He was a normal kid, lovable,” said Israel.
“He liked being out there playing football, baseball with his friends there in the neighborhood,” said Reyna. “He also liked playing with pets. We had a dog named Peanut. Oh, he had him so spoiled, he loved being with him. He had this squeezable toy, up to this day I still have in the attic.”
“He was very competitive, he liked sports. In high school, he made it for the Bobcats, so we were very proud of him. He was a good player,” said Hernandez’s father.
When Derek Hernandez graduated from high school, he broke important news to his parents.
“One day to another, he just comes to me and tells me, ‘Mom, I'm going to join the Marines,’” Reyna recalls.
In his enlistment letter, Derek wrote, “The reason I joined the Marine Corps, I love a challenge.”
Israel explained his concern at the moment Derek told him his plans to enlist, “He asked me, as the parent I was like, first thing (that comes to mind) no, but he made his decision and I respected it.”
“I wish he would have been here with us. I didn’t want him to leave,” said Reyna.
In 2010, Derek was deployed overseas to Afghanistan.
“Fear tries to kick in, but we have faith. We prayed and believe he was going to be OK, (we’re) gonna see him again, (he’s) gonna do his time and come back,” said Israel.
The family recounts times Derek would call home from overseas.
“Every time he would call, I wouldn't miss a call. Especially if it came from him,” said Reyna.
“He would call me from over there in Afghanistan. He was like a driver for like high-ranked people,” Israel said.
“If a weird number calls me, I’m gonna have my phone with me. I knew instantly it was Derek. I would answer, go outside. It was a quick, ’Hey sister, I'm fine, I'm OK. I love you.’ Just a quick hi-bye,” said Erica, Hernandez’s sister.
“He would ask me how we were doing. He would ask about his little brother, Devon. Make sure we were OK. I guess that made him feel good,” said Israel.
On June 6, 2010, Marines arrived at the homes of Derek’s mother and father. They showed up bearing news of their son.
The family spoke about the heavy-hearted moment.
“We got up, we were going to church,” said Israel. “For some reason, I don’t know what happened. We didn’t go to church. We usually leave at 9:45; it was already 10:15, 10:20. We didn’t go.”
“Sunday I was at home. I had already planned this out my last day of work Saturday. I said, ‘I'm going to get up in the morning and pick myself up breakfast, cause Derek lived with me, pick me up breakfast, pick up the paper, buy the paper and I'm just going to be home all day," said Reyna.
“I was on the phone with my sister. I told her, ‘Eve, hold on someone is ringing the doorbell, but constant,’” continued Reyna. “I said, ‘Let me call you back, there's two soldiers out there,’ so I hung up on her.”
“I opened the door and they said, ‘Virginia Reyna?’ and I go, ‘Yes sir,’ ‘Mother of Lance Cpl. Derek Hernandez?’ I go, ‘Yes sir.’ He goes, ‘Do you mind if we come in?’ and I said, ‘No come on in,’” recounts Reyna.
“We have his picture over there on the door, the marine picture…” said Israel breaking down into tears.
“That’s when they started telling me that Derek was in a rollover accident in Afghanistan. There was five of them in the vehicle and only two survived,” said Reyna.
Israel described his disbelief when the soldiers spoke to him about his son, “I don’t remember what they said. It was just like a blur, it was hard.”
Derek’s sister, Erica, also described her emotions at that moment, “I always thought you know, out of all the families, why mine?”
Tears filled Reyna’s eyes as she spoke of Derek’s goals, “He said, ‘You know what, Mom? One day,’ he goes, ‘I'm going to be somebody and I'm going to prove to my dad that I'm going to be somebody.'”
“He was a good Christian boy. He had faith. I believe he’s up there rejoicing. We’ll be with him someday. That makes me happy,” said Israel with a reflective smile.
Reyna said there were many moments she wished her son would have been home to share with the family.
“I don’t know, close to me, because he was so close to me. He was my baby,” said Reyna.
Hundreds of military families in the Valley have suffered great loss. The names of their sons and daughters can be found etched in stone in similar memorials such as the Veterans War Memorial of Texas, so their legacy of sacrifice can live on for generations to come.