Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Fernando Santos dies 'of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'

When Fernando Santos entered Adonia Santos' life, she knew him as the younger boy who lived across the street and liked to laze around with her brothers.

"He was just this tall, scrawny, nerdy little kid who came around to hang out," she recalled during a phone interview from Fort Lewis, Wash., on Saturday.

In November, they would have been married 11 years. Fernando, a 29-year-old staff sergeant, had been scheduled to return from his second deployment to Iraq in June, but his stay was extended until October, Adonia said. When he returned, the couple were supposed to start planning a ceremony to renew their vows.

But Fernando and two other soldiers were killed Thursday after a roadside bomb, called an improvised explosive device by the military, detonated near their patrol in eastern Baghdad. None of the dead has yet been officially identified. A news release issued by military authorities in Baghdad said 11 other soldiers were wounded. Four were treated for their injuries and released.

They were conducting combat operations against militias in that part of the nation's capital.

Fernando was the 29th San Antonian killed in Iraq since the invasion. Six U.S. troops have died in the first four days of this month; 80 were killed in July, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.

Adonia, 34, said her husband was a strong man who tried to set a good example for others and tried to raise people's spirits, often through humor. He loved his children — three the couple had together, ages 6 months, 15 months, and 7 year, and Adonia's 16-year-old son from a previous relationship — and valued time with his family when he wasn't working, Adonia said.

"One of the last times that I talked to him, he was telling me that he was making plans that once he was back stateside, he was looking at changing his career path so he would be home more and wouldn't be in the field or deployed so much," said Terrie Bradlaw, Adonia's mother.

Fernando's body will be returned to San Antonio, possibly this week. He will be buried in San Fernando Cemetery No. 3 on Cupples Road, next to the grave of Albina Santos, the grandmother who raised him.

Daniel Santos, who is handling the funeral arrangements, said that was his nephew's request. Albina Santos and her husband, who also is deceased, raised Fernando virtually from the time he was an infant, after his mother left, said Gilbert Santos, Fernando's father and Albina's son.

Albina Santos was proud of her grandson's military career, Daniel Santos said. And Fernando was excited about his success. Daniel Santos recalled one phone call from a jubilant Fernando.

"He matched his dad's rank," Daniel Santos said. "He called that he was so happy that he was able to match his father's rank. That was one of his highlights."

Fernando attended John Jay High School in the Northside Independent School District but did not graduate, Adonia said. Instead, he earned his GED while working at Bill Miller Bar-B-Q to help support Adonia and her son, who was a baby back then.

"He was the best thing that ever happened to me," she said. "He was always, always wanting to make me happy."

When Fernando started hanging around with Adonia's brothers, he was about 13, she said. Several years later, they began dating. After a 10-month courtship, they married in 1996 at Albina's home.

In 1997, Fernando enlisted in the Army. The couple had been at Fort Lewis since 2000, Adonia said.

She said her husband loved his job and cared about the men in his platoon.

"He schooled them on finances and parenting and marriage and investment," she said. "He wanted them to be OK when they got out, like you would your own child. Everybody wanted to be him. He was really funny, quirky. He made everybody laugh. He was strong."

Fernando was home for a two-week break in February when baby Victor was born. Fernando spent a week with the infant before returning to Iraq.

On Thursday, Adonia was feeding the baby and preparing him for a nap when a chaplain came to her door. His words obliterated any plans for a ceremony to renew marriage vows.

There will still be a ceremony, this one a funeral farewell, and Adonia is sure many will attend.

Daniel Santos said the family will miss Fernando, but they are proud of him.

"I just want the people to recognize him, that he went out there and fought for his country, and proudly," he said.

From the Express News