Monday, September 17, 2007

Jason Hernandez laid to rest

The story of Jason Hernandez, an Army corporal who died in Iraq on his 21st birthday, is as much about his future plans as it is about the events of his brief life.

Hundreds of friends, family and strangers streamed into Streetsboro High School on Sunday during a public viewing of his casket to console his parents and his 20-year-old widow, Alisha.

His father, John, is an Army recruiter, but Jason's friends say he wasn't one of those kids who always planned to enlist. He saw it as a way to pay for college and was proud of his service, they said. He was two years into a four-year commitment, at the end of which he and Alisha planned to go to Ohio State University together.

Jason graduated from Streetsboro High in 2005. Many of the mourners Sunday were high school classmates thrown together for a sad reunion.

"Everybody says the same thing, that he was a jokester and made everybody laugh," Alisha said.

When news of his death on Sept. 7 hit, Alisha's family was getting ready to send out bridal-shower invitations. Jason and Alisha were married in a quick civil ceremony at the Portage County Courthouse last October, just days before he left for Iraq, and planned to finally live together in Texas in December when he finished his tour overseas.

Jason presented Alisha with an engagement ring three days before their Oct. 16 wedding, in front of both their families, at Vito's Italian Grill in Aurora. The restaurant was the site of their first date two years earlier.

Their wedding would have happened sooner, but Alisha didn't want to get married on Friday the 13th. She thought that would have been unlucky.

The newlyweds hoped for a formal wedding and reception in two years, at which point they wanted to travel for six months in Europe. Alisha's mom, Ruth Becht, thought Alisha should have a bridal shower now so they would have new things for their home in Texas.

"I said, You're entitled to one. You're married.' " Ruth Becht said.

Alisha Hernandez last talked to her husband the day before he died, the victim of an improvised-explosive device in Mosul, Iraq. She poured her energy this week into a slideshow of dozens of photos of Jason.

The slideshow cycled through on a screen in the high school gymnasium as mourners gathered.

The soundtrack to the slideshow, also arranged by Alisha, included "Love Song" by 311.

"However far away, I will always love you.

However long I stay, I will always love you," are some of the lyrics.

A tattoo inked on Tuesday started at the top of Alisha's spine and stretched down ward. It says "Forever in my heart" in Ger man, a nod to Jason's mother's German heritage. Two close friends, Brian Bartz and Greg Weinman, went with Alisha and also got tattooed in tribute to Jason.

"He's going to be with me always," Bartz said.

The front yard of the house where Hernandez grew up was loaded with red-white-and-blue balloons, teddy bears and signs on Sunday, along with a sign from the family asking for privacy.

His parents, brother and sister, and extended family greeted visitors Sunday during the seven-hour public viewing.

"We wanted everybody to be welcome," Alisha said.

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Related Link:
Jason Hernandez remembered

Related Link:
Jason J. Hernandez dies 'from wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle during combat operations'