Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Jason Hernandez remembered

U.S. Army Spc. Jason Hernandez's family spent Friday, a day that should have been a celebration of his 21st birthday, mourning him.

The 2005 Streetsboro High School graduate, a cavalry scout with the First Division of the Ninth Cavalry, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, died in Iraq as a result of a roadside bombing at around 5 a.m. Friday, according to family.

His father, John, said Jason first became serious about the military "three to four months before graduating."

His service as a cavalry scout put him on the front lines in the war in Iraq. He was among those who conducted reconnaissance missions, found enemies, plotted their locations, destroyed them or called in appropriate reinforcements to eliminate them.

"He understood what he was signing up for and what it entailed," his father said. "As of today, he paid the ultimate price for those choices."

Hernandez appeared in a video posted on the Web site in February, in which he talked about why he decided to join the Army.

"It's important to join the Army because people need us," Hernandez said in the video. "Not just in our country -- there are people who are being oppressed, and we are the nation that stops people from being oppressed."

He said he enlisted "to get out of my house and get some adventure," adding, "It's paying for my college. It gives me a good job and an opportunity to meet a lot of cool people and make some good friends."

The Hernandez family said "about 300" visitors had come to their Pike Parkway home Friday, along with members of the media, after news of Jason's death became known.

Students at Streetsboro High School, where Jason's brother, Aaron, is a sophomore, were informed of the death at around 10 a.m. Friday. School counselors and church representatives were available for students to speak with throughout the day.

The school paid tribute to Jason during Friday night's football game between Streetsboro and Crestwood. Aaron Hernandez is a player for the Rockets and was honorary captain during the game.

Before the game, members of the Streetsboro football team greeted Jason's father and his mother, Uta, as the crowd stood and clapped. An audible cry above the cheers was heard saying, "You people are heroes."

There was a moment of silence before the high school marching band played the national anthem in Jason's memory as fireworks exploded overhead afterwords. A fireworks show presented by the city after the game was dedicated to Jason and the four other soldiers with ties to Portage County who have been killed in Iraq.

Streetsboro High Principal Jim Montaquila said Jason played football as a freshman and was a wrestler in his junior and senior year. He attended Maplewood Career Center during his junior year, but returned to Streetsboro in his senior year.

"Staff members who knew Jason have taken it very hard," Montaquila said. "I liked Jason. We all liked Jason."

Streetsboro faculty member Rob Kidd taught Jason social studies his freshman year. They developed a second connection through the Rocket Rowdies, a school spirit group that also provided support to alumni serving in the military.

He said Jason "was your typical teenage boy" who "was a bit of a character -- a little rowdy, a little challenging at times, but always under control and respectful."

Kidd said Jason changed after enlisting in the Arm. He returned to his high school shortly after graduating wearing fatigues and visiting former teachers.

"He was someone you could be proud of," Kidd said. "It's a blow to us to hear about such a horrific event."

Polly Dierkens, a high school teacher and adviser to the student newspaper, The Orbiter, and the yearbook, recalled a visit from Jason in spring 2005 after he'd been enlisted for nearly a year.

"He was just so mature and had grown so much," she said. "He had grown into a really good man."

John Hernandez said he will miss knowing Jason as "the future man I should have been able to know. He was an honorable young man -- patriotic."

He said he would remember an instance when Jason "saved my life" when the boy was about 6 years old.

John said he was watching a music video when Jason started to dance in front of the screen, "kind of getting on my nerves but making me laugh at the same time." John said he was having some personal problems during that period, but seeing his son dance in front of the TV reminded him of the importance of family.

While driving home from the oil fields in western Pennsylvania where he works, John said the song played on the radio Friday morning around 5 a.m. -- about the time Jason died.

Kevin Kontorchik, a friend of Jason's since about age 8, said he drove to Streetsboro from college in Fredonia, N.Y., after hearing about his friend's death.

"He was always in a good mood," Kontorchik said. "He was always have a good time. He was always the center of attention -- the life of the party. He was probably my first friend."

"Jason's friends will miss him and are proud of him," said another family friend, Brett McClafferty, who said Jason was a born leader who knew how to follow commands.

In addition to his parents and brother, survivors include Hernandez's wife, Alisha Brecht, a Ravenna native, and a sister Angela.

From the Record Courier

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