Sunday, September 09, 2007

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

Streetsboro - "Everybody's got the mood - sad."

That was how Korean veteran Norm Lewis summed up the feelings down at the VFW hall, where the flags flew at half-staff for Jason Hernandez, the soldier from Streetsboro who was killed Friday when a roadside bomb exploded in Mosul, Iraq.

Spc. Jason Hernandez was killed on his 21st birthday - a fact that seemed to make his death even more painful.

John Hernandez' voice cracked when he mentioned his son's birthday.

But John Hernandez smiled as he talked about his rascal son who could charm his way out of a jam with his parents.

"Jason could make you laugh even when you were mad at him," his father said.

Streetsboro High School Principal James Montaquila knew two sides of Jason Hernandez.

"Jason came to us as a snot-nosed ninth-grader," Montaquila said. "I don't mean that in a bad way. He was just ornery."

Six years later, Montaquila said, he walked into a room full of teachers on a parent-teacher night and found a mature, uniformed Jason talking to teachers about what the military had done for him and what it might do for others.

Jason spent his junior year at Maplewood Career Center, the vocational school where he met and fell in love with Alisha Becht, a nursing student from the Crestwood School in Mantua.

They married Oct. 17, 2006 - just a month before he was deployed to Iraq.

Streetsboro and Crestwood football teams planned a moment of silence for Jason before their Friday night Portage Trail Conference Game.

Jason who grew to be 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds played for the Streetsboro Rockets football and wrestling teams

His brother, Aaron, 15, a high school sophomore, also plays on the high school football team.

Principal Montaquila said all available counselors, psychologists and ministers were brought to the school of 685 students to help. Montaquila said he spent the day walking the hallways. In one hallway, a grief-stricken girl violently kicked a locker, he said. Outside the band room, three girls sobbed and clung to each other for support, the principal said.

John Hernandez serves as a civilian recruiter for the Army, offering advice and guidance to Streetsboro area youths with questions about the military.

Jason's dad wasn't willing to talk about whether the U.S. should be in Iraq or whether troops should be pulled out. He did want to talk about the troops there. "I believe every American should stand behind them until we bring them home," the dad said.

Hernandez, 45, said he recently tried to re-enlist in the Army, but was turned down for medical reasons.

Flags flew at half-staff throughout Streetsboro.

Mona Lanhan, a preschool aide, said she learned about Jason's death at school. She knows Aaron, who is friends with her son, Mike.

Lanham lowered the American flag at her home on Ellen Drive, just around the block from the Hernandez home.

"I believe it shows that everyone is thinking about him and his family," she said.

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer