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Man's heroism now known to family

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POSTED: November 11, 2009 9:09 a.m.
Photo by Frenchi Jones/

William Hernandez looks at a photo of himself taken when he served with the "Boriquaneers," 65th Infantry Regiment of San Juan attached to the 3rd Infantry Division. Hernandez joined the Army when he was 19 and served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

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To William Hernandez, joining the U.S. Army in 1948 was a way for a fiery kid from the streets of Ponce, Puerto Rico, to take care of his family.
“It was a job,” said Hernandez, 80.
But a short time into his 22 and a half years of service, Hernandez realized his quick decision to serve the country he loved would turn out to mean much more than a paycheck.
“That was the best part of my life,” the retired master sergeant said.
His time in the Army meant friendships, traveling, opportunity and long-lasting family memories.
“I remember when he was in New Jersey. He was a drill sergeant,” his daughter Mayra Rodriguez said. “Every night he would come home and he would have us do the drill. He would get us outside and he would make us do sit-ups and push-ups before he would give the class the next day. He took his job very seriously.”
It also meant plenty of time spent away from home.
“He was gone a lot, and I just remember lots of letters, especially when he was in Vietnam,” Rodriguez said.
Hernandez served two tours overseas: one fighting on the blistering cold frontlines of the Korean War and the other fighting the Vietcong on the hidden battle lines of Vietnam. 
All Rodriguez knew, she said, was that her father was a soldier doing his duty and proudly serving his country.
“He never talked much about his time spent overseas,” she said. “He never discussed it at all.”
She never new, until Hernandez suffered a stroke in 2005, that her beloved “papi” had been declared a hero — not just once, but four times.
“He just began talking, telling it all,” she said.
Hernandez revealed he had received a Silver Star with five clusters for his actions in Korea, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a Combat Infantry Badge.
“We never knew any of this until then,” she said.
It turned out that while Hernandez served with the “Boriquaneers,” 65th Infantry Regiment of San Juan attached to the 3rd Infantry Division, which deployed to fight in the Korean War from 1950-54, he saved nearly three companies of men from being destroyed by the enemy.
On Saturday, Rodriguez’s husband, Edgar Rodriguez, who served 29 years in the Georgia National Guard, had to fight back tears as he read a book passage written about his father-in-law’s heroic action.
“The enemy opened mortar, artillery, rifle and machine gun fire … every man … hit the ground and began taking cover … each time the companies would try to advance, the enemy would force them to a halt … for several hours it appeared that the fight was a standoff, with both sides holding its own ground. It was at this point and time … that one
of the scouts, Pfc. William Hernandez suddenly jumped to his feet and started to charge the hill. In a zig-zag fashion, he made his way to the top, firing as he went,” he read. “As the two companies reached the top, you could see Hernandez still chasing the enemy down the reverse slope, still blazin’ away.”
When Edgar Rodriguez finished, emotion consumed him.
“It’s hard to talk about it. I get choked up,” he said. “I think a lot of my father-in-law and, as a fellow soldier, you just feel proud … it doesn’t matter if you are talking about the Korean War, the Vietnam War or any other war. We can relate. We feel each other’s pain and the glory of combat.”
 

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