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Derek Hernandez


U.S. Marine Corps



The bedroom of Lance Corporal Derek Hernandez remains as it was before he deployed to Afghanistan less than two months ago. Photos of the smiling young Edinburg man line the mirror on his dresser; a hand-drawn calendar marking his progress through basic training is still tacked to the wall less than two years after he graduated.

A circled star marks Helmand Province on a large Afghanistan map, marking where he had been deployed.

“He was a very meticulous young man,” said his aunt, Anita Reyna. “Everything had to be perfect.”

Hernandez, 20, died Sunday alongside two fellow Marines in Helmand Province. Details about the incident remain unclear, but the Defense Department announced late Monday that Hernandez died alongside Sergeant Brandon C. Bury, 26, of Kingwood, Texas, and Corporal Donald M. Marler, 22, of St. Louis.

Hernandez’s mother, Virginia Reyna, said she learned of her son’s death early Sunday afternoon, when two officials showed up at her door and told her her son died while traveling in a vehicle. No further details were available, she said.

“It’s just so hard he’s gone,” Reyna said. “As soon as I saw those soldiers out there, I knew it.”

Reyna grieved alongside relatives at her north Edinburg apartment Monday morning. She said she last spoke with her son on Wednesday, when Hernandez said he had just received one of the care packages that she sent — he had asked for sandals and toothbrushes.

“He said everything is going to be OK,” Reyna said.

Relatives described Hernandez as a bright, driven young man devoted to his hometown, his friends and, especially, his family.

Hernandez worked as a Military Police officer when stationed at Camp Pendelton, Calif., and served as an infantryman when he was deployed on his first tour of duty in late April. Upon ending his time in the Marines, relatives said Hernandez wanted to enter a career in law enforcement and to help his community.

“His thing was to accomplish this,” said his uncle, Tony Reyna. “Nothing was going to hold him back. Nothing.”

A safety for the Edinburg Bobcats high school football team, Hernandez spent most of his time with his friends and cousins. In all the photos of him in his bedroom and living room of the small apartment he shared with his mother, only his Marine portraits show him without a smile.

“The only reason he wasn’t smiling is they wouldn’t let him,” Anita Reyna said.

Hernandez maintained a unique blend of discipline with kindness, relatives said. No more clearly does that show than in the meticulously hung camouflage caps and the huge Afghanistan map alongside the Whataburger table tent and Chick-Fil-A cow that sit on his dresser. Anita Reyna said her nephew marked the map on Helmand Province so his family would always know where he’d gone.

“He always said, ‘Don’t touch or mark anything, because I’m going to be home.”


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