Local soldier remembered, honored by family, friends

Lisa Hlavinka

Click here to watch video of Cpl. Jason Hernandez’s memorial service.

Listen to Streetsboro Mayor Mark Pavlick talk about Hernandez’ sacrifice.

Local soldier Cpl. Jason Hernandez, the victim of a roadside bombing in Iraq, was killed on his 21st birthday earlier this month.

Yesterday, friends, family and members of the community gathered at St. Joan of Arc Church on state Route 14 in Streetsboro for funeral services.

The sound of bagpipes greeted those who came to pay their final respects to the young fallen soldier. The Patriot Guard, a group of veterans and motorcyclists, lined the walkway to the church, holding a dozen American flags.

Hernandez’s casket was draped in a white cloth, and those inside the church sang “Amazing Grace” as the ceremony began.

His father, John, approached the pulpit with a sheet of paper in hand and seemed prepared to say his final farewells to his son. But when he stood in front of the hundreds of people in the church, he was overcome with emotion and gratitude.

“I’m at a loss of words that so many people loved him,” he said in a voice choked with tears.

He could only thank the people who have been offering the Hernandez family their support since Hernandez died on Sept. 7.

A wake was held at Streetsboro High School Sunday. In the gymnasium, Hernandez’s wife and mother stood next to his casket, hugging people as they filed past, whispering their condolences to Hernandez’s family.

“I’ve been zoned out for a week, ever since I found out he passed away” said wife Alisha Hernandez. She said all of her future plans are gone now that her husband had passed.

Still, Alisha said the memory of her husband will always be with her.

“He would put a smile on anyone’s face. He was awesome,” she said. “He’s rubbed off on me so much.”

In the cafeteria where his friends sat and reminisced, the mood was a little lighter, a little more like when Hernandez was alive.

Described as “the life of the party,” Hernandez will be most remembered by his friends for his sense of humor and compassion.

“He had a lot of charisma, a lot of character, humor, ability. He was the greatest person alive,” recalled Hernandez’s best friend Eric Buckley. Buckley said Hernandez was a good friend who intuitively knew when one of his friends was feeling down.

“He was close to a lot of people. He was just that type of person,” said his friend, Katrina Valenti. Valenti, who recently relocated to Florida, flew home as soon as she heard the news.

John was a civilian military recruiter and for years encouraged his son to join the military. When Hernandez finally joined after graduating from Streetsboro High School in 2005, it was to pay for his education.

“That’s the only reason he joined the army … for the college money,” said Alisha.

Then in December 2006, Hernandez was sent to Iraq. Beforehand, he married his high school sweetheart, then Alisha Brecht, in a small ceremony. Although they went to different schools, the couple met while attending vocational school during their junior and senior years.

They married in October with the plan that when Hernandez came back from Iraq, Alisha would move in with him.

But that day never came.

“He was so close to coming home. He was so excited,” Valenti said. “He said he wanted to come home so bad he could taste it.”

Contact public affairs reporter Lisa Hlavinka at [email protected].