E.V. soldier slain in Iraq is remembered as family man


By Anindita Dasgupta

Sergeant Irving Hernandez will forever be remembered as a family man. Dedicated to his wife, Susan, and children, Stacey and Christian, Hernandez’s main interest was taking care of his family. Since his last period of leave in March, the Hernandez family eagerly awaited his return from his tour in Iraq.

Just a few weeks shy of his anticipated homecoming and two weeks after Christian’s sixth birthday, Hernandez, 28, was killed by a sniper as he tried to dismantle a roadside bomb in Mosul, Iraq. After tours of duty in Japan and Afghanistan, Hernandez was deployed to Iraq last August, and expected to be home on the 17th of next month. Having grown up in the East Village, his funeral services were held at Most Holy Redeemer Church on E. Third St. on Thursday.

Susan first met Hernandez at Murry Bergtraum High School on the Lower East Side. In a phone interview, speaking from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, where the family lives, she said her husband of eight years had been a quiet kid and a great friend. High school friends wrote testimonials on a memorial Web site created by a family friend. Some recalled stories of a young Hernandez “just living life,” while others mourned the loss of his strong character.

Despite his love for New York, in 1998, Hernandez enlisted in the Army, moving Susan and newborn Stacey, now 8, into more stable environments outside the city.

“It’s hard to make a living in New York City,” Susan said. “He did graduate high school and was very smart, but it’s very hard without an education.”

Debbie Amaro, a cousin, remembered when Hernandez left the city.

“He was sad to leave New York,” she said. “It was his hometown.” Amaro said Hernandez did enjoy traveling, however. “The Army exposed him to another world and, although he loved New York and was a New Yorker through and through, he knew there was a world outside, and wasn’t afraid to venture out.”

The Army took the Hernandez family to Georgia, Hawaii, Fort Drum, N.Y., and finally to Alaska where Hernandez was most recently stationed before being deployed to Iraq. Susan said that their family enjoyed traveling with her husband.

“Home is where the Army sends you,” she said.

Hernandez adjusted to the Alaskan climate over time, said Susan, and developed strong interests in ice fishing, four-wheeling, go-carting and even hunting.

“He went from being a typical New York City person to an outdoors person,” she said.

While they enjoyed the family’s new life in Alaska, Susan said they both missed the city.

“I think we both missed the food,” she said. “Just going out at 2 in the morning and getting something to eat. That, and the shopping.”

Pictures on the memorial Web site show a happy Hernandez with his wife and children, often surrounded in dense snow or seated on a snowmobile. Susan described him as a wonderful father who cared deeply about his children.

“I don’t think any kid could ask for a better dad,” she said. “I’m angry that he won’t be around to see them grow up.”

Both Susan and Amaro declined to comment on their feelings about the war.

As of now, Susan has no definite plans to return to New York but said that eventually she would go back.

“I don’t know how I can go on without him,” she said. “He was the greatest person you could ask for. He was the greatest person I will ever know.”

With reporting by Robert Kreizel