A Name on a Highway

“Greater love hath no man than this.
That a man lay down his life for his friends.”

                                                                                                  -John 15:13

Sgt. William V. Fernandez 37, of Reading, PA, assigned to the Army National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 104th Cavalry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, Philadelphia, Pa., was killed Sep. 19, 2005 when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near his vehicle during patrol operations in Ar Ramadi, Iraq.  He was survived by his wife Jennifer and step-daughter Elizabeth.  Sgt. Fernandez was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.  He was also the recipient of the Bronze Star.

Better known as Will, Sgt. Fernandez left a lasting impression on those who knew and served with him.  He didn’t have to be in Iraq; a member of the Fort Indiantown Gap-based Long Range Surveillance Detachment, he volunteered to be deployed with the 104th Cavalry.  Will was a medic who also trained as an infantryman and went to airborne school.  His concern was always for the welfare of others, and he truly believed that the US presence in Iraq was making a difference.  A fellow soldier writes, “Will was by far the kindest of all of the soldiers in our unit.  It was a pleasure to serve with him, and I will be thinking of him this and every Memorial Day.”  Another recounts, “You crossed my mind again today – like you do on many many days.  I am looking into reenlisting, and one of the jobs I am looking at is Medic.  I remember how you did it, and what a great combination you were of fighting man and caretaker.  It’s a compelling combination and not just anyone can pull that off well, but you did.  I think your fierce love of soldiering and love for your fellow soldiers made both things second nature to you.  That to you it was not a jump at all between fighting fiercely and caring fiercely.  You were just a man that had such a quiet intensity and the heart of a lion.  Should I opt for a Medic slot, I will have the best possible example to guide me.  As always, in humble admiration of you and so grateful to have had time with you.”

His wife Jennifer recounts, “He told me of the children playing in the streets who would come running to him for the candy and gum he always carried for them in his pockets.   The shopkeepers and local laborers who were so happy America came and freed them from Saddam’s cruel reign, enabling them to live a normal life once more.  He spoke of the old ladies who giggled delightedly because an American soldier was in their house.  He wrote of old men who shook his hand and thanked Allah that our soldiers came to Iraq………I can never and will never forget you.  You loved life and all its richness and beauty – remember our walks at French Creek and Hawk Mountain, the sunsets and the skies, the gardens and the flowers, the woods and the creeks?   We would always find joy and inspiration in nature.  Remember our long conversations in the evenings, how we never failed to find humor in the mundane aspects of life, how our infectious laughter fed off those silly situations we’d create?  You were already a hero to me before September 19th. You are looking at me now, from the snapshots on the fridge to the framed pictures on the shelves in the nook. You are in my heart every day, Will, and I am blessed to have had you in my life.”

We are all blessed to have had men and women like Sgt. Fernandez in our lives.  In a letter to Jennifer he wrote, “I knew the dangers of my chosen profession. I went to protect you, my family, and all Americans who cherish freedom.  They sleep peacefully at night because brave men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

This coming September will mark 16 years since this 37 year-old warrior from Reading, PA., left his wife and our community to take a new post at the gates of heaven.  His name now honors the stretch of Route 422 between Exeter Twp. and the City of Reading.  From this point forward, each time I pass this sign I will make it a point to say, “Thank you Sergeant!”  Likewise, each time I pass another section of highway named for a deceased veteran, I will say thank-you, and then take some time to do a little research to learn more about the man or woman who gave their life for our nation.  I challenge you to do likewise.

Embrace the Challenge

This Memorial Day we bow our heads and our hearts to You, Lord, that we may remember those who paid the ultimate price by giving their lives for their country.  We can never be grateful enough for the sacrifices they made, and we are humbled by their willingness to put their own lives aside for the benefit of ours.  Father, carve their sacrifices into our hearts so we may never forget the loss of these heroes.