WESLACO — As details remain unclear on the funeral arrangements for U.S. Navy sailor Noe Hernandez, local, state and military efforts to recognize the seven servicemen who died aboard the USS Fitzgerald on Saturday are progressing.
City Secretary Elizabeth Walker confirmed on Thursday that any plans the Hernandez family will make concerning the funeral and burial are pending upon their return from Japan, where they’re expected to attend a memorial ceremony in Yokosuka.
The ceremony is planned for 10 a.m. Tuesday, which in the U.S. will be 8 p.m. Monday central time.
Commander Ron Flanders, spokesperson for U.S. Naval Forces Japan, said that a 600-seat theater located on the base in Yokosuka will serve as the setting for the U.S. Navy’s ceremony. Attending will be the entire 300-member crew of the Fitzgerald as well as other destroyers and cruisers, high-ranking military officers and members of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force.
“I don’t know who’s going to speak, but let’s just say some very senior Navy leadership will attend,” Flanders said on Thursday. “I’ve heard that some families might make the trip out, but I don’t have confirmation on that. I do know that we’ll be filming it and putting it online so that folks can pull up the video of it, and there will be still imagery as well that will be available.”
Photos of the ceremony will be viewable at dvidshub.net or navy.mil.
It’s in Yokosuka where Hernandez, 26, was stationed with his wife and son. The gunner’s mate 2nd class from Weslaco was serving aboard the Fitzgerald when he and six other sailors were killed upon the naval destroyer being struck by a much-larger Philippine-flagged container ship.
Investigations remain ongoing by the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy and several Japanese authorities.
Locally, Mayor David Suarez said the City of Weslaco intends to honor Hernandez — possibly in the form of a procession — upon his return to his hometown.
The municipality’s gesture is one of many from the Weslaco and greater Rio Grande Valley community that’s reached out to the family as a show of support. One such gesture consists of State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez planning to present the family with the Texas flag that was recently flown over the Texas State Capitol in Austin. This was done in honor of Hernandez and immediately upon Martinez learning of his death.
“I think we’re all deeply saddened by the loss,” Martinez said before remarking on Hernandez’s patriotism, which has been praised as selfless since his time in the U.S. Army JROTC at Weslaco High, where he graduated in 2009.
“We’re thankful for his service to our country, and I think it’s something that we’ll never forget. Our thoughts and our prayers go out to his family, and he will forever be in our hearts as well.”
The outpouring of support also includes fraternal organizations such as local American Legion posts and Catholic War Veterans offering their assistance.
In addition, Walker said a World War II veteran has reached out to help the family cope, the widow of a local fallen soldier has offered her emotional support, musician and retired educator Andy Veliz of Weslaco has asked to sing for the family, The Monitor is covering the cost of publishing Hernandez’s obituary in the McAllen-area newspaper as well as in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, and corporate citizens have expressed interest in providing food and paying for the funeral floral spray.
“Weslaco is just profusely generous, and it’s this reason why so many of us love this community,” Walker said. “They’re just abundantly gracious and generous and are ready to support the family whenever the family is ready to receive them.”
Martinez shared similar sentiments.
“That is what we’re about as Americans in our communities —coming together and helping families in their time of need,” Martinez said. “It’s immeasurable support for a young man who served his country and who was a native of our hometown. This is our way of extending a hand.”