‘A hero’s welcome’

WESLACO — If only for a few minutes, he was home.

The procession escorting the remains of Navy Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez paused outside a light blue trailer that was once his childhood home and held a moment of silence to honor a life that was cut short in a naval accident two weeks ago.

Groups including America’s Last Patrol, Bikers Against Child Abuse and Patriot Guard Riders accompanied Hernandez as he was carried from McAllen-Miller International Airport to his home in Weslaco and then to Del Angel Funeral Home.

“This hero lost his life out there serving and we want to make sure that he is given a hero’s welcome, the family is thanked for his sacrifice, and that we make sure we never leave any veteran behind,” said Lupita Perez, post commander with the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Elsa.

Escorting Hernandez in his procession, Perez said, was a way to support what they are doing overseas.

“It’s not a popular thing to do. However, somebody’s got to defend this country to keep war off of our nation,” she said.

Hernandez and six of his fellow sailors were killed June 17 when their Navy destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, collided with a Philippine container ship off the coast of Japan.

The cause of the collision is still under investigation with some confusion surrounding the timeline of the crash and why it wasn’t reported sooner.

Bianca Garcia, who was in ROTC with Hernandez, remembered finding out that he was missing through a Facebook post from his wife, Dora Martinez Hernandez.

“It was very heavy,” Garcia said of realizing that he had died. “It was very shocking, to say the least.”

Garcia, 23, was a freshman in high school when Hernandez was a senior and described him as a mentor to her.

“He had a big influence on my life,” she said. “What I do now, in my life, is due to advice that he had given me.”

She described him as a big goofball — a joker — and a beautiful soul.

“He would play with everybody; he was the nicest person ever,” she said.

“He had that look that he was unapproachable but he was there for everybody and anybody no matter what they needed.”

Garcia, along with a large crowd of veterans and community members, greeted Hernandez as the hearse pulled into Del Angel Funeral Home.

Members of the public will have another opportunity to pay their respects in the coming days. A public viewing is scheduled for Wednesday, though the details are still being finalized.

A funeral service will be held Thursday at 10 a.m. at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Mercedes followed by the burial at Weslaco City Cemetery.

As the procession made its way from the airport to his home in Weslaco and then the funeral home on Saturday, a few people from the community stood along Expressway 83 and along Westgate Drive waving flags and signs to show their support.

Jose Lopez, a veteran and a Weslaco resident, lamented that there wasn’t a larger turnout for the procession.

“It’s kind of unfortunate that not a lot of people are out here showing their support,” said Lopez, 34, who served in the Navy and the Marines. “I know if I would’ve passed, it would have meant a lot to my family.”

Lopez said it was important to him, as a veteran, to show support for the family and that he knows what’s it’s like to lose friends.

“I’m a veteran, I’ve had friends who didn’t make it back,” he said. “Even though I didn’t know him, he’s still a brother.”