WESLACO — A grieving family and a grateful community are preparing to say their final farewells to Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, the U.S. Navy sailor from Weslaco whose death aboard the USS Fitzgerald in Japan last month has united South Texas in mourning.
Beginning at 9:15 a.m. today, Hernandez’s funeral procession will depart from Funeraria Del Angel-Highland Funeral Home, at 6705 N. FM 88 in Weslaco, en route to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Mercedes for mass.
The procession will head south on Westgate while again expecting to stop at Hernandez’s boyhood home. The same was done on Saturday morning as a symbolic gesture, when a procession led by Weslaco police and several other law enforcement authorities transported the sailor’s remains from McAllen-Miller International Airport, where he had arrived the previous evening, to the funeral home.
From Westgate, the procession will then take West Pike Boulevard to pass through the vicinity of Bobby Lackey Stadium and Weslaco High School. Del Angel Funeral Director Robert Lugo referred to this as “a final tribute” before the procession heads north on Border and onto U.S. Expressway 83 to Mercedes, where it’ll exit North Vermont toward the church’s 920 Anaquitas St. location.
The funeral mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. with interment immediately following at the Weslaco City Cemetery, located at 1001 S. Illinois Ave. The burial will be held with full military honors.
The Monitor plans to live stream the interment ceremony via its website, themonitor.com, and its Facebook page, facebook.com/monitornews.
Expected to attend the ceremony are U.S. Representatives Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and other high-profile officials.
Hernandez, 26, was one of seven sailors killed aboard the Fitzgerald on June 17, when the naval destroyer was struck by a Philippine-flagged container ship off the coast of Japan. His widow, Dora Hernandez, 26, has said that the Navy investigation into the incident remains ongoing and will likely be a lengthy process.
“I want to know so the family can know and so our son can have answers about what happened to his dad,” she said Monday about the investigation and in anticipation of the young couple’s soon to be 3-year-old son, Leon, one day inquiring about his father.
“I’m sure they will do everything they can to find out what happened. They’ve been wonderful. I know what people think sometimes about the military, but that’s not the experience that I’ve had with them. They’ve been amazing.”
The two graduated from Weslaco High in 2009 and were members of the school’s U.S. Army JROTC, making the procession stops at the campus and stadium — where they often participated in color guard activities — a sentimental nod.
It was on June 20 when Hernandez’s body was flown back to the United States at Dover, where a U.S. Navy ceremonial guard received all seven sailors’ American flag-draped transfer cases during what the military refers to as a dignified transfer.
The governor’s office and Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia have since ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff in Hernandez’s honor at state, county and municipal buildings locally and throughout the region. The governor’s authorization came as per the request of Weslaco Mayor David Suarez.
Flags will continue to fly at half-staff until the day after Hernandez’s burial.
At a June 27 Navy ceremony in Yokosuka, Japan, where high-ranking officers, family and crew members memorialized the fallen sailors, Acting Navy Secretary Sean J. Stackley also ordered the flag at half-staff from sunrise to sunset that day at all naval facilities and vessels.
The Navy ceremony in Japan drew the support of more than 2,000 people from the naval base community, which consisted of sailors and civilians who waved American flags and held up signs in support of the Fitzgerald’s near-300-member crew during a procession from the Yokosuka chapel to a 650-seat theater.
It was inside the theater where shipmates and officers spoke intimately of the Fitzgerald and the seven who died on board, which was in addition to crew members presenting the families members in attendance, including the Hernandezes, with folded U.S. flags.
It was upon family members’ return from Japan that the funeral arrangements began to materialize.
Dora Hernandez has described the support that the family has received since her husband’s death as “overwhelming,” with people offering food, kind words and prayers as well as gestures such as an American wreath that now hangs on their front door. It’s a fitting token of admiration for Hernandez and the family’s patriotic spirit, which has been described as apolitical and earnest.
What’s more, Weslaco city officials have said that many from the Valley have offered the family counsel and monetary assistance.
“They’ve shown so much support and gone out of the way to help us, and it is very overwhelming seeing how many lives he affected and how many lives he touched,” Dora Hernandez said. “I’ve been with him for 10 years, and to have the love of your life for that long is a blessing, because some people don’t have that experience of true love. I feel like he was such a wonderful person and such a beautiful soul. I feel like everything that was put before him in life — all these routes — took him to that point in his life that he was meant for.”