ANSWERS THE CALL TO SERVE
Writer: Luis Soto
A former Prisoner of War for 21 grueling days in Iraq in 2003, former U.S. Army Private Edgar Hernandez is finally telling his story. His powerful biography, Edgar Hernandez: P.O.W. – An American Hero, penned by journalists Jose Martinez and Megan Rellahan, is an unflinching examination of his time as a P.O.W.
Finding himself on foreign soil, thousands of miles from his Texas home as war broke out in Iraq in March 2003, Edgar Hernandez, then 21, had been preparing for this moment his whole life.
Born in McAllen, Texas and raised in Reynosa, Mexico before moving to Rio Grande Valley, a border town on the Gulf of Mexico, and finally Mission, Texas, Hernandez recalls watching news footage of Desert Storm while living in Mexico at age 10 and being extremely moved.
“There was something about Desert Storm that really affected me,” Hernandez explains.
It was out of that sense of duty that led Hernandez to enlist in the U.S. Army. And as part of the Liberation of Iraq, Hernandez, an Army supply clerk, knew he was a part of history. But as his convoy came under attack from heavy enemy fire, Hernandez was shot, and hit with grenade shrapnel in his face. Bleeding profusely, ducking a barrage of bullets, the young soldier and several others were taken prisoner. Beaten and paraded as war trophies to a bloodthirsty Iraqi mob, it seemed death was eminent.
“On the way to Baghdad,” Hernandez recalls, “they stopped in every little town to show us off.”
In his biography, Hernandez confesses this terrifying experience reminded him of the motion picture Black Hawk Down. “I remembered the one [scene] when they surrounded the American solider and tore him apart. When I watch it now, I get chills.”
Having escaped the wrath of the angry mob, Hernandez and company where moved around to various secret Saddam Hussein prisons.
“When we got to the [first] prison we were all separated in different cells. We got treated pretty hard; mentally, they would play games with us. They would tell us that we were losing the war. They hit us with their rifles, and they kicked us and punched us.”
Several times, the captives barely escaped death as U.S. forces destroyed some of the prisons that held the P.O.W.s. Later, while racing in a Red Cross ambulance at speeds close to 100mph through the streets of Baghdad, the P.O.W.’s dodged missile fire from U.S. Marines who believed Iraqi officers were using the vehicle to escape, unaware the P.O.W.’s were inside.
“Edgar’s story is really amazing,” biographer Jose Martinez points out. “He has this powerful call to serve and he just feels compelled to answer it. He re-enlisted after his four-year contract was up after being rescued in Iraq, and then signed up with the Reserves where he faced the possibility of being sent back to the Middle East. And of course now he’s a member of the Pharr Police Department in Texas. His level of commitment and bravery is very inspiring.”
“We thought it was really important to tell his story,” co-authour Megan Rellahan points out. “Like everybody else, I watched the war through the news. So it was very intriguing to talk to this kid who had been there and hear his point of view about why he went into war. When I was 20, I was partying in college. He was watching people die at the age of 20. It was the real inside story, and not something from the television set.”
However, Hernandez, now 27-years-old, doesn’t refer to himself as a “hero” but he is extremely proud of the work that the troops are doing overseas. “They’re serving our country,” Hernandez explains. “They’re over there risking their lives for us so we can have a better way of life. I consider them heroes because not a lot of people want to go over there now. Only a few people answer the call and say, ‘I’m willing to go. I’m willing to serve my country.’”
Edgar Hernandez POW "An American Hero"