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Sunday, April 13

Home cooking, church friends await former POW

By Maribel Villalva | El Paso Times

EL PASO, Texas - For 21 days, the Hernandez family of Alton, Texas, did not know if Spc. Edgar Hernandez was alive or dead.

They had seen his blood-speckled face on television countless times as one of the Fort Bliss prisoners of war taken by Iraqi forces last month near Nasiriyah. Clips of videotape shot by their Iraqi captors were broadcast around the world.

But then there was only silence and speculation ... until Sunday.

The family was notified by Army officials Sunday morning that Hernandez was among seven freed prisoners of war, including four other soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company at Fort Bliss, Texas. Officials told them Hernandez was in good condition.

``The (Army) sergeant is here right now, and this is very good news,'' younger brother Marco Hernandez said. ``He's alive, and he's in good condition. We're really happy.''

Edgar's mother, Maria de la Luz Hernandez, briefly saw her son in TV footage about the rescue.

``He looks happy,'' she said. ``We're all so happy here.''

The family was notified that Hernandez and the other prisoners of war will be taken to Kuwait for medical treatment before they are returned to the United States.

Shortly after the news was released, the Hernandez home became a place of celebration. People in cars with yellow ribbons drove by the house and honked in support. Members of the family's church quickly congregated at the home, neighbor Jesse Cantu said.

The jubilation was a contrast to the sadness the family felt in the past few weeks.

``I was here the Sunday they first received the news (of his capture), and you could cut the sorrow in the room with a knife. Thatıs how much you could feel it, and it was a very sad place to be,'' Cantu said. ``But today is a very, very happy day.''

Maria de la Luz Hernandez said it's still too early to tell when she'll be able to see her son again, but she'll prepare him his favorite meals.

``He loves Mexican food,'' she said. ``I'll cook everything for him.''

Edgar, 21, the oldest of four children, is described by his family and friends as deeply spiritual.

The jubilation of Hernandez's release was felt in nearby Chaparral, N.M., where Hernandez had found a second family, the Uribes. While stationed at Fort Bliss, Hernandez became a member of Chaparral Apostolic Church, where Alex Uribe is the pastor.

``We've been crying from happiness,'' Uribe said.

The small church dedicated a Sunday morning service to the returned POW. Church members had been attending prayer sessions for Hernandez that sometimes ran until 3 or 4 a.m.

Uribe said one church member also named her newborn son Edgar as a tribute to their friend.

The 507th Maintenance Company out of Fort Bliss was ambushed by Iraqi forces March 23 near Nasiriyah. Nine members of the company were killed and one soldier, Jessica Lynch, was rescued April 1 from an Iraqi hospital in Baghdad. She has been returned to the United States.