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Sunday, April 20

Former POW Hernandez thanks prayerful supporters

By Darren Meritz | El Paso Times

CHAPARRAL, N.M. - A quiet and grateful Spc. Edgar Hernandez told his adopted church on Easter Sunday that during his three weeks as a prisoner in Iraq, God had been with him every step of the way.

Accompanied by his girlfriend, three siblings and his parents, the 21-year-old Hernandez was honored by his congregation, the Chaparral Apostolic Church, for his service while deployed in Iraq.

The soldier, wearing his desert camouflage uniform, thanked those who had prayed for him.

Hernandez' mother, Maria de la Luz Hernandez, also thanked the congregation for everything it had done for the family during the difficult 21 days in which the soldier and four comrades had been imprisoned together with two Army pilots in Iraq.

``I'm very grateful for their support and prayers. They held us up, and they really hit to the core of our faith,'' she said of those at Sunday's service, which was conducted in Spanish. Family members made the trip from his hometown of Alton, Texas.

The soldier mostly stayed quiet and to himself, only waving to reporters and to a crowd that gathered outside as he was leaving the church in this small southern New Mexico community.

Emotional parishioners sang religious tributes in Spanish and raised their hands between calls of hallelujah, thanking the Lord for answering their prayers and returning Hernandez home safely.

Small posters praising Hernandez decorated the walls of the modest chapel; many people wore badges on their shirts that bore the former POW's picture along with a favorite psalm.

Hernandez said he was not allowed to say anything about the March 23 ambush of his Fort Bliss unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, near Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Nine of the soldiers were killed, four wounded and six taken prisoner. Spc. Jessica Lynch, who had been captured by Iraqis and held separately, was freed from captivity April 1 by special operations forces.

The five 507th soldiers and two Fort Hood pilots who remained captive of the Iraqis were released April 13 north of Baghdad. They all returned to a heroes' welcome Saturday night at Fort Bliss.

Hernandez's younger brother Joel said he always knew Edgar would make it home, but he was relieved that the ordeal was over.

``It was hard. My parents were always depressed, and it was hard for us to go through it,'' Joel said. ``Me and my brother have always been close.'' Joel praised his brother and the others who were captured and said their return had left him without a way to express the happiness he feels.

``It feels awesome. I don't have words to explain it,'' Joel said. ``I'm really happy, and my family's really happy that they all returned safe.'' Hernandez's father, Jose, who said Edgar will probably study criminology in the Rio Grande Valley once his contract with the Army expires in December, also expressed happiness that Edgar had returned.

Jose said he feared for his son because the Iraqi captors may have determined that Edgar's life no longer provided value for their cause.

``I feel really, really glad,'' he said, ``because my son has come back to me.''