FORT HOOD, TX — Memorial Day, a day to remember those who donned our Nation’s uniforms knowing that decision could be the one that ends their life.
While many Central Texans make an annual trip to the local veteran's cemetery, others head to Fort Hood to remember the loved ones they’ve lost and once again see them stand in formation as their boots fill a field at Fort Hood.
”Each boot is going to have a tag on there. It’s going to have a picture of the fallen hero, as well as their name and a date of death.” said Terry Peggins, Fort Hood Survivor Outreach Services Support Coordinator.
Not only does every pair of boots represent a fallen service member, but nearly every pair was also worn by that service member.
It gives Gold Star family members like Susan Hernandez a solemn place to remember Seargent Irving Hernandez JR, the husband she lost in 2006.
”He was shot by a sniper. He fought for his life, from what I heard, for 20 minutes and he didn’t make it. They took fire and he was killed,” said Hernandez.
Not only was SGT Hernadez a beloved husband and father, but his wife also says he was the kind of soldier that proudly put his life on the line for his country.
”That day he volunteered for a mission. To go on a mission and um, he was two weeks from coming home and it ended his life,” said Hernandez.
Like Susan Hernandez, Jennifer Warner is a Gold Star family member who lost her husband Staff Seargent Daniel Warner, who was found unconscious in his barracks in 2010.
”The Army, according to the autopsy, said he passed away of an accident because of a mix of drugs, of all the medication. So, it was hard for me to accept that he was gone,” said Jennifer Warner, Gold Star Family member and wife of SSG Daniel Warner.
SSG Warner hadn’t told his wife that he was receiving medical treatment after his last deployment knowing it would only make her worry about her soldier even more.
Now that he is gone, having his boot on the field among thousands of fallen service members is bittersweet.
”It means a lot because, you know, he is being honored. All his sacrifices, his legacy, and he’s not being forgotten,” said Warner.
It's a sentiment shared by others whose loved ones paid the ultimate sacrifice.
”Not only him, there are other friends that we have lost," said Hernandez. "Friends that we have met along the way that their husbands are out there we honor as well. So, the boot display means a lot to us. Not just me, but other Gold Star families as well.”
They all have a similar message for loved ones they’ve lost.
”Just know that we love and miss you every day. My children miss you every day,” said Hernandez.
”He was my strength, he was my joy, he makes me happy and I just miss him. I just miss him so much,” said Warner
SGT Irving Hernandez Jr. and SSG Daniel Warner are among the thousands of fallen service members who boots fill the field in front of III Corps Headquarters every year.
A solemn display to honor those who put on our Nation’s uniform and paid the ultimate sacrifice.