For many Gold Star families of soldiers killed in Vietnam, they received little if any information of how their loved one died. What, where, did he suffer? etc., questions that haunt family members for decades. A couple of weeks ago I read the post of a young man wanting to know more about his uncle, Alex James (Jim) Hernandez, who had been killed in Vietnam on the 10th of January 1968. I contacted the young man and found this was not a typical story. With some research I was fortunate enough to find some significant information about his uncle that filled in some of the blanks.
Erick, (Alex’s nephew) is the son of Ronette Cheney. When Ronette was an infant she was placed up for adoption. This would separate her for the next 25 years from her birth family and her older biological brother Alex. When she researched, found and reconnected with her birth-mother little was shared about Alex other than he had joined the Army and had died in Vietnam. All Ronette was given to have any memory of the brother she had never met was a framed picture of Alex in uniform.
Fast forward to 2020 and Erick would ask his mother about the young man in the picture. All she would share is “That is my brother, your Uncle Alex Hernandez. He died in Vietnam.”
When Ronette’s birth mother entered an assisted living home last year she gave a box of letters and photographs to Ronette. Erick and Ronette carefully went through the box and found pictures, a single letter Alex (Jim) wrote home from Vietnam, and his military death record. There they also found pictures of a handsome young man, looking sharp in his uniform, and read briefly about his experiences in Nam.
But still, “where and how did he die, what was life there like for him and what was he tasked to do with what units”, remained unanswered.
(Thank goodness for Wikipedia, Google and Vietnam FB sites. This is what I was able to find out about the 19-year-old soldier, Alex (Jim) Hernandez.)
PFC Alex (Jim) Hernandez, (MOS 11B) entered Vietnam on the 14th of September 1967 at the age of 19. After training Alex would be assigned to the 9th Infantry Division, fondly known as the “Old Reliables.”. He arrived in Vietnam on the 14th of September, 1967. During his time in Vietnam, the 9th Infantry served with the Mobile Riverine Force; a rapid deployment unit sent to assist other units in trouble. They were part of what is called the “Brown Water Navy” operating in the rivers and canals of the Mekong Delta. The MRF was a crack unit with a reputation for being fearless in battle against the VC. The MRF often operated with other specialized units such as Navy Seal teams, South Vietnamese Marines, units of the ARVN 7th Division and River Assault Groups on reconnaissance blocking and pursuit operations.
(In 1966, under the orders of General Westmoreland, construction of the Dong Tam Base Camp commenced in the Dinh Tuong province, on the banks of the Mekong, “in order to gain full control over the Upper Mekong Delta Region.”)
The 9th was sent in to provide support to the Australian Army 3rd BN, 60th INF, as part of the extended Operation Palm Beach, tasked to providing security at the Dong Tam base as it was under constant assault from VC troops. From January 6th to May 31st of 1967 there were numerous engagements both in assaults on the base and through “search and destroy” missions. Things quieted down according to military records during the first month of 1968, with the exception of January 10th when the base was attacked by the 261st VC Battalion. After bitter fighting the VC were eventually repulsed.
An excerpt from the official military record: During the January 10 engagement, PFC Hernandez was observed leaving his position “with complete disregard for his own personal safety” to attack a well-entrenched force that was “inflicting heavy casualties on his fellow soldiers”. Hernandez was mortally wounded in the fierce fighting and posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with the Oak Leaf Cluster.
His family in Arizona was initially only told he was missing. Subsequently his body was recovered and returned home for a full military honors burial.
This baby-faced young soldier, as so many sent to war are, died in a foreign country, in the service of his country, and while protecting his fellow soldiers. Now his family knows the rest of the story. Thank you, Erick, for sharing the story of your family, your mother and especially your uncle, PFC Alex James Hernandez. I hope these details will bring closure, peace and pride to your family.
Slow Salute PFC Hernandez. May you rest in peace and never be forgotten!
(PFC Alex James (Jim) Hernandez is survived by siblings: Ronette Cheney, Ohio, Chris Hernandez, Ohio, Roxanne, Ohio, Randy Hernandez, Kentucky, Phyllis Hernandez, Arizona, Louis Hernandez, Ohio, Vicky Hernandez, Ohio, Julie Shoemaker, Ohio.)