Known as “Eddie” to his neighborhood friends, this young rough and tough individual was true and loyal. He was feisty and a boxing champion in the making who was quick and skillful with the gloves. A neighborhood friend Dr. Daniel Abrego, who served on the USS Hancock, CVA-19 in 1969 (Vietnam), recalls his visits to Eddie’s home always seemed to wind up in the backyard putting on the gloves for a few practice rounds. Eddie loved to box and became very proficient as Dr. Abrego remembers, “Eddie was darn good and after few bouts, in which I took numerous beatings, I began to limit the number of times I went to visit.” According to Dr. Abrego, “he was a great friend who left school to enlist in the Coast Guard. The rest of us in the neighborhood waited until the following year to join the naval service. However, Eddie’s loss is tragic and heartfelt.”
In July 1965, Heriberto Segovia Hernandez finished his sophomore year at John F. Kennedy High School, San Antonio, Texas, and decided it was time to serve his country. He enlisted in the United States Coast Guard to begin a military career. After basic training, he received orders for duty onboard the Cutter Bering Strait, home ported in Galveston, Texas. A couple of years later in the spring of 1968, Eddie deployed for duty in Vietnam. It was a tour that began in May with an assignment for duty on the 82-foot Cutter Point Cypress. The Point Cypress along with 16 other naval vessels comprised the Coast Guard component of “Operation Market Time” entrusted with the responsibility to patrol 1,500 miles of the Vietnamese coastline. (In the photo, Eddie is on the right leaning on the boat)
On December 5, 1968, Eddie volunteered for a small boat reconnaissance along the Ca Mau Peninsula, located on the southern-most tip of South Vietnam. He joined Commander Charles L. Blaha, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Gordon M. Gillies from the Cutter Point Cypress in a patrol up the Rach Nang River. The three men were carrying out a reconnaissance mission to locate Viet Cong escape routes along the waterway. As they patrolled the river, they observed a shore bunker occupied by Viet Cong soldiers and opened fire on the bunker despite the lack of protection on the small boat. According to the firefight account, the Viet Cong directed automatic weapons fire toward Hernandez and his crew, piercing the boat’s structure. However, Hernandez’s boat handling enabled them to return fire and evade the enemy’s attack, but not before Hernandez and the two officers were severely wounded. When they finally reached the safety of the Cutter Point Cypress, Hernandez had sustained mortal wounds and died surrounded by his shipmates.
For his bravery, Guardsman Heriberto Hernandez received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal with the Combat “V” for valor (posthumously). In his citation, Vice Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt writes, “Fireman Hernandez’s heroic actions under enemy fire were instrumental to the success of friendly forces in harassing and destroying the enemy’s morale and feeling of security. Fireman Hernandez’s professional skill, courage under enemy fire, and devotion to duty reflected great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
One of Eddie’s shipmates on the Cutter Point Cypress, Alan Dillenbeck remembers the impact of Eddie’s friendship upon his life, he states, “Eddie’s and my deployment overlapped just a few months, however, working with him made a huge impact on my life. He had a formidable presence that allowed me to feel comfortable and safe. Eddie was perhaps the toughest and most fearless person I have ever met.”
Edgewood School District veteran Heriberto Segovia Hernandez died fighting for his country on December 5, 1968 in Vietnam. He died in a war remembered for its action in the jungles and rice paddies. However, there was another conflict as well, a sailor’s war, much of it fought from the decks of Coast Guard Cutters and Navy ships that are often times overlooked and/or forgotten. However, Eddie’s service and sacrifice clearly illustrates that duty in any branch of the military is a sacred and honorable responsibility that holds everyone accountable for their beliefs and actions.
In the spirit of remembrance, honor, and tribute, the U.S. Coast Guard recently decided to name their new fleet of (14) Sentinel Class Cutters after heroic Coast Guard enlisted personnel. To date, the Coast Guard has commissioned four Cutters with another four Cutters expected for commissioning in 2013. Of the remaining six cutters scheduled for completion and commissioning in 2014, the last of the six will bear Eddie Hernandez’s name.
The (WPC 1114), is under construction in the Bollinger Shipyards in Puerto Rico and will join the United States Coast Guard Fleet in 2014.
Thiesen, William H., AtlanticArea Historian, “Heriberto S. Hernandez, United States Coast Guard.”
“S.A. Man, War Victim.” San Antonio Express, Thursday, December12, 1968. 4A