WESLACO, Texas - Seven United States Navy sailors were killed in a collision off the coast of Japan this weekend. One of them was a young man from South Texas who was living out his dream of serving the country at sea.
“Honestly, it’s like losing a family member,” said retired Weslaco Independent School District ROTC instructor Santiago Galarza. “It’s someone that you knew so well and someone that’s close to you.”
Galarza is still coping with the loss of Noe Hernandez, who once served as an executive officer for his ROTC battalion at Weslaco High School.
“There are students that stand out and he was definitely one of the ones who stood out,” said Galarza.
Hernandez was Galarza’s stellar student, he said, and was determined to become a U.S. Navy sailor.
“I’m going to serve my country first, then I do for myself,” Galarza recalls Hernandez saying. “I thought that was a profound thing for a young man to say at that age and to be sure of what he wanted to do,” he said.
After graduating in 2009, Hernandez enlisted and traveled the world through the military. He would spend the next 8 years at sea.
His dream was cut short after a Philippine cargo ship collided with the USS Fitzgerald early Saturday off the coast of Japan. Hernandez and six other crew members died in the sleeping quarters where the impact happened.
President Trump reacted to the incident on Twitter with the following statement:
"My heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the seven U.S. Navy sailors and their families.”
Authorities are continuing to investigate the crash, and they are preparing to return the sailors' remains home.
Despite the pain, Galarza said he’s able to find some comfort.
“He was doing what he wanted to do, what he felt like he needed to do, and that’s a consolation,” he said.
South Texas community members said the 26-year-old and his fellow sailors will be remembered for their service and sacrifice.