From the time Jose A. Hernandez was a child, he hoped someday to become a Marine, his family and friends said Wednesday.
"He just wanted to serve his country. He just wanted to be a Marine," Hernandez's cousin, Clara Rodriguez said.
Hernandez, 19, realized that dream, joining the Marines after graduating from Lake Worth High School in 2009. The dream ended this week, when he was killed in combat in Afghanistan .
A release from the Department of Defense did not indicate how Hernandez died, but family and friends said that indications were that he was killed by a roadside explosive. Hernandez, who rose to the rank of lance corporal, was assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
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According to Rodriguez, Hernandez was inspired by his older brother, Don Hernandez, who also served in the Marines. Jose Hernandez would have celebrated his 20th birthday on the day after Christmas, said his sister, Aronica Nava of Greenacres.
"He was just a good person," Nava said. "Nobody had anything bad to say about him."
As a child he loved soccer, but "his main thing was joining the Marines," Nava said. He thought he might study aviation after completing his service, she said.
Brad "Scooter" Michael, 19, of West Palm Beach, said he met Hernandez when the two were both enrolled in the ROTC program at Lake Worth High. Michael said he learned of Hernandez's death Tuesday night.
"It was just one of those moments that stop time," Michael said.
Michael said he last saw Hernandez over the summer, when Hernandez was home on leave. "When he was on leave, he came to my house," Michael said. "My stepdad is a Vietnam veteran. When he left in his service blues, my stepdad saluted him, my mom gave him a hug and that was the last time I saw him."
Michael described Hernandez as a devoted Marine.
"He was a hardcore Marine, through thick and through thin," Michael said. "He was definitely a jarhead. Definitely, it was oo-rah all the way through."
Jessica Norris, a friend and fellow Lake Worth High graduate, said of Hernandez: "He was a great guy. Funny. If you were sad, he could absolutely make your day. I remember when he was up north in North Carolina, every night we'd talk on the phone and he'd always make my day.
"Before he left, we promised each other we'd write in our journal every day to each other and then when he came back, that we'd exchange our journals," Norris said. "Unfortunately, that won't happen."
Mario Pagan, a Lantana native stationed with the Marines in California, said he had classes with Hernandez before transferring in his senior year to complete his studies at Gateway High School in Boynton.
I definitely cried," said Pagan, who arrived home on leave Wednesday night. "You can't stop tears for someone that you knew in person and shared life with. He's not going in vain."