HANFORD — While families around the country watched as George H.W. Bush’s casket was placed in the Capitol Rotunda Monday, it was an especially touching ceremony for one Hanford family.
Veronica Hernandez, her children — 8-year-old Sergio Jr. and 5-year-old Kalani — watched on television along with parents and in-laws as her husband and Marine Gunnery Sergeant Sergio Hernandez placed the first wreath near the 41st president’s casket.
“It’s surreal. When I saw him on TV, I felt like it was more than just seeing him at a pinnacle in his career, but a blessing in his life. To be able to survive and come back from four combat tours, we truly feel blessed and honored to be where we are now,” Veronica said.
The elder Sergio is still currently in Washington D.C., where the family lives, while Veronica and their children visit family here in Hanford. He will be joining them before the holiday.
The moment that the Marine appeared on television to present the Senate wreath, his children applauded for their father, the matriarch of the family said.
“They jumped up and said, ‘there’s my daddy, there’s my daddy,” she said.
The younger Sergio and Kalani were both born in Hawaii, where the couple lived while Sergio was stationed on the archipelago.
Throughout his years of service, Hernandez has also been assigned to serve at the Cambodian embassy and served as a part of then-President Obama’s security team in Argentina.
His role in Bush’s Capitol Rotunda ceremony is another prestigious honor that Veronica said is a payoff to the years of sacrifice – both Sergio’s to his country and to their own relationship.
The couple began dating while attending Hanford West. The attacks of
Sept. 11 happened shortly after the couple graduated and the fallout led to Sergio serving tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
The couple’s long-distance relationship was strong enough to survive only through written letters and occasional phone calls while he was deployed and while she studied at University of California, Santa Cruz.
“Technology wasn’t what is now. We’d wait months at a time for each other’s letters,” she said.
The couple were married in 2004, about three years after high school graduation.
“We ended up getting married in my last year of college. It was in November 2004 and he got deployed two months later,” Veronica said, her voice shaky as it recalled those uncertain times.
Bush served as president from 1989-1993 after two terms as the country’s vice president under Ronald Reagan. The Texan also served as the Director of Central Intelligence under Gerald Ford in the late ‘70s. He is the father of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former president George W. Bush.
Veronica said that Sergio was “nervous and excited” to be a part of the historic ceremony to lay the longest-lived president to rest. Bush was 94 when he died Friday.
“He was honored to be a part of it and inspired by the life-long service President Bush had given,” Veronica said.