Marine Corps Base Quantico --
Luis Hernandez can tell you the details as if they happened yesterday.
It was Easter Sunday 2010 when the former Marine squad leader was leading a patrol in the southern Afghanistan town of Marjah when an improvised explosive device laden with glass, bullets, razors and bolts suddenly went off just a few feet in front of him, riddling nearly every part of his body with shrapnel.
It was by mere chance that a severely wounded Hernandez would later come away with an unexpected keepsake from that awful day in the form of the bloodied flak jacket he was wearing at the time of the blast.
Hernandez thought the National Museum of the Marine Corps would be the perfect place to showcase it so as to forever tell his story, and formally donated it to the museum during Friday night’s Marjah Reunion Dinner.
“That saved my life,” he said of the flak jacket. “I’m here today only because I had that on.”
A corporal at the time, Hernandez was serving with 2nd squad, 1st platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, when the patrol he led came across the IED. He was trying to move his Marines back away from the danger when the device went off, violently launching 13 different pieces of shrapnel into his body. Hernandez nearly bled to death at the scene, but was fortunate to have received prompt medical care and that the shrapnel had missed all of his major arteries. He was med-evaced out and soon rushed to Germany, where he began a lengthy rehabilitation process.
In the confusion following the blast, Hernandez’s flak jacket was loaded aboard the helicopter with him and sent with him to Germany.
Flak jackets from injured service members are typically destroyed and not allowed to be carried home because of fears of contamination, Hernandez said.
“That jacket was never supposed to come back here,” he said.
In many ways, the jacket serves as perhaps a powerful metaphor for Hernandez himself, who now happily lives in Connecticut despite still carrying several pieces of the shrapnel in his body.
The flak jacket will always stand as a poignant reminder for the worst day of his life, but Hernandez said that he takes great solace in knowing that his story and that of other Marines alike who served in Marjah will always be kept alive at the NMMC.
“That means a lot to me,” he said. “Most people don’t understand what that means. I want to be able to come back here when I’m 60 years old, and look at it and say, ‘That’s mine.’ “
— Writer: firstname.lastname@example.org