Juan Hernandez has always admired people in uniform.
When he was just a child, a police officer from Brooklyn befriended his family. Back then, Juan was so sick, he couldn’t walk. That cop took time to teach Juan how. When he was three years old, he finally did it.
“I told my mom that I wanted to be a policeman so I could walk in uniform and help people the way that cop helped me,” says Hernandez.
After high school, Hernandez worked at Green Point Hospital in Brooklyn, assisting patients with their x–rays. He enjoyed being part of that group in uniform as they served others.
“Back then, you didn’t need anything past a high school diploma to do that kind of work. You learned most of it on the job,” remembers Hernandez.
Juan’s older brother was studying to be a doctor until he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Juan remembers the uniform his brother wore as he left. When he died from a grenade explosion in Vietnam, Juan’s family moved to Lorain, Ohio to be with extended family during their time of grief; Juan then put on yet another uniform to work in the car factories that were growing in the Midwest.
Today at 70, uniforms are still a big part of Juan’s life. As a soldier at the Lorain, Ohio, Corps, Juan Hernandez divides his time between taking care of his sick wife, and volunteering at the corps.
Being a part of The Salvation Army has also helped Hernandez work through the pain of losing his youngest son Elias nine years ago.
“When Elias was little, he loved science, and said he wanted to be a pilot or an astronaut. He was another one who wanted to be in uniform,” says Hernandez.
“But when he got older, he was surrounded by bad influences. He told us he was dating a successful girl who came from money. The reality was that she was a drug dealer, and he lost his life to drugs.” Hernandez’s wife took the death of her son hard. Her waning health was evidence of her grief.
Hernandez says that on some mornings, before coming to the corps, he will sit on the porch by himself, and pray for Elias’ soul and for his wife’s wellbeing. “I tell her, no matter what health problems we may have right now, one day we will see our baby boy again.
“Even when you suffer the loss of your children, they’re never gone,” says Hernandez. “They live on inside you and in the people you love.
“One of my young granddaughters looks so much like Elias when he was her age. When I see her, I know that he’s still with us.”
A second home
Juan wakes up at 5:30 every morning, has breakfast with his wife, and comes to the Lorain Corps, which is only two houses away from Juan’s home. He’ll start the morning loading bread on shelves in the corps pantry, cleaning tables and setting up chairs for church services, shoveling snow around the corps if needed, and making food bags to give away. He can pack 35–40 bags himself in a single morning.
“We teach our children the importance of work and supporting your family, but we also have to remind them that the spirit of volunteering—giving your own time to others—is important too,” says Juan.
“The Lorain Corps is always aware of my situation at home and when I have to divide time between service and helping my family. No matter how busy the corps gets, they know that sometimes I need to run back home to help my wife.”
The kindness and consideration that the corps has shown Juan is one of the reasons he now calls The Salvation Army his second home, and takes pride in being a soldier.
“I think I was always meant to be in a uniform,” says Hernandez.
by Hugo Bravo