BY STEPHEN McGUIRE
While our minds are on shopping and family get-togethers this week, there will be one tough Marine from Queens who will spend the holidays thousands of miles from home.
Queens’ own Charlie Hermosa, a First Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps who is currently on the front lines in the war on terror, shared some of his thoughts of being away from his beloved borough and family this holiday season and being a key player in “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
A Hero’s Hometown Roots
Hermosa, who is 25-years-old, grew up in Maspeth, attending St. Sebastian Grammar School in Woodside and later Holy Cross High School in Flushing.
Hermosa said, “During that time I gave thought to the military and decided to attend the Naval Academy Prep School. After prep school I received an appointment to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point. Upon graduation I received a commission into the US Marine Corps.”
Charlie’s parents, Etel and Miguel Hermosa who currently reside in Maspeth, told us they are very proud of their son and what he is doing to protect his country.
Etel Hermosa, told a Spanish speaking Tribune reporter in Spanish, that “a lot of people have been calling to wish the family well and to say that Charlie is in their prayers as he helps to defend democracy.
“Since he was young, Charlie always wanted to be in the military,” his mom said relaying a story that her own mother shared with her after Charlie and his grandmother saw a soldier.
“Charlie said, ‘I want to be a soldier.’ His grandmother replied ‘but soldiers die.’ His response was ‘If I have to die for my country,
I have to die.’ He was five and to see him over there now, reminds me of that story.” Etel said.
Tom Pugh, guidance counselor and football coach at Holy Cross for the past 31 years remembered seeing the same kind of dedication from Charlie when he played football at the Queens high school.
“Charlie was an outstanding football player He’s a great person and a coach’ s dream,” Pugh said.
Stan Aufieri, chairman of Holy Cross’ Health and Phys Ed Dept. and varsity football coach agreed.
“He’ll do what’s right,” Aufieri said explaining that Hermosa’s efforts overseas are a fitting tribute to the 14 Holy Cross alumni who were among those listed missing in the attack on the World Trade Center.
“Seven of them were firemen,” Aufieri said.
Home Sweet Home
“There are several places I miss but the biggest one has to be my home in Maspeth. My family are the most important people in my life,” Hermosa said.
Etel Hermosa said, “Charlie comes from a big family. Charlie and his brother Michael have seen that nothing in the world is more important than family. As parents, it’s a little hard because we never know exactly where he is. I ask God to watch over him. It’s hard, it’s extremely hard.”
On A Mission For Freedom
Hermosa is currently serving his country and protecting our freedom by coordinating U.S. Marine Corps missions in Afghanistan that are part of “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
The Tribune spoke with Hermosa via e-mail as he was taking a break from his busy schedule in his role as Team Embarkation Officer aboard the Navy helicopter launch ship, the U.S.S. Bataan.
“I coordinate with the Navy on getting all Marine Corps personnel and equipment for a specific mission. I make sure that the battalion has all they need for the fight,” he told us from aboard the Bataan, which was positioned just off the coast of Pakistan in the Arabian Sea.
Currently, the U.S. Marines Corps are on the ground in Afghanistan hunting down members of the Al Qaeda terror network and the accused terrorist mastermind behind the Sept 11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden.
“Things are dramatically changing out here and it seems we are looking ahead on a day to day basis,” Hermosa said.
This One’s Personal
“Sept. 11 will live forever in my heart,” Hermosa told the Trib.
“I received e-mails from a numerous amount of people, but the biggest one that hit home was the news that my friend’s brother . . .was added to the list of the people missing,” he explained.
“On the day of the attacks I was planning on flying home to say goodbye to my family since I was departing on a scheduled Mediterranean float (mission). Within two hours of the collapse of the Twin Towers, we were stood up to go on a relief mission to New York. All I could think of was that this was not the way I wanted to return (home). We stayed on standby for about three days when they finally made the decision to let us proceed to the Mediterranean,” Hermosa said.
A Message To The ‘Bravest’
“My family informed me about the fire house on 65th Place and Queens Boulevard and how they suffered tremendously,” Hermosa explained.
The firehouse he spoke of is the home of the FDNY’s Rescue 4 unit where firefighters are still coping with the loss of six firefighters lost in the World Trade Center attack.
“All I want to say to them is that we are praying for you and that we will remain strong to the cause that brought us out here, ” Hermosa said.
“I will be thinking of everyone during the holidays, but I know that wherever I am, my thoughts will be there with all of the people affected by the attacks. This is one of the reasons why I joined the Marine Corps, to give back to this great nation that has given so much to me,” Hermosa said.
‘I’ll Be Home Soon’
When he comes back to Queens, Hermosa said he looks forward to catching a ball game at Shea Stadium, grabbing a slice at Rosa’s Pizza shop on Grand Avenue and visiting Donovan’s Restaturant in Woodside.
“To my family and friends, you are always in my thoughts and prayers,” he said. “I will be home soon!”
– D. Vega contributed to this story.
WTC Flag Flies High On War Front
Aboard First Lt. Hermosa’s vessel, the helicopter dock ship USS Bataan, Marines and Navy personnel recently marked the three-month anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11 with the hoisting of a flag that was once draped over the destroyed buildings at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.
On the flag are written the names of NYPD officers killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The 12-by-18-foot nylon flag traveled from New York City to the Bataan and was raised by members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit at their base in Kandahar on Dec. 18.
Update: Queens Marine In Kandahar
The U.S. Marine from Queens whose story was featured in the Dec. 20, 2001 issue of the Tribune is now among the American troops on the ground in Afghanistan searching for members of the terrorist group U.S. officials believe are responsible for the Sept 11 attacks.
When the Trib initially spoke with First Lieutenant Charlie Hermosa of Maspeth in early December, he was aboard the U.S.S. Bataan off the coast of Pakistan awaiting deployment. On Dec. 27, 2001, Hermosa wrote to us via e-mail to tell us he was “in Kandahar Airport along with other Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.”
The unit took control of the airport and raised an American flag once draped over the destroyed buildings at ground zero, late last month.
— Stephen McGuire