By Jen RodriguezNovember 26, 2008
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - When Spc. Carlos Herrera, an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne, 1st of 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, deploys for a third time to Iraq in December; his father will be close to his heart.
"I'm going to carry his Purple Heart in my armor," said the 23-year-old Herrera. "No matter where I go, I will always have him with me."
Carlos, and his father, Staff Sgt. Emanuel Herrera, exchanged Purple Hearts in a personal ceremony Nov. 18 in the Warrior Transition Battalion's Okubo Barracks dayroom.
The ceremony marked the father and son's way of showing appreciation for each other, and to honor not only one Purple Heart recipient, but also a father and son, together, said Maj. Marc Statham, WTB, B Company, commander.
For the past 18 years, Carlos and Emanuel have been separated from each other, until they met face-to-face about a week ago in San Antonio.
"Putting 18 years into a week is a phenomenal re-acquaintance," said the elder Herrera.
Carlos, along with his wife, Desiree and sons, Carlos Jr. and Landon, flew from Fort Bragg, N.C., to meet his father, who met his grandchildren for the first time.
"Eighteen years is hard," said Carlos. "So getting back together means a lot. One night we stayed up until four in the morning, talking and talking, just spending time together."
"I never stopped looking for my son," said the 48-year-old Herrera, describing the separation as similar to a mother who loses a child. "I searched the white pages looking for my ex-wife's name."
In the 1980s, Emanuel separated from his wife in El Paso, Texas. Carlos and his mother moved to Dallas. Emanuel went to Phoenix. Over the years they lost contact with each other.
When it became apparent that the search for his son wasn't panning out, Emanuel got an idea from someone who had used the Internet to locate him. He Googled his ex-wife, Tracy, and found her.
Emanuel said he and his ex-wife exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers for his son.
"Before I could get off the phone with her, my son called," he said.
During their conversation the father and son discovered they'd both served in the Army, and were deployed August 2006 in support of the Global War on Terrorism in Iraq.
Additionally, they had been injured 40 miles from each other.
Emanuel served with the 259th Engineer Company from Phoenix, and was injured Nov. 21, 2006, by an improvised-explosive device on a main supply route. Currently, he's undergoing speech therapy at Brooke Army Medical Center.
Carlos continues to serve with 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg. The specialist was injured Feb. 12, 2007 by a land mine on Alternate Supply Route Hershey just off main supply route Tampa. He's scheduled to deploy in December.
"There won't be a day that we don't keep in contact with each other," said Emanuel.
Embodying the Warrior Care month motto, "We Stand Together," the Herreras agreed the exchange ceremony has sentimental value.
Carlos said it's a personal thing, not a formal ceremony.
"We wanted to do this for each other and be able to pass it throughout the generations," he said.
"It's a prestigious award that no one wants, but it comes with honors," added Emanuel. "We discovered that we wanted to have each other's."
The Warrior and Family Support Center and the Fisher Foundation Heroes for Miles program made it possible to reunite the father and son.
"He (Emanuel) was so thrilled and the smile was worth all the effort," said Judith Markelz, coordinator of the Warrior and Family Support Center. "I've never seen Manny (Emanuel) so happy. He stands up straight and he beams every time he mentions his son and family.
"All the warriors heal faster when they have the support of Family. He is living proof of the power of love and kindness," she said.
(Jen Rodriguez works in the Brooke Army Medical Center Public Affairs Office)