Sgt. Armando Hernandez was a quiet Californian who played high school football, restored cars and grew up beloved in a family of women.
Spc. Anthony J. Dixon, brash and outgoing, wrestled competitively for his New Jersey high school and loved nothing better than tearing down the German autobahn in a rented BMW.
On Tuesday their helmets, rifles, boots and dog tags stood side by side on the altar of a chapel in Schweinfurt, Germany, nine days after the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment troopers died together in the explosion of a remote-controlled bomb as they stood guard next to a convoy in Samarra, Iraq. Friends and comrades gathered to remember them.
“The grief I feel for the loss of these good men I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” said Capt. John Trylch, their troop commander in Iraq, in remarks read at Tuesday’s service. “I will also carry with me the lessons in confidence, strength, bravery and joy that these two fine troopers reminded me of every day. I’m a better man for having known them.”
Hernandez, 22, grew up in the desert town of Hesperia east of Los Angeles. After graduating from high school in 2000, he took some community college courses before joining the Army in January 2002 to “make something out of his life,” family members told the Hesperia Daily Press.
Hernandez trained as an infantry mortarman at Fort Benning, Ga., then was assigned to Germany with the 1-4 Cavalry’s Troop B. He earned the Expert Infantryman’s Badge straight out of basic training and served as a squad leader, driver and assistant gunner since the unit deployed to Iraq in February.
Hernandez’s fellow troopers remembered him as a dedicated soldier who did his job on-duty and liked to have fun off-duty.
“Mando was always there beside us with a big smile on his face,” said Spc. Jayson Carter, his friend, in comments read at the memorial service. “I never had to worry when I went out, because I knew Mando would be there and he would have my back.”
Hernandez’s sense of duty stayed with him to the end.
“Even as he lay there on the road that terrible day,” Trylch said, “he was asking about the welfare of his crew.”
Dixon, 21, of Lindenwold, N.J., had grown up as the youngest of five children. He had a “wild and crazy spirit” that once caused him to climb a tall cellular phone tower on a dare, his niece Christina Dixon, 19, told the Courier-Post of southern New Jersey last week.
Joining the Army after high school two years ago added some discipline to Dixon’s life, his family said. He enlisted in August 2002 with his best buddy and wrestling teammate, Adam Froehlich. They both landed in Germany, Dixon in Schweinfurt with 1-4 Cavalry and Froehlich 20 miles away in Bamberg with the 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment.
They both deployed to Iraq in February, and they both died there. Froehlich was killed March 25, also by a homemade bomb.
Dixon’s bubbling personality and his job as the driver for his unit’s noncommissioned officer in charge, 1st Sgt. Ken Basley, made him well-known and popular throughout the 1-4 Cavalry.
“He was a great friend to his fellow troopers,” Trylch said. “I can picture him now, laughing with his buddies and lifting the spirits of everyone around.”
Basley wrote a tribute that was read at Tuesday’s service.
“It’s no secret that he was like my son. Everyone knew that I tried to protect him from anyone and anything,” Basley said. “Dixon, I am sorry that I let you down. I told you I wouldn’t let anything happen to you, so I am truly sorry. Please forgive me.”