Archive for Monday, November 8, 2010

St. Marys soldier honored for bravery under fire during 2009 Fort Hood shooting

November 8, 2010


As the officer pinned the medal on his uniform, all that Francisco De la Serna thought about was that he shouldn't be the one getting such a prestigious award.

No. Any award like this one should go to his parents, for teaching him their values, and his first Army instructor — the one who taught him how to save lives.

During the Fort Hood shootings in Texas, the worst massacre on a U.S. military installation, De la Serna, an Army medic from St. Marys, Kan., did what he was taught to do. He helped as many wounded people as he could.

On Friday, the first anniversary of the tragedy, De la Serna was one of 10 who received the Soldier's Medal, the highest honor a soldier can earn for extreme valor outside of a battle.

The Army held a ceremony at the base to remember and grieve for the 13 killed by a gunman wearing a combat uniform who opened fire in a crowded medical building.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey and Army Secretary John McHugh unveiled a 6-foot-tall granite memorial etched with their names. They also honored more than 50 soldiers and civilians who risked their lives to help others.

On the stage, waiting for the ceremony to begin, De la Serna, 24, was humbled to be seated next to the widow of a captain who received the Soldier's Medal posthumously. He was fatally shot after he threw a chair at the gunman.

When the shooting began, De la Serna, just a few months back from Iraq, grabbed his first aid kit from his car and ran toward the screams.

But he told his family later, everything inside him wanted to run the other way.

He didn't. Instead, he helped every bloodied, wounded person he could get to, including police Sgt. Kimberly Munley, a civilian who confronted the shooter.

He also helped Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist and American-born Muslim charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. A hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to send him to trial will resume later this month.

De la Serna made no judgments as it happened; he only tried to save lives.

He doesn't like talking about that day. He has deep feelings. He gets embarrassed. He feels sad.

"I can't count the nightmares I've had," he said. "I think of them as daily reminders that I'm still alive."

Before being shot by the police, Hasan ran over to De la Serna and pointed his gun at him. It is a moment frozen in De la Serna's memory.

"I knew, I knew," he said, struggling to find the words. "I knew I was gonna die. It was a very weird experience. But I was helping a patient. I felt very, very mortal.

"I made my peace with God."

But Hasan missed.

Moments later, when Hasan fell bloodied from bullet wounds, De la Serna hurried to his side and treated him, too.

In the months since, many of De la Serna's friends have asked why he saved the man who tried to kill him, the man who shot so many. De la Serna said he used to shrug when asked.

"It's not something I regret. And it's not something I'm proud of. I was on autopilot. My training took over."

During the screaming and the shooting, De la Serna just kept working, kept on tending ripped flesh in legs, chests, arms. The last of the wounded he helped was a soldier who was shot in the neck. Blood was spurting. De la Serna held his fingers down deep in the wound, pressing hard just as he'd had to do in Iraq, afraid to take his hand away.

He stayed with the soldier, riding in the back of the ambulance to Darnall Army Medical Center until doctors took over.

His fingers were numb for hours.

But that soldier lived.

For hours it seemed, De la Serna's cell phone rang with calls from his family back in Kansas. But he was working on patients. His hands were bloodied. He was not sure what he could say to them.

"I'm sorry about that, for what I put them through. But I couldn't answer my phone.

"None of my patients died," he added, quietly. "I'm really glad for that."

De la Serna's parents, also of St. Marys, could not come to the ceremony because they were traveling on business. The Army did not notify families until this week, said his sister, Cristina Bolton. But she and her 5-year-old daughter got there.

Bolton said those terrible events shook their family. Lives were lost. Lives were changed.

There's an 11-year age difference between Cristina and her brother. De la Serna, the youngest of four siblings, has always been seen as the baby. None of his family ever dreamed that someday he would be honored for bravery.

"He was so selfless that day," she said. "Words can't say how proud of him I am."

De la Serna's four-year hitch will be up in June. He knows he wants to be a nurse anesthetist. He knows he wants to go to a college in New York City.

"What still bothers me is why I was there that day. Why I lived and why so many others didn't. I know God put me there for a reason, but I still don't know why it was me and I have to live with that."


ralphralph 7 years, 3 months ago

Wow. We're humbled out here ... and grateful. I hope he can put that day behind him, and that he is getting the help he will need to do it.

Kontum1972 7 years, 3 months ago

American soldiers MALE AND FEMALE currently are the best trained in the wasnt like that during the Vietnam war....they are TRUE PROFESSIONALS...HUWAH!

jayhawkgirl3 7 years, 3 months ago

Thank you for your dedication and service.

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