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Diego E. Hernandez
Diego E. Hernandez.jpeg
Vice Admiral Diego E. Hernandez
First Hispanic to be named Vice Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command(NORAD)
Birth name Diego Hernandez Sanfeliz
Nickname(s) Duke
Born (1934-03-25)March 25, 1934
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Died July 7, 2017(2017-07-07) (aged 83)
Miami Lakes, Florida, U.S.
Place of burial
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Department of the Navy Seal.svg United States Navy
Years of service 1955-1991
Rank US-O9 insignia.svg
Vice Admiral
Commands held USS John F. Kennedy
USS Truckee
Deputy Commander in Chief U.S. Space Command
Vice Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Awards Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Purple Heart
Meritorious Service Medal
Air Medal
USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) departs Naval Station Mayport on 11 November 2003
USS John F. Kennedy

Vice Admiral Diego E. Hernandez (March 25, 1934 – July 7, 2017) was a United States Navy officer who was the first Hispanic American to be named Vice Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Early years

Hernandez (birth name: Diego Hernandez Sanfeliz) was born on March 25, 1934 and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Capital of Puerto Rico, where he received his primary education. Upon his high school graduation, he was able to attend Illinois Institute of Technology with a Navy ROTC scholarship. In 1955, he earned a degree in Physics and was commissioned an Ensign in the United States Navy upon his graduation. He then underwent flight training and on August 1956, was designated a Naval Aviator.

Military career

Hernandez served in carrier-based fighter squadrons at sea in a variety of assignments. He flew two combat tours in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He also served as Aide and Flag Lieutenant to Commander, Carrier Division 14. At sea, he was the commander of Fighter Squadron 84, Carrier Air Wing Six, and a fleet oiler (the USS Truckee (AO-147)).

On June 27, 1980, Captain Diego E. Hernandez relieved outgoing Captain Myers and took command of the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy. It was capable of anti-submarine warfare (ASW), making it an all-purpose carrier.

On September 19, 1980, Libyan Air Force planes engaged in an unprecedented number of sorties in the vicinity of USS John F. Kennedy's Battle Group over international waters. F-14's under E-2 control intercepted two Libyan sections, and six and eighteen sections, respectively, on September 20 and 21.

On August 29, 1981, after a change of command ceremony, Captain D. Bruce Cargill relieved Captain Hernandez as commander of the USS John F. Kennedy. In 1988, Vice Admiral Diego E. Hernandez as Commander, Third Fleet, coordinated RIMPAC '88, a massive naval exercise which included more than 40 ships, approximately 200 aircraft and more than 50,000 sailors, airmen and Marines from the United States, Japan, Australia and Canada. This exercise marked the first inclusion of a battleship, USS Missouri, as a component in RIMPAC.

Vice Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command

His last assignment on active duty was as Deputy Commander in Chief U.S. Space Command, dual hatted as Vice Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command.

In 1987, Hernandez was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Puerto Rican Coalition. In 1988, he was named the distinguished graduate of his class by Illinois Institute of Technology and presented with the institutions Professional Achievement Award. Hernandez, retired from the Navy in 1991, after having served for a total of 36 years.

Later years and death

Diego E. Hernandez resided in Miami, Florida. He served as management consultant to private and public companies. In 1997 he was named to the board of directors of the Taylor Energy Company LLC. He was also a member of the Veterans Administration Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans. Hernandez was also a Companion of the Naval Order of the United States, the oldest, exclusively naval, American military society. He died at the age of 83 on July 7, 2017.

Awards and decorations

Among Vice Admiral Diego E. Hernandez' decorations and medals were the following:

  • Navy Distinguished Service ribbon.svg  Navy Distinguished Service Medal
  • Silver Star ribbon.svg  Silver Star
  • Legion of Merit ribbon.svg  Legion of Merit
  • Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon.svg  Distinguished Flying Cross
  • Purple Heart ribbon.svg  Purple Heart
  • Meritorious Service Medal ribbon.svg  Meritorious Service Medal with gold star
  • Air Medal ribbon.svg  Air Medal with a gold star
  • Navy and Marine Corps Commendation ribbon.svg  Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with two gold stars and a Combat "V" device
  • Navy Unit Commendation ribbon.svg  Navy Unit Commendation with bronze star clasp
  • Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation ribbon.svg  Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation with bronze star clasp
  • Navy Expeditionary Medal ribbon.svg  Navy Expeditionary Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg  National Defense Service Medal
  • Armed Forces Expedtionary Medal ribbon.svg  Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
  • Vietnam Service Medal ribbon.svg  Vietnam Service Medal with four service stars
  • Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.svg  Sea Service Deployment Ribbon
  • Vietnam-gallantry-cross-unit-3d.png  Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm
  • Vietnam Campaign Medal ribbon with 60- clasp.svg  Vietnam Campaign Medal


  • Naval Aviator Badge.jpg  Naval Aviator Badge

See also

  • Hispanic Admirals in the United States Navy
  • List of Puerto Ricans
  • List of Puerto Rican military personnel
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