Fernando Rey, who lives in San Antonio, has for some 19 years devoted himself to educating young people about the opportunities that exist in the federal government through outreach events in San Antonio. The first student event in San Antonio was held at the Henry B. Gonzalez convention center followed by two years at the University of the Incarnate Word and the University of Texas-San Antonio. The student programs have been held in various high schools and middle schools in San Antonio and small-town communities. He recently conducted an event at Devine High School.
President and Chief Executive Officer of Heroes & Heritage, Mr. Rey’s primary mission is to promote the following: 1. Higher education for our youth 2. Strategic outreach to at-risk students 3. Leadership development 4. Diversity initiatives 5. Community outreach programs that address the issue of equality of opportunity. His outreach events attract large numbers of students at all school levels. To date, he has reached 46,000 students through Heroes & Heritage student programs and 50,000 attendees at the military award presentations at national conferences.
Fernando was born and raised in Orange County in Southern California. From 1946 to 1957, he and his extended family members lived and worked on the Irvine Ranch which is now Irvine, California. From the age of seven, Fernando, his cousins, and other family members worked together picking lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, and other farm products.
As a youngster, Fernando loved history, and he was especially interested in World War II. He devoted 25 years of his life reading and studying European history and WWII history, both political and military. His father and four uncles – one was a fighter pilot – served in World War II, and they all fought in the Pacific.
After high school graduation, Fernando moved to Los Angeles and took a job working at Paramount Studios as an extra on movie sets. He is proud to have met Ronald Reagan, who at the time was President of the Screen Actors Guild; he also met Paul Newman and many others. Fernando did some work on behalf of Ronald Reagan’s campaign for Governor of California to help secure the Hispanic vote. From that time on, Fernando became an Independent conservative and remains so today.
Fernando attended Loyola University for a brief time to study time and motion, quality control, and manufacturing efficiency. He later built a successful career in construction. He was living in Mission Viejo, California, when he married Mary Alamar Young in 1990. At that time, Alamar Young was working in the Civilian Personnel Office at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, CA.
That same year, Alamar was promoted to a higher position at the Pentagon in the Directorate of Personnel Policy, Headquarters United States Air Force. They settled in Crystal City, an urban neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, where they remained for 14 years (1990-2004). Living in that area provided many interesting and wonderful activities in Washington, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
However, one experience that occurred during this time remains a poignant one, as on September 11, 2001, Alamar was at her desk at the Pentagon (5th Floor, 3rd Corridor) when the building was attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in the hijacked American Flight 77. All communications around the Pentagon went down, and Fernando spent several hours not knowing if Alamar was alive or injured. Fortunately, she was able to get out safely, but 189 people were killed that day, including close friend and Army colleague, Diana Padro.
On a happier note, it was during these years that Fernando developed his passion to educate young people about the opportunities that exist in federal careers. He had become aware that high school students and young adults did not know or did not have an interest in service to country or working for the federal government.
Thus, as a result of attending countless gatherings, meetings, receptions and social events with his wife, Fernando had the unique opportunity of meeting very fascinating top-ranking military and Pentagon civilian personnel. He gained the friendship, trust, and support of the high-ranking generals and Under Secretaries of Defense as he moved forward to develop a compelling and strategic outreach program for students. And he involved himself in projects that would educate, inspire and raise the interest of young people.
In 2004, the Director of the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, invited Fernando to plan and conduct their first military awards program to be held at the National League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) convention in San Antonio, Texas. Fernando identified the perfect veteran to honor – Jose Mendoza Lopez, Sergeant, US Army (retired), WWII veteran and a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, who was living in San Antonio. The story, as told by Fernando, one of faith, despair, hunger, and sacrifice, brought national attention.
As Fernando explains, on December 17, 1944, Sergeant Lopez, with the 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division, fended off dozens of German troops and tanks trying to overrun his Company “K” near Krinkelt, Belgium. His gallantry on the seemingly suicidal mission, in which he killed at least 100 of the enemy, allowed Company “K” to avoid being enveloped and gave other forces time to come in and repel the enemy drive. Jose M. Lopez was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman on June 19, 1945.
Upon reading of Sergeant Lopez’s actions in Belgium, Fernando knew that the Belgium government had two decorations that were created by the Belgium King Leopold II (1865-1909) – their highest awards for bravery. He contacted the Belgium Embassy in Washington, then he officially requested that the King and Queen of Belgium provide Jose Lopez with recognition and their highest awards for bravery before the enemy. The decorations were approved and pinned on Jose Lopez by the Belgium Defense Attaché on July 2004 in San Antonio at the first Department of Defense Military Awards breakfast. Fernando recalls that the audience of 1500 was moved to tears. This successful effort became a story of interest to many Americans. Within a few months, the King and Queen of Belgium presented Jose M. Lopez with a personal letter of gratitude and a personal photo of the Royal family in Washington D.C. Fernando and Alamar attended the reception. Alamar shares, “Fernando considers this effort his most difficult and important accomplishment.”
For several years, Fernando honored many veterans with the Heroes & Heritage award in various cities, some more than once, in the United States, including Washington (2), Texas (2), Los Angeles (2), Las Vegas (2), San Diego, Chicago, Florida, New Mexico, and Kansas City. This brought about national attention on the contributions of many Hispanic WWII veterans, including several Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and the important contributions of the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Notwithstanding, the award ceremony and story of Jose Lopez remains Fernando’s most poignant one.
In 2004 Bill Moyers, the highly respected conservative journalist and political commentator contacted Fernando to request permission to include Jose M. Lopez in a PBS documentary “Now with Bill Moyers.” Owning the story rights to the Jose Lopez story, Fernando gave Bill Moyers his consent. That documentary film is part of Fernando’s collection, provided to him by Bill Moyers.
On a personal note, Fernando shares that he has traveled to Europe and Asia – he met his wife in Hawaii – and he is an avid reader. His favorite author is Barbara Tuchman, the American historian and author who passed away in 1989. In his spare time, he enjoys watching golf and old western movies, good food, good wine, and listening to Frank Sinatra. He and Alamar make frequent trips to the Hill Country and small Texas towns and cities.
Fernando has received numerous awards and recognition, and he is most proud of the Congressional Record issued in July 12, 2007 by the entire U.S. Congress and authored by the Honorable Ciro D. Rodriguez.
Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded and led 250,000 multi-national forces against Saddam Husain in Operation Desert Storm during the Iraq war, wrote the following inscription in his book titled Wiser in Battle: “Fernando, you are a national treasure. Keep your focus on providing opportunities for our youth and our future leaders. “We must never go this way again. God Bless. Signed: Ric Sanchez, Lt General, Former Commander of Coalition Forces in Iraq.”
Fernando plans to have a student program in 2020 and keep his promise to Lieutenant General Sanchez to “focus on providing opportunities for our youth and our future leaders.” (firstname.lastname@example.org)