A SOLDIER'S STORY Jose Martinez

Our multitasking contributor co-authors a
biography of Iraq
War POW Edgar Hernandez

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

Jose Martinez
covers music and film for Blurt (and
our former incarnation, Harp), but we
caught him moonlighting. His biography (co-written with Megan Rellahan) of
Edgar Hernandez, one of the first Iraq War POWs, Edgar Hernandez: POW – An American Hero (Ocean Breezes), came out
late last year-just in time to win Best Biography at the 2008 DIY Book Festival
(www.diyconvention.com). “I don’t
know how many other books were in my category, but I like to think we beat out
a slew of ’em,” says Martinez, pictured above,
near his home in Los Angeles.

 

***

 

Don’t you know that entertainment
journalists are supposed to put out lame books of quotations and
half-baked yet still overwrought analysis of whatever art form constitutes
their beat? What’s with the serious topic?

 

Ha! Well, that was
always the plan but it just didn’t turn out that way. A former editor of mine
contacted me and my writing partner, Megan Rellahan, whom I had never
worked with before, to write a book about Latinos that have fought in various
U.S. wars. Edgar was going to be a chapter in that book and then we decided his
story needed to be told in a more in-depth manner.

 

 

How long did it take to get Edgar’s story
down?

 

We flew Edgar to Los Angeles for a weekend
marathon interview session. He told his story in complete detail for only the
second time; the first being when he was debriefed right after being rescued.
That gave us the opportunity to get to know him as well. Then we spent the
better part of a year doing more research and follow up interviews with Edgar,
his friends and family, as well as co-captives.

 

 

What was it like to hear such a high-profile
war story straight from the source?

 

My writing partner
and I were definitely on the edge of our seats. There were times where we would
just get lost as Edgar was almost reliving some of those moments. I was honored
to meet Edgar and get to know him…I just really wanted to tell his story as
best I could.

 

 

I imagine it was an emotional
experience for Edgar, retelling his story like that?

 

He had a few
moments, talking about friends that didn’t make it back, that were very trying.
He never really asked to take a break or had to stop but I could tell it was
very cathartic for him to get his story off his chest.

 

 

Was there anything Edgar had to leave out in
the name of national security? Or to protect either the innocent or the Bush
Administration?

 

No, Edgar pretty
much laid it all on the line. He didn’t have to hold anything back. He talked
about how during the 21 days he was held captive that his impression of the
Iraqi people changed. All of a sudden he saw people his age fighting for their
lives and country. They weren’t asking him to liberate them. The idea of a war
for oil really played with Edgar’s mind when one of the Iraqis accused Bush of
being the real criminal. As the POWs were taken from prison to prison,
sometimes avoiding near death by a matter of minutes as U.S. forces destroyed
the location they were being held at, the prisoners eventually met decent
people and actually grew to like some of their captors. Remember, it was the
Iraqis who wanted to free the POWs. It wasn’t really the military who found out
where they were being held and rescued them on their own.

 

 

Not much is said about Edgar’s position on
the war. What impression did you get from him as far as that goes?

 

Well, Edgar is a
patriot and he signed up because he thought it was his duty so he is in favor
of the troops. When he was rescued he signed up for duty again, although, as a
rule, former POWs are not sent back into combat. But after finally being
discharged from service he did join the Reserves and there he could have been
sent back to Iraq. Luckily that was not the case. But Edgar honestly believes
they’re there to help. I can’t say we always saw eye-to-eye on the issues but I
wasn’t telling my story so that didn’t really matter. I can say that after the
POWs came back home they were very disappointed that they didn’t get to meet
the President. It turned out President Bush was in Texas as the same time and
met with two of the pilots held with Edgar, as well as with Jessica Lynch (who
was held in a completely different location, even though they were captured at
the same spot). Edgar really would have wanted to meet the President and he
felt snubbed by that.

 

 

You have another book coming up…

 

Well, Edgar’s
biography started off as part of a coffee table book about various Latinos that
have served in the U.S.
military. But after reading about Edgar and then meeting him, we felt we needed
to tell his story in a more complete manner, so we put that book on hold and
wrote Edgar’s story. Now, we’re back to working on Honoring Forgotten Heroes – Hispanics in American Wars. In working
on this project I’ve met with, and interviewed, Medal of Honor recipients and
men that I really believe are heroes. It’s a very humbling and inspiring project
that should be out some time in the New Year.

 

            Believe me, I never considered
myself the “war guy” so it’s a bit odd that’s the subject of my first two
books. But I’m also working with a friend, a well-known actor, and together
we’re coming up with a story that takes places in the corrupt, underground
world of illegal cage matches. And there’s a bit of a love story involved so it
is something very different for me. That should see the light of day next year.
And I’m just getting the ball rolling in trying to get the rights to tell a
pretty well-known musician’s biography. But that’s pretty time consuming as
dealing with musicians is a long process of waiting for someone to get back to
me, and working around very odd hours. There’s nothing militant about their
work ethic, but it’s very exciting.

 

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