By Mike Linn: CNJ News Editor
Linda Hernandez has three e-mails from her cousin to which she’ll never get the chance to respond.
The Clovis resident saw the messages after she returned from vacation Sunday — the day she found out her cousin, Sgt. 1st Class Linda Ann Tarango-Griess, 33, of Sutton, Neb., died when a roadside bomb exploded near her Nebraska Army National Guard convoy outside Samarra, Iraq.
Sgt. Jeremy Fischer, 26, of Lincoln, Neb., also died in the early Sunday morning explosion.
Tarango-Griess is related to several Clovis area residents, including two aunts, two uncles and 16 cousins, one of which lives in Portales, Hernandez said.
Although Hernandez hadn’t seen Tarango-Griess for nearly five years, the two kept in contact, often via e-mail.
“Linda’s a hero. She’s the bravest person I know. I admire her and I’ve admired her since we were young. She was successful at everything she did,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said she got home from vacation last Sunday and her family gave her the news.
When she got to work Monday, her cousin had sent three e-mails.
“I don’t want to delete them even though I’ve printed them out,” she said.
The last e-mail, sent July 6, included an attached picture of her platoon — all sporting running shoes and army T-shirts — following a five mile run called “Desert Dash.”
“None of us won the race, but in our hearts, we are winners. Our reward is the self-satisfaction for just finishing the race,” Tarango-Griess wrote. “… Still hot here, working on losing that last 10 pounds. Hope you all are enjoying your summers. Thanks for keeping in touch and I can’t wait to get home to see you all.”
Hernandez, whose son is a U.S. Marine who served in Iraq for four months during the beginning of the war, said she never feared for her cousin’s safety.
“When my son was there I cried for a week straight, but I never thought anything would happen to Linda — she was just so strong,” Hernandez said.
No funeral arrangements have been announced for Tarango-Griess, Nebraska National Guard Capt. Kevin Hynes said.
Tarango-Griess’ family has said a funeral would be held in Hastings, Neb.
Hernandez and her Clovis relatives said they plan on attending the funeral, where Tarango-Griess’ husband Doug Griess also serves on the Nebraska Army National Guard.
Hernandez said Griess is scheduled to go to Iraq within a month or two as well, but was given the option to stay home due to his wife’s death. She said Griess decided to go and fight, as that’s what his wife would have wanted.
Hernandez believes the loss will be especially difficult for citizens of Tarango-Griess’ hometown of Sutton, a small community of about 1,500 residents.
Still, the loss is felt plenty 750 miles away in Clovis.
“Sometimes I’m OK,” Hernadez said, “and sometimes my stomach turns and I get nervous and want to cry out loud.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.