Illinois Institute of Technology honored alumnus Vice Admiral Diego E. Hernandez, Retired (PSYC ’55) with the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award in late April. The Lifetime Achievement Award is bestowed posthumously on an individual who has recently passed away and who, during his or her life, achieved personal success, made an outstanding contribution to his or her chosen field of endeavor, and achieved recognition by his or her colleagues. The award was accepted by Hernandez's wife, Sherry Hernandez.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Vice Admiral Hernandez’s military career spanned from 1955–1991. He became a naval aviator and piloted fighter jets from several aircraft carriers and went on to lead 147 combat missions in Vietnam, including the first strike conducted against two surface-to-air missile sites in North Vietnam. He was shot down twice in the space of five months. In 1980 Hernandez became commanding officer of the USS John F. Kennedy—he was the first Hispanic to serve as commanding officer of a United States Navy aircraft carrier. In 1982 he was named commander of U.S. Naval Forces Caribbean and in 1986 became commander of the U.S. Third Fleet. In his final military assignment in 1989, Hernandez served as deputy commander in chief of the U.S. Space Command as well as vice commander in chief of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
Prior to his retirement in 1991, Hernandez was the highest-ranking Hispanic in the U.S. military. Former secretary of defense Dick Cheney appointed Hernandez and his wife, Sherry, as ambassadors to Latin American countries, representing the United States in international affairs. In retirement Hernandez was instrumental in finalizing the status of the island of Vieques and returning it to the control of the Puerto Rican government. He was a consultant to several different organizations, including General Motors in Latin America, Martec Maritime Technology Group—where he also served as president—and Right Associates. He was also very active in community affairs, having originated the plans to improve public transit in Miami/Dade County [Florida] and serving on the project task force.
HONORS & AWARDS
Hernandez amassed a long list of military awards, including the Silver Star; Purple Heart; Distinguished Flying Cross; Navy Distinguished Service Medal; and Distinguished Graduate Award, Naval War College. Hernandez’s home country of Puerto Rico presented him with the National Puerto Rican Coalition Life Achievement Award in 1987 and has honored him posthumously with many ceremonies and memorials. They have presented a bill to name a government building in his honor, and Puerto Rican flags flew at half mast when he passed away.