Three years after Spc. Armando Hernandez of Hesperia was killed when an improvised explosive device exploded near his guard post in Samarra, Iraq, the Hernandez family's light of remembrance and pride shines steady and bright.

Last Wednesday, family and friends gathered at Hernandez's Desert View Memorial Park gravesite for a memorial service presided by Deacon Santos Aguilera of Holy Family Catholic Church in Hesperia. Deacon Aguilera also paid tribute to the sacrifices of Daniel Maldonado of Victorville, who was killed in a June 2004 shooting after returning from service in Iraq, and William Wiscowiche of Victorville, who was killed in action in Iraq in March of the same year. Hernandez died on Aug. 1, 2004.

"Sometimes we look back and see what privileges we have living in the U.S. of America," Deacon Aguilera said. "We're here not to say goodbye but to remember and thank them for what they did for us. Thanks to God for allowing them to be a part of our family and friends."

According to Deacon Aguilera, the trio's mission was ordained by a higher power.

"God chose for them to go."

Through the loss, loved ones focus on "what is important in life," he said. "Family and friends."

"We're here to celebrate life. We don't know when we're going."

The event on a hot August day featured refreshments and a Blimpie's sandwich about the length of a surfboard. As Hernandez's family set out food for family and guests, young children played on verdant grounds and sat on a special bench that memorialized the Hesperia High graduate through photographs.

"It's something that brings back memories, but it also brings back laughter," the deacon said about the conversations of fond remembrance.

Deacon Aguilera, who served in Vietnam and has family members who also served in the military, applauded Hernandez, Maldonado and Wiscowiche for "the gift of life for us."

"Where else could you go where you have what we have?"