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Recording tales of fallen soldiers is Navy vet’s mission

A U.S. Navy chaplain delivers remarks during the funeral for Capt. Thomas J. Hudner at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Wednesday, April 4, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRASER/ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY)
August 11, 2019

A retired Navy veteran’s mission to record stories of fallen soldiers for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project led him Tuesday to Levittown.

Keith Sherman of Massachusetts arrived at a modest house on Trapper Lane to interview the mother of Spc. Daniel A. Fuentes, 19, who was killed in 2007 in Iraq when a bomb detonated near his vehicle.

“I want people to know that the freedoms we have, they’re not free,” Sherman said. “People do pay a sacrifice for them. And, for all these Gold Star families that I meet and interact with and document their stories, every day for them is Memorial Day.”

Since October 2018, when the project began, Sherman said he had traveled to 30 states — including California, Colorado, Minnesota and Maine — to collect tales from immediate relatives about members of the Armed Forces who have been killed in combat or in support of certain military activities.

On Tuesday morning, Sherman found himself in Nancy Fuentes’ living room.

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Fuentes, 50, an office manager at Caring Pediatric Associates in Levittown, said it was an honor to share her son’s story with Sherman for archiving in the nation’s library.

“We have lost our children, daughters and sons,” said Fuentes, referring to Gold Star families. “We can’t get them back. But, if we’re able to talk and speak of their names and have them in our lives, [in our] memories, that helps us. We’re able to cope in some sort of a way.”

Danny, as Nancy Fuentes refers to her son, was a quiet and shy boy who, as a child, liked to play with toy soldiers.

“He would be thinking that he was somewhere out there,” she told Sherman. “He would play for hours.”

Nancy Fuentes, a native of Colombia, said her son was the first in her family to serve in the military. Danny, she said, was most likely influenced by television shows and movies, including “Black Hawk Down,” about an Army rangers’ battle in Somalia, which was one of his favorite movies.

As a teen, Danny Fuentes liked to ride his bike and hang out with his friends, his mother said.

When her son signaled his intention to enlist, Fuentes said she tried to dissuade him and got other family members, including an uncle, to try to talk him out of joining the Army.

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“I didn’t want him to,” she said. “He said, ‘Mom, it’s all good.’ ”

After Danny Fuentes, a graduate of Island Trees High School, turned 18, he headed off to boot camp in Georgia.

In February 2007, the young Fuentes was sent to Iraq for a yearlong deployment, his mother said. He called her before heading out on a mission or after he returned from one.

April 6, 2007 was no different, she said.

“So, I will talk to you later,” she recalled her son telling her.

Nancy Fuentes urged her son to be careful.

That night, a Thursday, she didn’t get a call from her son but thought he may have just been busy.

“Friday morning, at 6 o’clock, that’s when I got the knock at the door,” she told Sherman.

There were two men standing at her front door. They’d come to deliver the news, but Nancy Fuentes said she was in disbelief.

On the day of his funeral, when she saw her son’s body laid out in an open casket, she still couldn’t believe he was gone.

Nancy Fuentes took a step toward her son’s casket and searched for the beauty mark near his lips.

“So, I came in  . . .[close] because I wanted to see it, and it was there,” she recalled.

Her world, she said, came crashing down.

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© 2019 Newsday