In the midst of Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, 13 Americans were killed outside Kabul’s Karzai International Airport. Since then, a humanitarian catastrophe has swept the country and the Biden administration has failed to take accountability for the likely avoidable airport tragedy. After 20 years of fighting, and thousands of soldiers killed in action, Biden sold out Afghanistan to the Taliban with a stroke of his pen. In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, millions of Afghanis are at risk of persecution by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda has a fertile breeding ground once again.
Jorge Hidalgo, the gold star parent of 1st Lt. Daren Hidalgo, is the latest guest on The Kevin Roberts Show. Daren, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was stationed in Afghanistan when his unit was stumbled into an improvised explosive device (IED) that resulted in Daren being killed in action.
The courageous sacrifice of soldiers like Daren is what keeps our nation safe. But the shameful actions of the Biden administration undermine the sacrifices made by Daren and the thousands of others who safeguard our freedoms.
Jorge Hidalgo: The toughest thing, that was when the military officers came to our house. It was a chaplain military officer, and they said, “We regret to inform you that Lieutenant Hidalgo’s been killed.” I’ll say the toughest thing when I said, “Which Lieutenant Hidalgo?” I had two in combat at the same time. When they said, “Oh, Lieutenant Daren Hidalgo,” then it was, “Okay, so it’s Daren.” It kind of hits home. That’s one of those things in your life that you just... 12 years later, it just feels like it was yesterday.
Kevin Roberts: Welcome back to the Kevin Roberts Show. It is such a pleasure to be sitting here this week with our guest, someone you will grow to love, I know, because of his story and his family story. As I’ve said the last couple of episodes, while we’re very grateful that we sometimes get members of Congress, members of the Senate, some governors, presidential candidates on this show, really, this show exists not for them. Those men and women know that I’m not being disrespectful by saying that. This show exists for the everyday American and his or her story, and you’re going to really be moved by the story that we cover this week. All of that to say to my new friend, Jorge Hidalgo, thank you, sir, for joining me.
Hidalgo: Thank you for having me.
Roberts: Your family, whose story we will get into, including the very difficult, tragic circumstance of one of your sons giving his life for this country, is a heroic one, obviously, a sacrificial one. I can’t thank you enough, not just for being here, Jorge, but for the witness you are to serving this country, the very difficult situation following your son’s death. Obviously, we’re going to honor him and talk a lot about Daren.
We’re also, by virtue of honoring him and talking about him, going to talk about your own service in the military, the fact that your surviving sons have also served. That’s really the story that both of those that we’re interested in. I happen to be researching a book right now, which we’ll talk about some men and women who are in high profile positions, but it’s really a book about why the everyday American should care about this country. And I know that’s what motivates you to be here in spite of the tragedy of losing your son. We’ll talk about Daren in a moment. But before we begin talking about him and honoring his life, tell us about your own journey here from the Dominican Republic to New York City to serving in the United States Army.
Hidalgo: I’d be glad to. I was born in 1958, Dominican Republic, a long time ago. Basically, my mom and dad divorced shortly after I was born. I was living there, but my dad moved to New York City, and my mom was still in Dominican Republic. My paternal grandmother looked at the situation and said, “You know what? There’s not many jobs. There’s not much opportunity for education. We need to try to get him to the US, so let’s work on his Green Card.”
She worked diligently on my dad and my mom to get permission, because obviously my mom had to get permission for me to come to the US. Eventually, she was persistent enough... Especially after the 1965 US invasion of the Dominican Republic, I think my mom finally flipped and said, “Yeah, maybe you should go to the US.”
Roberts: Might be a good idea.
Hidalgo: “May be a good idea to move to the US.” So I got my Green Card, moved to the US in 1965 to live with my dad and his wife, my stepmom. They were factory workers. At that time, in the mid-sixties, garment industry in New York was really big. My dad was a piece worker sewing, and he would work overtime to clean the factory, and repair machines, and things along those lines. My stepmom did the same, work piece rate.
When I started going to school, my grandma was the one that brought me to and from school. One of the things that she always imparted in me was, “Hey, in order to pursue the American dream and realize your goals and aspirations, do really well in this country, you got to really focus on education. Do your best in education.”
There’s a saying she used to say in Spanish, “[Spanish],” which means education opens the door to opportunity. That sunk into my brain and describing to my brain about how important education was.
Eventually, my dad ended up getting into an accident at his job. He had a steaming press accident. So for a while, that was workman’s comp, and wasn’t that good in the sixties. We ran into hard times. We were living in the Bronx at that time, and so we had to move to Harlem in order to live in the projects there. We actually went on welfare for a while in order to make ends meet, so food stamps. Believe it or not, I have the experience of going to the local food pantry for the Department of Agriculture and getting the big cans of peanut butter and the big cans of cheese and things along those lines.
Roberts: You were no doubt looking forward to.
Hidalgo: Yeah. I still love peanut butter. I don’t know why. With that hardship, after about six months after his steam press accident, my dad was trying to think what to do next. He said, “You know what? It’s probably going to be better if I find where I can run my own business.” He talked to his fellow family members and asked if they could contribute toward him opening up a newsstand.
Since I was probably by the third grade, I was working in my dad’s newsstand. After school, I would go and sell newspapers, magazines, comic books, and Milky Way bars and all those candy bars at the train station, New York City. That was [inaudible] Street that we used to have the store.
Then, after a while, with that, he decided to go ahead and open up a grocery store, move up from the newsstand to a bodega, as they call it New York City. Worked in the bodega for a while. Basically, that was pretty hard work. If there’s one thing I learned from my dad, and my grandma used to say that he works like a mule. I mean, like no break, nothing. Hard worker. At the grocery store, we would get up about 5:30, take the deliveries of milk, deliveries of bread, open up the store at six o’clock, serve. Someone forgot eggs for making breakfast for the kids, cereal, we had that. We were open at six o’clock. Sandwiches for people going to work and things along those lines, we made that.
We would work till about 10 o’clock at night. Once we closed at night, we would go ahead and wash the machines, the slicing machines, and mop the floor, restock the fridge and things along... We were probably upstairs getting ready to go to bed about 11:00, 11:30 at night, so I kind of got into that habit. My dad was a pretty hard worker. I mean, that was six days a week we were doing that, and we did get up-
Roberts: That’s grueling.
Hidalgo: Oh, yeah, it is. It is. But it did teach me a strong work ethic though. The one break that we did have was on Sundays. We [inaudible] had a partial day off. We actually closed at three o’clock in the afternoon, so that was fantastic. I didn’t really know what vacation was until I actually went to West Point, talking to other people and saying, “Yeah, don’t you go on vacation?” Like, “What’s vacation?” That was a pretty interesting experience.
Because of my grandma’s focus on education and my dad and my stepmom supported that also, I was a pretty decent student and got accepted into one of the charter schools in New York City. There’s three major ones that they’re well-known, Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant, and Brooklyn Tech. I was accepted in Brooklyn Tech there and did fairly well there.
Did well in the school, was on the track team, was a pretty good student who was... My plans at that time was probably aeronautical engineer. I was going to go possibly into the military. The reason was because my parents are poor. They didn’t have the money to go ahead and pay for me to go to college. I did have a SUNY regents scholarship. You go to State University of New York [inaudible] got to score high enough to get a scholarship, but that didn’t cover room and board, and my parents didn’t have money for room and board.
I looked at things and said, “What’s the best way?” Well, I’ve liked the Marines. I like the military. That sounds a good way to go through that channel and then afterwards come out with my GI bill and that could pay for my education. Senior year I was talking to my track coaches and were asking me, “Hey, so what college are you going to?” I said, “Well, I’m not going to college. I’m going to the Marines.” They all looked at me like, “Wait a minute, you’re National Honor Society. You’re great athlete. Why aren’t you going to college?” I said, “Well, my parents don’t have the money. While I did get a regents scholarship, it’s not enough for me to room board and things along those lines.” They said, “Have you even thought about an academy?” I said, “What’s an academy?”
Roberts: You have no reason to know.
Hidalgo: I had no reason to-
Roberts: It’s not part of your world.
Hidalgo: Yeah, it wasn’t part of my world. I mean, I lived in some pretty rough sections of New York City, lived in Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and they weren’t exactly the ideal section. I think if everybody thinks about sections of New York City, East New York, they’re not known for really being nice areas of New York City. I lived in some pretty rough areas, so I frankly didn’t know.
When my track coaches mentioned that, I started researching and I said, “Oh, so I could apply to an academy.” I was looking at Air Force. I said, “That’s in Colorado. That’s too far away.” [inaudible] Marine, yeah, the sea, nah. That’s a little bit questionable.” I mean, I barely know how to swim living in the inner city.
Then, I said, “Well, you know what? West Point is not too far away. Exactly about 45 minutes away from New York City, so I could get home, visit family, and things like that.” I went ahead and applied to West Point. My coaches and the teachers wrote glowing recommendations and...
Because the fact that I had worked in my dad’s store, a lot of people in the community knew me. Once they found out that I was thinking about applying to military academy, they actually wrote to the congressman and things along those lines say, “That’s the hardest working kid. Good student. Always greets me with a smile.” If there’s one thing, besides hard work, I learned phenomenal customer service from dealing with customers day in, day out. All those recommendations and my grades and stuff, I was able to get a nomination to the United States Military Academy.
Roberts: What a wonderful story. I mean, because I think probably a lot of people know, but not everyone would, you’ve got to have that nomination by your member of Congress. Given your working class upbringing, wouldn’t necessarily come into contact with him. It was fascinating that the customers from your store, people in the community wrote enough letters to bring that to his attention.
Hidalgo: Well, definitely. Then, having the interview with the congressman, came over the house. Maybe helped that it was a bad neighborhood, less competition. I don’t know. But, I was able to apply and get in. That was really eye-opening. It was interesting because my dad’s plans for me was going to the family business. I would run the family store and things along those lines. That was a little bit different. I wanted to do more. I wanted see more of the world. I mean, just working seven days a week and not having much time to see the world and learn, that wasn’t in the cards for me. That was interesting that most...
When I went to West Point, my classmates were saying, “Well, your parents must be really happy.” I said, “My dad doesn’t even talk to me.” That’s what I said. He didn’t want me to come to West Point. I mean, I think over the years he grew to accept it, but that was pretty tough because he wanted me to run the family store. That was the big change.
Roberts: That’s a fairly common story, or at least used to be in the United States when the second generation of business owners, especially if it’s an immigrant family, as yours was, doesn’t necessarily want to do that. You’re sort of staking out your own way of living out the American dream. Understandably, although it’s probably easier for you to understand now than when you were 19 or 21, it’s hard for the first generation immigrants who’ve made those sacrifices to understand that. You get to West Point, and what was that world like?
Hidalgo: Wow. It was eye-opening. I remember my first roommate. He looked at me, he says, “You know what? I come from a small town in Iowa, and you’re the first dark person I’ve ever been close to.” Because people may not know, but the West Point Academy have people from every state and people from small communities and so forth. Me being from New York City with a huge immigrant population, I’m used to the diversity. So, it was pretty enlightening there.
But, the facilities there are just top-notch, incredible. It is considered the dominant leadership institute in the world when you think about developing leadership. That whole concept of duty, honor, country, that [inaudible] solidified my approach to life, giving back to the community, caring about your country, caring about your community, caring about your family, being a servant leader.
It’s a lot of things that I really learned at West Point and met some incredible people. In fact, one of those incredible people was General James McConville, who was my classmate of ‘81, who... I just was up here in Washington. I don’t come up here to Washington that often. I was up here for his retirement party. Him and Maria were ecstatic. What a successful career. 42 years. They’re the last people in our class to serve. 42 years dedicated service to this country. He was basically chief of staff of the Army.
Roberts: That had to be a special moment for all of you, right?
Hidalgo: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Definitely. It was truly an honor to be there and congratulate one of our classmates to be at the pinnacle of his career and represent the country, represent the academy, and serve the country so honorably for so long.
Roberts: We’re going to talk about that example, especially of your generation of veterans, but one more question about your own service. You finish at West Point, and you become an Army Ranger. What was that like?
Hidalgo: Well, here’s what’s interesting. I actually went to ranger school while I was at West Point. During your third year, you had an opportunity to apply. Very selective because ranger school is 60-day course. Your entire summer break is 61 days. So if you fail something, you don’t have an opportunity to be a recycle.
It was a pretty rough go at it, but made it through while I was a cadet, so I went to ranger school. Then when I graduated from the academy, then I attended airborne school and numerous other schools, which the Army sends you to prepare to go to your first unit. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunities to have my first assignment as the Berlin Brigade. I’m a little bit older. That was actually when the wall was still up, and that was being there, very unique assignment, very prestigious assignment. All soldiers are handpicked. Because if there’s a situation that is embarrassing to the nation, if it’s an international incident could take place. That was a fantastic assignment.
The history of War War II, being able to go to British sector, visiting Spandau Prison where we housed Rudolph Hess, being able to go to East Berlin on a regular basis. We had access to East Berlin, seeing how that side lives and so forth, hearing the gunfire at night as people trying to cross the barriers to get into the western side. It was a very sobering experience. I think you don’t really get an appreciation about how bad communism is until you’re so close there and you talk to the people and everything else, all the experience. Then you say, “Wow. I don’t want that for our country. We got to do whatever we can to prevent that from happening here.” That’s for sure.
Roberts: Do you think enough Americans, given the span of time since we defeated the Soviet Union, appreciate that? Because it seems as if, to sort of foreshadow something we’ll talk about, the difficulty that American military branches are having recruiting men and women, just the general mindset of Americans. I don’t mean to be too pessimistic about the American future, because ultimately I’m hopeful, but it would seem to me that someone given your service, your family sacrifice, you might look at that landscape and say, “Man, too few of my fellow Americans get it. They don’t get what we’re up to.”
Hidalgo: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. Actually seeing, and talking to people, and walking through the streets of East Berlin, seeing the bullet holes that are still there in some of the buildings from World War II, seeing the difference between the Kurfurstendamm on the western side and seeing the status of the city on the eastern side, it’s like 40 years behind and a time zone.
Seeing it firsthand, seeing the stories about people coming across, talking to Germans where families were split... Because we ended up having partnerships and relationships with German families. Just understanding all that that was going on, what people were trying to do just to get to experience freedom, having that first experience makes a difference. I think that today’s day and age, we live in such creature comforts that we don’t realize what freedom actually is and how easy it is to lose it and what it means.
Roberts: I imagine seeing that firsthand in Berlin when you started your family. That probably is something that you’ve mentioned to your children. It might be one of the reasons that you’ve now continued this great family tradition of serving the country into the next generation. Tell us about what you instilled in your own children and how that might’ve been affected by your time in Europe.
Hidalgo: Well, so I had two kids in Berlin. Then, my next assignment after Berlin was being a ranger instructor at the Florida Ranger Camp Eglin Air Force Base Florida. Obviously, then we had two kids there. The kids grew up military bases for the first eight year of their lives and being familiar with the military and so forth. I think that overcomes the fear, that familiarity of people. Then having so many classmates and friends that would visit us, even when I left the military, that were military, I think it helps the kids overcome their fear of what’s the military all about.
The fact they had lived overseas, and we had traveled overseas, and we talked about lots of stories about what makes this country so great... I’ll say, for example, “Wow, the Bundespost is just not as good as the post office. Let me tell you the difference.” The kids would hear my stories. Or when we went to Potsdam in East Germany, just telling them different stories about how great a country we have. Most Americans take for granted because they don’t know the difference. They haven’t seen other places. Being able to relay that to my kids was really important.
I think all four of them picked that up that, hey, we live in a special place, but you really have to work hard. We installed in them same thing that my grandma emphasized, education opens the door to opportunity. I would say, “Hey, I go to work. I get a paycheck. You go to school. You’re actually going to work. You know what your paycheck is? Your report card. If you want to get high paid, that’s high grades.” Then, you obviously do the rewards in terms of you buy a book, take them to movie. “Hey, we did so well. Everybody’s honor roll,” and stuff like that.
It’s just the focus on education, giving you opportunity and setting your future. Not just the educational, but also the spiritual in terms of caring about the community, whether it was ushers at the church, lectors, and things along those lines. We always volunteered.
I remember growing up when we were feeding at a homeless shelter. My daughter says to me, “Boy, I didn’t know there were kids that were homeless.” I mean, unless you see it... And here’s your own... A 14-year-old, I think she was at the time, seeing that is like, “Wow.” You’ve got to give back, and you’ve got to be willing to serve your community. That helps them to develop a good foundation for the kids.
Roberts: It makes me think knowing that the greatest correlation between Americans now of military service age and their decision to serve is that there has been military service in their family, that if in fact we want to address our recruitment issue... This isn’t a political question, which isn’t something we’re going to cover. It’s just sort of a cultural societal question. That maybe one of the ways to offset that is to get American kids to volunteer more. Thinking about your own children’s example there, you think volunteerism, other ideas out there for overcoming this recruitment issue exist?
Hidalgo: Something I always preach was selfless service. Give back to others, and you’ll be rewarded, and give back to community, whether it’s, “Hey, let’s go on a march to fundraise for library books. Let’s go clean up the park. Let’s go feed the homeless.” Just don’t worry about yourself. There’s other people that are worse off. Sometimes when you help others, you realize that, “Hey, you know what? My situation as bad as I thought.”
Roberts: And therefore the country’s not that bad.
Hidalgo: Yeah, correct. It’s not that bad. I know there’ve been plans discussed about having everybody commit to some kind of service, whether it’s Conservation Corps, or Peace Corps, or join the military. But I think that, in my opinion, that service to your fellow man is really important. Because bottom line, the strength of our culture is all of us caring for each other.
Roberts: I think that’s extremely well said. In fact, the politicians we’ve had on this show I think would agree with that a lot. I imagine for you, when your children, including your late son Daren, said that they were going to join the military, it wasn’t too much of a surprise.
Hidalgo: No. When people find out that three kids went to the military, say, “Oh, you must’ve been career officer.” I said, “No, I left after eight years. No, I was in civilian world, so no.” They overcame their fear because they were familiar. They had a lot of friends. I wasn’t saying, “Now, don’t join the military,” or anything along those lines.
Actually, my oldest son, he went to University of Wisconsin for his degree and joined the platoon leader course program to go in the Marines. He became an Army officer. It was like, “Hey, I could get some experience, see the world, learn about leadership, and they’ll pay for my tuition? That’s a great idea.”
Roberts: It is a great idea.
Hidalgo: Jared went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Then, Miles, my second oldest, when he was trying to decide... He was an honor student. I’ll brag about him because he actually maxed his ACT, so he’s a very good student.
Roberts: I think dad can brag here.
Hidalgo: I can brag about that, right? I was very proud of him. Really good athlete. I was surprised that he decided to go to West Point. I asked him, “Well, why did you decide to go to West Point?” He says, “Well, dad, when I...”
I had invited him to come with me to the 20th anniversary of my class. We were sitting in the class. I think it was a math class. The professor looked at me, come up, and shook my hand and started talking to me. I hadn’t seen him for 20 years, but he had been a cadet in my class, I mean my company. From 20 years, we had a relationship that we were almost like brothers. My son said, “It’s like family. That’s the relationship I want to have.” The place is pretty amazing. He decided to go to the academy.
Then, Daren, obviously, when it came time for him to make a decision... He had a wrestling scholarship to another school and turned that down and wanted to go to West Point. His brother was there. We used to go there on a regular basis. It’s a fun school. He decided to also go to West Point.
Then, my daughter decided to go to University of... Well, she went to University of Green Bay much later, but that’s how... All my kids have a firm belief in education opens the door to opportunity, and they pursued their advanced degree. Three went to the military, one didn’t.
Roberts: No, you have to be a proud dad.
Hidalgo: Definitely am. Definitely am.
Roberts: Tell us about Daren.
Hidalgo: Daren, he had a winning smile, an engaging personality, a jokester and a prankster. He loved to have fun. But what endeared him to people, he’s very empathetic. He would listen to people, very empathetic. Wherever someone needed some cheering up, I mean, he was always there for them. He was really incredible knack to make people relax and endeared himself with them. It’s just amazing. He had a unique skill set.
I would say he was a National Honor Society, so he’s a pretty good student. He was trumpeter. He played the trumpet on the school band, and then was also co-captain of the wrestling teams. He was very good wrestler and was in phenomenally good shape. I mean, I would say all the kids probably about the best athlete, definitely top-notch.
Then, going to West Point, I think having his older brother there... Daren focused more on fun. He got a little bit more trouble than his brother before him.
Roberts: There have been some West Point cadets over the years who’ve done that, right?
Hidalgo: Yeah, definitely. Got himself in some trouble. I don’t know if you’ve heard of walking hours, punishment hours that you have. He walked his share of hours. But he did very well there. He got his bachelor of science and basically had got a degree in Spanish and decided to go to Vilseck, Germany as his first assignment.
Now, all the boys, even I told them not to... I was infantry. Infantry is ground pounders, all that terminology. I said, “Hey, you ought to go aviation or something along those lines. Infantry’s awfully hard. You got heavy packs, and you walk, and the insects, and everything else.” They never listened though.
Roberts: They didn’t take that advice from [inaudible].
Hidalgo: Yeah, they didn’t take that advice from me. All three of them went infantry in there, and decided to go infantry. His first assignment was going to Vilseck, Germany. But what happens after you graduate from West Point, the military sends you to a lot of schools. He went to Airborne School. He went to Stryker. He had to get familiar with Stryker vehicle, which is what they were going to be using Vilseck, counter-terrorism school, ranger school. Almost he took an entire year to go through all those military schools.
Then, about July time frame... Because he graduated 2009, so he was in Columbus, Georgia for probably about a year. About July time frame, he was due to come back and move to Vilseck, Germany, which is the station. Now, his unit at the time had already deployed to Afghanistan, so they were halfway through their deployment. That was July time frame. Being a dutiful dad to help son pack out his apartment, and clean out the house, and pack up all his house and goods that flew down there, Columbus, Georgia, help him pack out, and then drove up with him to Wisconsin. We were living in Wisconsin at that time.
I thought it would be a good opportunity at that time to have that conversation that anybody in the military needs to have with those people that could be going to combat. My comment to him... I think we have a 13-, 14-hour drive. I think it was about the ninth hour. I said, “Hey, Daren, we need to have a conversation. I had the conversation with your brother, so I want to have it with you. You’re probably going to deploy at some point. God forbid something happens to you. If you don’t make it back, what would you like us to do?” Daren’s always a jokester, said, “Well, Dad, this is bad luck with having that conversation.” I said, “Oh, come on. You know what I mean. We need to have this difficult conversation.”
He thought about it, and he said, “Well, you know what? When I was in the band and I was on the wrestling team, there was other people that wanted to go to college, and they couldn’t go to college. They didn’t have the money. Obviously, I had a full scholarship. But even if I didn’t get a full scholarship, you guys have savings. You were going to pay for my college anyway. But not that many people are fortunate like that. I think that if you start a scholarship, offer a scholarship to high school senior, I would be happy with that.” That was really startling for-
Roberts: Yeah. That’s really thoughtful.
Hidalgo: Very thoughtful. His legacy. Daren always cared about others than he cared about himself. The second thing is that, “Dad, if I don’t make it back, take care of those that do, whatever you can do. Do whatever you can to take care of those that do.” That was the conversation that we had with Daren in case he didn’t make it back.
Daren, shortly afterwards, he was in Germany with his unit in August. Then about September time frame, his unit in Afghanistan, one of the lieutenants had been injured by an IED. They needed to replace him. They called back to Vilseck, Germany and says, “Hey, we need one of the lieutenants there.” Daren raised his hand. “I’ll go.” Talking to the commanders there, Daren was the most outgoing one. He could take a unit in combat and lead them no problem. There wasn’t a learning curve. He could go in, and his empathy and ability to engage with people is just phenomenal, so he’s going to do well, so he was recommended. He was assigned to his unit as a platoon leader, already engaged in combat, in September of 2010.
Daren, everything I saw, did very well as a platoon leader. He challenged the family to always send care packages. We not only sent care packages for him, but also for his platoon. We took care of his platoon with cookies and organized different... We had different organizations and cookie drives and everything else to send gifts and boxes to the men in his platoon. His tent was like the distribution hub for the morale-building that needed to take place.
Then, it’s kind of interesting. Daren, even though he in the combat zone, when they went back to the rear areas for some time off, he would volunteer to work at the USO. Even when in the combat zone, he’s still trying to serve others.
About February 5th, Daren was on a dismounted patrol with his men in Kandahar province. One of his men tripped a small IED. It was a hand grenade. As soon as they saw a grenade, everybody went down. Daren was the only one that got wounded on that one. That was February 5th. That was first Purple Heart.
We get a call, “Hey, your son’s been wounded.,” Said, “Not too bad.” I said, “Well, let me find out what it is.” I finally was able to talk to him. He said he had shrapnel embedded... [inaudible] fragments embedded into his thigh. I said, “Well, shouldn’t you take it out?” He says, “Well, Dad, I’ve been a wrestler. I’ve wrestled with pain. My unit returns back to Germany in six weeks. I’m not going to leave my men without a platoon leader. There’s no way they’re going to replace someone here. I’m going to stick with my brothers in arms here, and I’ll take painkillers. I’m wrapping it up every day. I’m taking antibiotics so it doesn’t get infected. When I return to Germany, I’ll go ahead and have the surgery.”
Now, me being Dad hearing this, and I’m saying, “Daren, you have a platoon sergeant. Go ahead and get the surgery.” I even say, “When you get back to Germany, we can hike the Alps. You need to be in shape, so get the surgery now.” I try to use every excuse to try to get him to get the surgery.
Roberts: These are all the tools in the dad [inaudible].
Hidalgo: Yeah. Correct. He refused to leave his men. He decided to continue. But the last thing he said, to lay my fears, “Well, don’t worry, Dad. This will be interesting because I can set off metal detectors.” Like, “What?” He ended up going to the engineering unit and metal detector his thigh and set off the alarm. He’s proud of that. That’s just his mentality. He’s going to be proud about bragging that, “I’ll be going to airports setting off the alarms all the time. This is exciting.” He was always a prankster, a jokester. That’s his approach.
On February 20th of that year, his unit was attending Ashura, which is a tribal meeting. They knew it was a dangerous area that had been hit before. There was a certain choke point. Choke point is nearing the terrain that you can’t go over or you can’t go under. You got to go through it in order to get to the other side. They knew it was a dangerous area. It was basically a river bed that had walls on the side that you go from the water coming through. You walk through it.
They knew it was dangerous. They had two dogs go through. They had a mine detector go through. Didn’t find anything. Daren was the 16th person in line in the platoon. As a platoon leader, he’s responsible for the platoon. At a point, he got out of the line they were walking at and moved to the right about three steps. That’s where he set off a pressure plate that was wired into a very large explosive that was embedded not in the floor, it was embedded on the wall of the riverbed. The enemy’s ingenious. The dogs didn’t-
Hidalgo: Yeah. That’s when he was wounded and didn’t make it. He made it to the mass unit, but then didn’t survive. I still remember the toughest thing. That was when the military officers came to our house. It was a chaplain military officer. They said, “We regret to inform you that Lieutenant Hidalgo’s been killed.” I would say the toughest thing when I said, “Which Lieutenant Hidalgo?” I had two in combat at the same time.” When they said, “Oh, Lieutenant Daren Hidalgo,” then it was, “Okay. So it’s Daren.” It kind of hits home. That’s one of those things in your life that you just... 12 years later, it just feels like it was yesterday, you could never-
Roberts: I mean, there’s no way, even though you knew from your own experience in the service, to have that conversation with Daren and with your other sons, that you would ever actually expect to hear that news, right?
Hidalgo: Yeah, no. Definitely never was prepared, but never expected that to happen. We were able to get our son to escort the coffin, our other son, Miles, to escort the coffin home. We were able to have the funerals in... Well, there was a huge service in his high school because Daren was on the prom court, captain wrestling team, National Honor Society. I mean, everybody was his friend. The high school had a huge ceremony for him. There was a huge event there at Dallastown Area High School in Pennsylvania.
Then, we had a ceremony in Wisconsin. Then, we flew to West Point, had a ceremony at West Point, where he’s buried. Then, later, we were flown to ceremony. About two or three months later, there was... About two months later, there was ceremony in the Vilseck, Germany when the unit had returned. They were to honor all the families of all the service members that had been lost during that deployment. That was a very sobering time.
You talk to most gold star parents, we’re part of a clique or a group that nobody wants to be part of. It passes by so fast that you’re numb from it. You almost don’t even realize it’s going on. Things are just coming at you because it’s such a tragedy that happens, but you’ve got to continue to move on.
Roberts: And the passage of time doesn’t change the reality.
Hidalgo: No, not at all. Not at all. The things that we focus on was, well, honoring his wishes. His first wish was in terms of setting up Daren M. Hidalgo Memorial Fund. We went ahead and established a scholarship in 2012. A scholarship his high school offers a $5,000 scholarship to a person that’s a community leader, and got good grades, and is caring about continue to contribute to the community going forward.
We’re on our 15th and 16th scholarship this year. One young lady, Ava Markel, is going to University of Florida, and the other young lady, Kayla, is going to University of Maryland. We keep his memory alive because we ask them, “Research on Daren, and what character traits do you think you have of his, and what do you admire?” We look at the essays. We look at the recommendation letters. Are they caring about their community?” And whether it’s a class president, or whether it’s someone who works in Rotary, or whether it’s someone who works with autistic kids or things along those lines, we select candidates that are giving back to society. That’s who we give the scholarship to.
The thank-you letters we get is really heartwarming. We donated Daren’s military uniform to his school. They have it mounted in the library with a little plaque for him. The school really treasures him and the others from that school that have given their life to this country.
Roberts: As they should. I imagine in addition to the scholarship recipients and the essays that they write, which clearly are a testament to Daren’s legacy, that you and your family have gotten phone calls and comments from scores of people about how Daren’s legacy lives on.
Hidalgo: Yeah. That’s amazing, all the stories that have come out that you find out. “Daren did that?” As a parent, you say... I would say one example would be a military officer that writes to me and said, “Hey, I wanted to thank... I think about your son all the time. When I was in Ranger school...” And Daren had been recycled. Ranger school wears you out. He was in the last phase, so he got a chance to eat very well for about two or three weeks. When the new class came in, these people have been constantly training for a while, and so there’s actually hunger issues. They lose anything from 15 or 40 pounds. I mean, that’s the intent, to really challenge you. They said, “Daren actually fed me. He gave me his food. [inaudible] take a little bit, but he gave me because he knew I was hungry.”
Or someone said, “Hey, on that patrol, I wouldn’t have made it unless Daren took the radio from me. He didn’t need to, but he carried the radio for me.” You hear all these stories of people that reach out and said, “Daren made a difference.”
There was a young lady that reached out to me, Allison Caravan. She said, “I ran the Warner’s Robin Air Force Base Marathon with Daren. Your son helped me make it through.” Daren knew her from... They play racquetball. I think he was going to Penn State at the time. He was part of the Eastern Collegiate Racquetball Conference. He was on the racketball team at West Point. Met him there.
They established a friendship, and she wanted to do a marathon. He said, “Well, let’s do this marathon.” He ran the marathon with her. In about 19, 20 miles, she was really having a hard time. She says, “Daren, why don’t you go ahead and finish? I’m slowing you down.” Daren went hit and finished. About the 24th mile, she doesn’t continue make it anymore. And who does she see? Daren actually finished, ran back, and just motivated her to finish. She says, “I mean he was such a special person for doing that.”
I get so many stories from people that reach out and tell me how Daren made a difference in their lives, whether it is a West Point graduate says, “I was thinking about quitting, and Daren convinced me to stay at West Point. He actually graduated from West Point eventually. But Daren convinced me to stay.” I’m saying, “Daren convincing someone else?” As a parent, you hear a lot of unbelievable stories about your child.
Roberts: Well, they are. I imagine we could fill up many hours talking about that.
Roberts: I’ll just ask you a couple more questions, but I’ve really enjoyed the conversation. On behalf of the audience, Jorge, just grateful for your willingness to talk about the difficulty of Daren’s death. But more importantly, as a note, you would want to remind everyone the beauty of his life. And that’s what we celebrate here.
The next question is not political. It’s about a particular event, but it’s trying to put that in a hopeful way. We’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. We’ll leave the analysis to that to the political types. But what I will say on behalf of everyday Americans, whether they are military families like yours or not, is that when Americans saw that, they were a little confused. Certainly my colleagues here at Heritage, some of them men and women who served in uniform say that’s actually contributed to the recruitment problem, that maybe there’s something wrong with our country. What would you say to them to instill some encouragement, some hopefulness that in spite of some of these challenging episodes, including that withdrawal, that we still need to have faith in our military, we still need to have faith in this country?
Hidalgo: There’s a lot of great people that are military. Right now, the political system, the media is giving you a slanted perspective. I’ll put it that way. But, there’s a lot of people that are serving this country because they care about this country. They care about you. Look at serving this nation given an opportunity. Our country goes through different cycles where... I just think we’re going through a bad cycle. We’ll be out of that cycle at some point. Because when I went to the military, we had just gone through the debacle of Vietnam. I remember going to my platoon and it was drug use was rampant and things along those lines, and we were able to turn it into incredible military.
Hey, give it time. Just be willing to dedicate the effort and invest your hard-earned capacity to deliver some outstanding results. Just give back to society. I think we need to give a chance because there’s a lot of people that really care about this country.
Roberts: A follow-up question very much related to that one. One of the things I like to do with this show is use it as a vehicle to get people to take some specific steps. You’ve given one there contemplating about military service, another about giving back to society. Let’s say someone is on the younger side in the audience, younger than you and me, and they’re thinking, “This is good advice that Jorge just gave me.” But what is something that they can do specifically to honor Daren’s legacy as a fellow American?
Hidalgo: Wow. I would say if you’re looking at people that are in the military and you run across someone, thank them for their service. Be willing to talk to them. There’s lots of military charities supporting the military. If you can give some money, go ahead and do so. And if not, you can give some of your time. There’s disabled American veterans. There’s lots of charities available that serves veterans causes.
I would say that the key thing... It’s not just the military, but just giving back to society. People at a young age learn to just give back to the nation overall, give back to their fellow man. If I look at Daren’s sacrifice, Daren was the embodiment of the American spirit of service to higher calling themself. He cared more about others than he cared about himself. You don’t have to be in the military to do that. There’s lots of charities out there where you give back to your fellow citizens. Help your fellow citizens, and I think that will build a stronger nation.
Roberts: Thanks so much. I don’t think anyone on this show has ever said that better. Thanks, Jorge.
Hidalgo: You’re welcome.
Roberts: Well, my friends, I told you it would be a moving conversation, which it was. I think I can speak for Jorge in saying that, most of all, to honor Daren’s sacrifice, the sacrifice of so many other fellow Americans in uniform, the best thing we can do is to be hopeful about the American future. In spite of all of the challenges, all of the reasons that some folks in the media want to give us to despair is to keep our chins up, to serve, to think about others. That’s the American spirit, and that is why not only we do this show, but why we are really proud to have our new friend Jorge Hidalgo join me this week. In the meantime, take care. God bless you.
Hidalgo: Thank you very much, Dr. Roberts.
Roberts: You bet.
Hidalgo: Appreciate the opportunity.
Roberts: God bless you.