Joseph Fernandez – Colonel, United States Air Force

‘The Colonel' Spiced Up Life With Art, Dancing, Poetry

December 25, 2003

TAMPA, FLORIDA – Colonel Joseph Fernandez stormed the beaches in Normandy, France, fought in Korea and Vietnam, and was awarded a Purple Heart and the Legion of Merit. But there was a softer side to this fierce and decorated soldier.

He was an artist who loved re-creating Picasso works and painting cowboy and American Indian scenes.

He wrote poems, told colorful stories about war and the people he grew up with, was a great dancer and swimmer, and had a dry wit.

His daughter, Maria Fernandez-Gold of Chevy Chase, Maryland, said that when the phone rang, her father would quip: “Tell the president I'm busy.”

But if the president had called, it wouldn't have been beyond fathom.

Fernandez graduated from Hillsborough High School in 1943. He then joined the 29th Infantry Division as a rifleman, participating in the D-Day landings at Omaha Beach.

He received the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in that campaign and then returned to the University of Florida for a bachelor's degree, which he earned in 1948.

In 1950, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force. The highlight of his career was briefing Defense Secretary Robert McNamara during the Cuban Missile Crisis and serving as director of intelligence for the U.S. Southern Command during the period when the Carter administration was negotiating the treaty that turned the Panama Canal Zone over to Panama.

He retired as a full Colonel in 1976. From 1976 to 1979, he was director of internal security for the Panama Canal Co.

Even in the nursing home, where the 78-year-old lived before he died December 22, 2003, in Houston, everyone called him “The Colonel.”

Fernandez was born in Tampa to Spanish immigrant parents who moved from Spain to Havana before settling in Tampa.

He didn't speak English until he was 8 and remained bilingual throughout his life, said his son, Kurt Fernandez, 53, of Austin, Texas.

In addition to a Purple Heart, Fernandez earned a Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster, the Meritorious Service medal, the Joint Service Commendation medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Combat Infantryman's badge and the Legion of Merit, his son said.


BORN: Feb. 20, 1925, in Tampa, FLorida
DIED: Dec. 22, 2003, in Houston, Texas

SURVIVORS: His children, Kurt Fernandez of Austin, Texas; Susan Fernandez of Baltimore; Keith Fernandez of Houston; and Maria Fernandez-Gold of Chevy Chase, Md.; and several grandchildren Erika Fernandez, Belen Fernandez, Joey Fernandez, Jacob Balter, Chelsea Gold, Michael Fernandez, and Sofia Gold. Jeanette Fernandez, his wife and companion of 50 yearsdied in 2001.

SERVICES: Will be held at 9 a.m. January 23, 2004, at Arlington National Cemetery.

MEMORIAL GIFTS: Memorial donations may be made to the National World War II Memorial. Send checks to ABMC/National World War II Memorial, 2300 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 501, Arlington, Virginia 22201, or call 1-800-639-4992 or visit

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