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Honoring those who fought and died in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn
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Army Spc. Wilfredo Perez Jr.

Died July 26, 2003 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom


24, Norwalk, Conn.; assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; killed July 26 as a result of a grenade being thrown from a window of an Iraqi civilian hospital he was helping guard in Baqubah, Iraq.

Family, friends remember slain soldier at memorial service

NORWALK, Conn. — Veterans and elected officials walked down the middle aisle of the church as people in the pews sang “America the Beautiful” in an Aug. 20 memorial service for Army Spc. Wilfredo Perez Jr.

Perez, 24, of Norwalk, and two other soldiers died July 26 during a grenade attack in Iraq as they were guarding a children’s hospital in Baqubah, Iraq. He was the third Connecticut serviceman to die in Iraq.

The procession inside the church included the American Legion Post 12, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 603 and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

An American flag and a wreath of red, white and blue flowers surrounded a picture of Perez at the front of the church.

The turnout of nearly 500 friends, neighbors and other loved ones touched Perez’s family.

“Within the community they have supported my brother so much,” said Perez’s sister, Wilma Wickliffe of Queens, N.Y. “It’s just unfortunate that you have to lose one to get this attention.”

Family members thanked Norwalk residents for their outpouring of love and support, The Advocate of Stamford and The Hour of Norwalk reported.

At the service at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Perez’s aunt, Senovia Ramirez, said she had searched for a way to express her gratitude to the city where Perez grew up.

Ramirez read a short poem, “something simple,” that she said “Junior” would have liked.

“My family and I will never forget ... the support and unity that Norwalk has shown in remembering Junior as one of our own,” she said.

The Rev. Richard D. Murphy, reading the homily, said Perez joins the great men and women who have given all and reminded listeners that the young soldier fell doing his duty and giving his best while defending children. Freedom is not free, Murphy said.

State Rep. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, related Perez’s last duty — guarding the children’s hospital — to the young soldier’s love for children.

State Sen. Robert Genuario, R-Norwalk, expressed the condolences of the entire General Assembly. Other speakers included state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and state Treasurer Denise L. Napier.

Perez was given full military funeral and buried near his mother’s home in Queens on Aug. 8.

Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp said the city would work to raise the funds to establish a memorial to Perez along the Norwalk River.

“I just want the family to know that all of Norwalk will treat this loss as our own loss,” Knopp said. “Junior’s courageous life and gallant death will never be forgotten in the city he called home.”

Rep. Christopher Shays commended Perez’s bravery in a letter to the family, which was read during the service.

“Wilfredo helped free a nation and he was working to help rebuild it,” Shays wrote. “As we remember Wilfredo tonight, we can take solace in the knowledge that his effort was exceptional.”

_ Associated Press


Local American Legion remembers Norwalk soldier

NORWALK, Conn. — Wilfredo Perez Jr., the 24-year-old Norwalk soldier killed in Iraq last week, has been honored by members of the local American Legion.

He was remembered Sunday during the post’s monthly ceremony for fallen soldiers. Perez and two other solidiers died July 26 during a grenade attack as they were guarding a children’s hospital just north of Baghdad. He was the third Connecticut serviceman to die in Iraq.

“He loved children,” said his stepgrandfather, Fred Roos, of Norwalk. “It’s so ironic he was killed guarding a children’s hospital.”

Leo Motyka, post commander, and state Rep. Robert Duff, D-Norwalk, praised Perez.

“It really hits home,” Motyka said.

Legion members observed a moment of silence at the beginning of teh ceremony in Perez’s honor. The ceremony also included a rifle salute and bugler playing “Taps.”

Perez is being buried in his native Queens, N.Y.

— Associated Press


Relatives of Norwalk, Conn., soldier gather in New York

NEW YORK — Relatives of Wilfredo Perez Jr. gathered near his mother’s house in Queens July 31 to mourn the soldier’s death in Iraq, while his adopted hometown in Connecticut honored his bravery and sacrifice.

The 24-year-old Army private first class and two other soldiers were killed July 26 in a grenade attack while he was guarding a children’s hospital 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, the military said. He was the third Connecticut serviceman to died in Iraq.

Perez’s family struggled to find meaning in his death as they planned his funeral, The Advocate of Stamford reported.

Relatives gathered in the Ridgewood section of Queens, where Perez spent his childhood before moving in with his father in Norwalk, Conn. Candles and a picture of Perez in fatigues adorned a blue altar set up near the row house of his mother, Ann Marie Perez.

“It was a dirty deal,” Perez’s grandmother, Theresa Wunsch, said. “They say it’s over, but that war is still going on. They are fooling a lot of people, but they are not fooling me.”

Wilfredo Perez Sr. of Norwalk said his son’s funeral may be held next week at a funeral chapel in the Middle Village section of Queens.

The soldier’s remains are ready to be transported from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to Queens, said Army Chief Warrant Officer William Iannone.

Iannone, the family’s casualty assistance officer, said a military escort and convoy could make the four-hour trip from Dover as early as tomorrow.

The family also is contemplating a memorial service in Norwalk.

“We haven’t finalized that yet, it’s still under discussion,” the elder Perez said.

“We are still in the grieving process,” he said, standing on the sidewalk outside his son’s mother’s home. “It’s just tough for us right now. This is the first tragic death in the family and we are trying to handle it the best we can.”

A few door stoops from the memorial, Wilfredo Perez Sr. described his views on Iraq.

“They have got to get those guys out of there. They are policing a country, it’s not a war. What is it all about, oil? Is it all about money?” he said, wiping tears from both eyes.

“It’s all about money. I brought him to Connecticut to give him guidance and I guided him in the wrong direction. He would have been better off here,” the elder Perez said.

In Norwalk, the Common Council unanimously passed a resolution honoring Perez.

“Pfc. Perez’s sacrifice should remind every citizen of the dedication and bravery of the American men and women in uniform, who are asked to pay the ultimate price in defense of freedom and human rights,” the resolution states.

— Associated Press


Norwalk soldier dies in Iraq

NORWALK, Conn. — A 24-year-old soldier from Norwalk serving in Iraq was killed in a grenade attack July 26 while he was guarding a children’s hospital, the U.S. military said.

Pfc. Wilfredo Perez Jr. and two other soldiers were killed in the attack, which happened at a hospital in Baquouba, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, the military said.

Perez was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, based in Fort Hood, Texas.

Witnesses told an Associated Press photographer that the soldiers were guarding the hospital because some of their wounded comrades were being treated there.

Family members gathered Monday at the East Norwalk home of Perez’s father and stepmother, who were notified of his death in a telephone call on the morning of July 27. Perez lived at the home before joining the Army.

“They’re destroyed at the moment,” said Tom Noonan, an uncle of Perez who lives in Stratford. “Their heads are filled with all types of questions.”

Outside the house, there was a large American flag and a red, white and blue wreath around a photograph of Perez.

Perez spent time with his mother and father last August after finishing his military training at Fort Benning, Ga.

Noonan said Perez worked as a remodeling contractor with his father before joining the Army about 18 months ago.

“I don’t think he had a career in mind,” Noonan said. “His dad said, ‘Here’s a job. If you live here, either you work or go to college.”’

About a year later, Perez said, “You know what, I’m going to get a life now,” Noonan said.

Perez, who was called “Junior” by his family, stayed in touch with his father by e-mail when he was serving in Iraq, and his father shared the news at family gatherings, Noonan said.

Wilfredo Perez Sr. told The Hour of Norwalk that he believed his son’s joining the Army was a good idea.

“I had so many plans for him,” the elder Perez said. “I wanted him to go to school and get out of New York City and the Connecticut area. I wanted him to take full advantage of the GI Bill and pursue a career, maybe in the military.”

Perez also told the newspaper that his son called him several times from Iraq.

“At first it was exciting for him, in the later phone calls he didn’t really like it, he wanted to come out,” he said.

The younger Perez was born in New York City and spent his early years in the Ridgewood section of Queens, where his mother lives, The Hour reported.

He moved to Connecticut in middle school to take advantage of the better school system in Connecticut, his father said. He did not graduate from Norwalk High School, but passed the GED exam, he said.

Gov. John G. Rowland said he will order Connecticut flags at state buildings to be flown at half-staff until sundown on the day of Perez’s internment.

“Tonight, the citizens of Connecticut sadly mourn the loss of a local hero,” the governor said on July 28. “Our hearts are saddened by this tragic loss. The bravery of Private First Class Perez and his comrades in the 4th Infantry Division will never be forgotten. The thoughts and prayers of Connecticut will remain with his family and fellow soldiers.”

State Rep. Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said he reads off the names of Norwalk residents serving in Iraq each Sunday at church so parishioners can pray for their safety.

He estimates there are about 25 to 30 names on the list.

“I remember hearing his name. I read it,” Cafero said. “I just pray for his family and pray for his soul. I just pray this whole stuff stops.”

Cafero said he hopes to contact the Perez family to pass along his condolences.

“We had false hope in May when they said the hostilities ended,” Cafero said. “Everyday you hear of another tragedy.”

— Associated Press


NORWALK, Conn. — Months before he was killed in Iraq, Pfc. Wilfredo Perez Jr. returned to Norwalk High School beaming with pride in his Army uniform.

Perez, who did not graduate from the school but passed a GED exam, spoke with students last school year about overcoming mistakes they make.

“He was looking very sharp and very proud, very pleased with himself,” said Robin Beavers, head of security at the school. “You could see it all over his face when he came here — the chest was sticking out, he’d look you straight in the eye when he was talking to you. He had that confidence.”

Perez, who was involved in the junior ROTC at school, spoke to English teacher Kurt Simonsen’s class.

“He just exuded a lot of pride in what he did,” said Simonsen said, adding that some students inquired about joining the military after Perez left.

Perez, 24, and two other soldiers were killed in a July 26 grenade attack while he was guarding a children’s hospital 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, the military said.

Perez was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, based in Fort Hood, Texas.

Witnesses told an Associated Press photographer that the soldiers were guarding the hospital because some of their wounded comrades were being treated there.

Perez’s remains were flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and positively identified, The Advocate of Stamford reported. Army spokeswoman Tesia Williams said Perez’s remains will be transported home with a military escort once arrangements have been made for his funeral.

Perez’s 25-year-old sister, Lisa Perez, said her brother went into the military seeking a positive direction in his life.

“He wanted to come home,” she said in a telephone interview from New York. “He said he missed everybody. It was crazy. People were just coming out of no where. You don’t know who’s trying to hurt you.”

The family was devastated when a military official came to their door Sunday morning, Perez said.

“My mother — she’s destroyed,” Perez said. “Me and my brother, we were like twins. We’re 11 months apart. We didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.”

Carmen Gil, who described herself as a family friend who helped raise Perez, said Perez described the heat, poor food and dead bodies in the last letter he wrote to her from Iraq.

“Every time I eat I think about your cooking and the food tastes better,” Perez wrote.

Perez helped raise his siblings, Gil said.

“I’m heartbroken,” Gil said. “I’m just hoping someone will come to me and say, ‘No, it was a mistake.”’

Outside the Perez house in East Norwalk on July 29, there was a large American flag and a red, white and blue wreath around a photograph of Perez. Neighbors placed flowers in front of the house and an Army veteran, Walter Arteaga, placed a ribbon from the 101st Airborne Division.

Martha Tsombidis, a neighbor whose grandson knew Perez, made the sign of the cross upon herself as she viewed the wreath and flowers. Another neighbor, Marianne Gjersuik, wept as she recalled Perez and his father, a remodeling contractor, working on her home.

“He’s the reason I could even stay here,” Gjersuik said, referring to Wilfredo Perez Sr. “It doesn’t seem right that happened to such nice people.”

In a neighborhood where Halloween is enthusiastically celebrated, the Perez family stood out for entertaining hundreds of children.

“They did an unbelievable haunted house at Halloween,” said Miles Spencer, who lives next door. “We’re thankful people like that care enough about their country and our community to defend our freedoms.”

Funeral plans were not set. A representative from the military was expected to meet with the family.

Wilfredo Perez Sr. told The Hour of Norwalk that he believed his son’s joining the Army was a good idea.

“I had so many plans for him,” the elder Perez said. “I wanted him to go to school and get out of New York City and the Connecticut area. I wanted him to take full advantage of the GI Bill and pursue a career, maybe in the military.”

Perez also told the newspaper that his son called him several times from Iraq.

“At first it was exciting for him, in the later phone calls he didn’t really like it, he wanted to come out,” he said.

Beavers, the school security official, recalled the firm handshake Perez gave him after talking with students.

“I said, ‘Take care of yourself and make us proud.’ And that’s what he did,” Beavers said. “There’s not much greater you can do than give your life for your country.”

— Associated Press

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