In Memory of
Spc. Jose "Amancio" Perez III
July 17, 1981 to May 28, 2003
6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment
Corpus Christie Caller-Times)
By Quincy C. Collins
SAN DIEGO - American flags set in a
V-formation waved outside the front doors of St. Francis de Paula
Catholic Church Friday. Church bells sounded the arrival of a casket
carrying Spc. Jose "Amancio" Perez III, a casualty of the Iraqi
Contact Quincy C. Collins at 886-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|(Reprinted courtesy of the South Texas Catholic Newspaper)|
Close-knit community bids farewell to beloved San Diego soldier
By Georgina Stark
The small South Texas community of San Diego said goodbye to their soldier, son, brother and friend, Army Spc. Jose Amancio Perez III at his funeral, held at St. Francis de Paula Church in San Diego on June 6.
Amancio, as his friends and family knew him, a 22 year old Army medic assigned to the 6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, was killed when his convoy was ambushed on a supply route and he was shot in the chest in Taji, Iraq on May 28. He deployed to Iraq on April 5.
Several days after the funeral, the family learned that Perez had been the driver of the humvee, and was carrying three passengers, one a 1st Sgt. and the second in command of his unit. They learned that after Perez had been shot, he drove the others to safety. They tried to render aid to him, but it was too late, said his aunt, Lala Gonzalez.
Friends and family were stunned to learn of his death, especially after they had started to relax once President Bush announced on May 1, that the major combat phase of the war was over. Perez's cousin, Melissa Barrientes was shocked by the news that he had been killed. I didn't believe it. I thought our kids would play together and we would meet at graduations. I thought the war was over, she said, still shocked by the news.
A 1998 graduate of San Diego High School, Perez is one of 50 soldiers who have been killed since Bush's announcement, and one of 26 military personnel who have been deployed to the Iraqi conflict from San Diego, according to Vivian Saenz Ramirez, spokesperson for the San Diego Family Support Group.
The group has been holding weekly vigils in the park across from St. Frances de Paula Church to support the families with loved ones who are deployed. Perez is the second soldier from the diocese that has been killed in the war in Iraq. The other, 1st Sgt. Joe Garza from Robstown was killed in Iraq on April 28, when he was thrown from a vehicle in Baghdad.
Perez's body was flown into McAllen and arrived at his hometown on the night of June 4, welcomed by the community, who lined Highway 44 waving American flags and candles, to honor the fallen soldier.
At the funeral, 20 friends and members of the San Diego Family Support Group, all bearing the U.S flag, lined the steps of St. Francis de Paula Church in a V-formation to welcome the grieving family, friends, fellow soldiers, community and finally the body of Spc. Perez, to say a final goodbye to this well-loved and dedicated soldier.
One of the flag bearers, Amancio's high school friend, Noel Ibarra, who is in the U.S Air Force smiled when remembering his fallen friend, He was a real small guy, but he had the biggest heart, he said.
Spc. Alvie Jones, who served with Perez for two years at Fort Sill, travelled from Oklahoma to say farewell to his Army buddy, who he was with the night before he left for Iraq. He was one of the best...He always put others before himself. He took care of everyone, broke, sick or hurt....and paid the ultimate sacrifice, he said.
Mourners crammed into the small church, standing in the aisles and at the back, the pew ends decorated with red, white and blue ribbons and flowers, as seven soldiers carried in his casket.
In his homily, celebrant Bishop Edmond Carmody said, This great turnout is an indication of the love and appreciation for you, Jose Amancio.
Bishop Carmody thanked Perez's parents, Elsa and Jose Amancio Perez Jr. for providing such a great son and reminded all gathered to appreciate the hours of training, jogging with heavy boots, nights of moving and travel...to serve his country.
The bishop consoled friends and family, telling them Perez lived his baptismal promise all his life.....and he is going to the Christ he spoke to everyday. He carried the medal of the Holy Spirit up until death....your son is with the Lord God..one day he'll meet you again.
Rene Salaiz, Perez's best friend since Kindergarten, recalled his kind spirit at the funeral service. My friend was a great person, someone to call when you were in trouble. He loved his grandma's cooking....he loved all his family deeply. He loved the Army. He would show his dog tags to everyone. In the Army he was an inspriration to many and now he is a hero, he said. If you can hear me, I love you. I'll never forget you, Salaiz cried to his fallen friend.
Belinda Dominguez and Debbie Zuniga of The Coastal Bend Chapter of the Blue Star Mothers presented the gold star flag to Perez's mother, Elsa Perez. May he be a reminder of how precious our freedom is. From one gold star mother to another, said Zuniga as she presented the small flag to Elsa Perez, which Perez's brother, Joshua Perez, 9, held on to for the rest of the funeral.
Spc. Perez also received both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals, which were presented to his parents. The Purple Heart is awarded for being wounded in action by the enemy, (which led to Perez's death), and the Bronze Star is awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement in combat.
At the San Diego City Cemetery, the American flag flew at half-mast over the grave site of Perez. Seven soldiers honored Perez by firing the 21 gun salute over the casket, as family and friends looked on with sadness, while other fellow soldiers folded the flag that covered his coffin, into a triangle, and presented it to Perez's mother, Elsa Perez.
Deacon Celestino Perez, from the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, a Marine Vietnam war era veteran and Elsa Perez's cousin, was among the clergy at the funeral Mass and many family members who were born and raised in San Diego.
He said the support of the parish community was helpful to the family and the cornerstone for their faith. Just like Amancio, our family's foundation was laid at St. Francis de Paula. The church is small but their faith is strong.
Perez's long-time girlfriend, Amanda Casas, 20, said the two had been dating for seven years and last saw Perez in February before he left for Iraq. He was strong, smart and loving. He never gave up on anything, she said through tears of grief.
He kept saying 'Just one more kiss' before he left. We must have given each other 30 pop-kisses before he left. I told him 'It's not like I'm never going to see you again', she said.
Mourners said their final goodbyes to their young, beloved hero, who will long be remembered by this close-knit community of 5,000.
He was buried in San Diego City Cemetery next to his uncle, Baldemar Billy Benavides, an Army private first class who fought in the first Gulf War and died from the after effects of the war in 1992, soon after returning home, at age 25.
Perez's grandfather, Jose A. Perez, was a Navy veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor.
Another of Perez's cousins, Jesus J. Perez, from Freer, recently graduated from high school and finished basic Army training at Fort Sill and will be stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.Jose Amancio Perez III had been enlisted in the Army for almost three years. He would have been 23 on July 17.
(Reprinted courtesy of the South Texas Catholic Newspaper)