Harriman veterans welcome Emily Perez home

| 22 Feb 2012 | 05:27

Mulligan-Eden American Legion Post 1573 to honor slain West Point officer on May 1, By Claudia Wysocki Harriman - Emily Perez was the sort of person that any community would be proud to call a native daughter. After all, she became a Brigade Command Sergeant Major as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy in 2005, the highest rank ever achieved by a woman of black and Hispanic descent at the military academy. What’s more, she was the recipient of nine medals for her valor and bravery in the Iraq War during the short time she was granted to live on this good earth and serve her country. The 23-year old soldier was killed on Sept. 12, 2006, when an improvised bomb blew up near her Humvee in Al Kifl, Iraq. With that explosion, Perez became the first female West Point graduate to die in Iraq and the first female black/Hispanic officer ever to die in combat. After her death, she received the NCAA Award of Valor. What community wouldn’t want the honor of claiming Emily Perez as its own? She would be the pride of any town. And that’s exactly what Harriman is doing - laying claim to the late Second Lieutenant Emily J.T. Perez even though it is likely she never set foot in this town. Just how that came about is a story in itself. A hero without a home Emily J. T. Perez, the daughter of military parents, was born in Heidelberg, Germany. During her childhood years, she never lived in any one place for very long. Her father was stationed at various military bases around the country. A couple of years here, a couple of years there. The four years she spent as a cadet at West Point was the longest period of time that she lived in any one place. Her father, Daniel Perez, said his daughter considered West Point her home. After her death in Iraq, a group of West Point graduates wanted a way to honor their friend, platoon leader and spiritual advisor. They felt that naming a local veteran’s post after her would be a fitting honor. They got the word out to veteran organizations in Orange County. Would someone help carry out this plan? Would someone make it possible for them to honor their friend, the person they called “little superwoman” and a “star among stars?” Ask and you shall receive Two brothers, Jerry and Paul Oser, commander and vice-commander of Mulligan-Eden Post 1573 in Harriman, took up the challenge. First, they needed permission from the young woman’s parents. They traveled to the Perez home in Maryland where they were warmly received and graciously given permission. But the plan faltered before it even got off the ground. The Osers learned it would be too costly to add another name to an existing veteran’s post. They changed direction. Instead of re-naming a veteran’s post, they decided to find out if a local road could be named for her. An appeal went out for donations to cover the cost of a porcelain plaque to be erected in the park adjacent to the veteran’s post headquarters on River Road. The money came in and, with the approval of Harriman Village officials, the Oser brothers now have their plaque. It will be added to the traffic sign naming River Road. From now on, the road will also be known as: 2LT Emily J. T. Perez Memorial Way. The Oser brothers said it is a fitting tribute to a person who stood out from the crowd, someone who always gave to others - including once giving her bone marrow to a stranger in need. She loved this country so much, said the Osers. She cherished the freedom to be able to reach her goals in life. Emily Perez is also remembered half a world away. As a tribute to her passion for helping people, a small hospital and a road in Iraq have been named after her. If you go The dedication ceremony in Perez’s memory will be held Sunday, May 1, at 12:30 p.m. at the American Legion Post on River Road, Harriman. The public is invited to join the soldier’s family, West Point choir, veteran organizations from all of Orange County, politicians, and the Nam Knights and Rolling Thunder motorcycle clubs.

Who was Emily Perez?
It is impossible to sum up a whole person merely by looking at her achievements. But it is a good place to start.Emily Perez was the first black and Hispanic female to serve as Corps Commander Sergeant Major at West Point. She graduated in the top 10 percent of her class.She lettered in track for four years and led the 4x100-meter relay team to three outdoor Patriot League Championships. She sang in the West Point choir. After graduating, she was deployed to Iraq in November 2005 as an officer with the Medical Service Corps.
While stationed in Iraq, she started a choir for the troops, which she conducted.
She died at age 23 when an improvised bomb blew up near her Humvee in Iraq on Sept. 12, 2006, making her the first female graduate of West Point to die in the Iraq War, the first West Point graduate of the “Class of 9/11” to die in combat, and the first female black/Hispanic officer to die in combat.
Her decorations include the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, and the Combat Action Badge, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal. She received the NCAA Award of Valor posthumously in 2008. Emily Perez was the 64th female member of the U.S. military to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan and the 40th West Point graduate killed since the Sept.11, 2001, attacks.
She was buried at West Point, on a high bluff overlooking the Hudson River, alongside the bodies of two centuries’ worth of fallen graduates. Her father said the family decided to bury her at West Point because she was so happy living there and considered it her home.
She lies 13 miles from the memorial to be named in her honor in Harriman.