I am a warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.”
The flag draped over every soldier’s coffin is a symbol of the Army creed, “a code we live by until we die,” said Sgt. Rolando Perez, at a Memorial Day service in Mission on Monday.
Perez, along with members of the city council and State Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr., addressed the crowd at Leo Peña Placita Park. Families of fallen soldiers, veterans, police officers and Cub Scouts made up the bulk of those in attendance.
“As we recognize the men and women that have served so valiantly with honor and professionalism, we also want to take this time to recognize their families. As a community, as a state and even as a country, we can always do more to honor these men and women and keep them in our hearts, keep them in our prayers as well as their families.”
Rosie Peña Guerra, mother of Pfc. Diego Montoya, a soldier from Mission who died in Afghanistan in 2010, read a poem she wrote titled, “The Valley 47,” honoring each of the soldiers killed in battle from the Rio Grande Valley.
“I think about those 300 young ladies that were taken from an elementary, from a school, (in Nigeria) and think that happened because there was nobody there to defend them or to stand up for them,” Peña Guerra said. “It is something that we wouldn’t see happen in our country and we need to be aware of all the things that we do have and the price that it has cost for the way that we live here in these United States.”
Perez said his own war started Sept. 11, 2001, when he saw two planes hit two towers in New York City. The first, he attributed to pilot error, but as Perez watched the second plane strike, he realized the tragedy was an act of terrorism.
He asked to be assigned to a transportation unit and was sent to Iraq. He first was wounded July 21, 2003, while leading a convoy into central Baghdad. Perez said he had a bad feeling that day. That’s when he was wounded by a rocket propelled grenade and an improvised explosive device.
It took three days to extract Perez from Baghdad and get him to Germany, where he could be cleaned up.
Still, Perez wasn’t ready to go home. A month later, he was back in Baghdad.
His return was a sign of things to come: Flying into the Baghdad International Airport, he saw the C130 throwing out flares, a decoy to enemy fire. But Perez continued to serve and performed operations with Army ranger teams until he was wounded Oct. 10, 2003. This time his injuries were more severe.
When he left, a sergeant told Perez, “Don’t come back. You’ve done your time. You leave here with honor.”
“That’s all I had to hear,” Perez said Monday, describing getting in the Blackhawk to leave Iraq.
With blood in his eyes, he couldn’t see very well, but he knew they were receiving mortar fire.
“And as the mortar rounds were landing, the bodies of the soldiers covered me,” Perez said. “I’ll never forget that. I thank them to this day.”
Perez was awarded a Combat Action badge for courageous acts and operations within the Iraq war and a Purple Heart.
Some call him a hero, but Perez said the real heroes are the ones that have laid down their lives for their country.
“This remembrance is not how they died, but rather how they lived with honor,” Perez said. “Their names are etched on the gravestones from the slopes at Arlington Cemetery to our own Rio Grande Valley Veterans Cemetery here in Mission.
“Nobody will ever forget them.”