Sgt. Joel Perez
Birth: Apr. 22, 1978, Puerto Rico
Death: Nov. 2, 2003, Iraq
Army Sgt. Perez, assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, was on board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter that went down in Al Fallujah, Iraq, after being struck by a ground-to-air missile fired by insurgents. He had been on his way home to celebrate his third wedding anniversary. The son of Edwin and Luisa Mangual Perez, Joel grew up in Newark, New Jersey, where he attended Barringer High School before returning to Puerto Rico and graduating from high school there. He subsequently returned to New Jersey, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1998, and was stationed at Fort Sill. He was deployed to Iraq in May. Joel was known to be a kind, thoughtful and courageous man who loved his family, the Army, and being a soldier. He was survived by his wife Milagros (nee Simmons), his 18-month-old daughter Jaileen, his parents, and brothers Elvin, Michael and Leo. Sgt. Perez was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and was interred here with military honors following a funeral Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark. (bio by: Nikita Barlow)
Arlington Memorial Park
New Jersey, USA
Plot: Soldiers Circle
After nearly six months in Iraq, Sgt. Joel Perez was looking forward to returning home to visit his father in Puerto Rico and his wife and infant daughter in Newark.
But Perez's journey was cut short Sunday when the CH-47 Chinook helicopter he and dozens of other soldiers were on was shot down by a surface-to-air missile near Fallujah, Iraq, killing 15 soldiers.
"He was go- ing to come over here and surprise my sister. That's when it happened," Perez's brother- in-law, Rolando Simmons of Newark, said last night. "I'm crying inside."
A highly decorated soldier, Perez, 25, leaves behind a wife, Milagros Perez, and an 18-month-old daughter, Jaileen, said Henry Kearney, an Army spokesman at Fort Monmouth.
Perez also is survived by his mother, Luisa M. Mangual, also of Newark, his father, Edwin Perez, who resides in Puerto Rico, and three brothers, Elvin, Michael and Leo, the spokesman said.
Born in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Perez later moved to Newark, where he attended Barringer High School. He returned to Puerto Rico and graduated from high school there, but later came back to New Jersey.
Perez enlisted in the Army in 1998. He was assigned to the Army's 2nd Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, out of Fort Sill, Okla., and was shipped to Iraq in May, the spokesman added.
During the Christmas season last year, Perez attended a family gathering at Simmons' house, a party that created memories now turned bittersweet.
"We were drinking champagne, going over good stuff, old times, and what we did," Simmons said.
Perez's wife and mother were not available for comment. They issued a statement through the Army expressing Perez's love for his country and the Army, and his appreciation at serving his country.
"Our family is deeply saddened and our hearts are heavy with grief," the statement read. "Joel was a very kind, thoughtful and courageous man who loved his family, loved the Army, and loved being a soldier. We are extremely proud of his bravery and his service to his country. He was a hero. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the other soldiers who were killed and their families."
Perez has been awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart posthumously. He had received the Army Achievement Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, and Basic Marksman Qualification Badge.