CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas
- When Staff Sgt. Hector Perez was sent to Iraq in March at the start of the war, his family would anxiously gather
around the television hoping to catch a glimpse of him on the news.
As the months went on and the news became more grim, the only person still
watching was Perez's father. Esequial Perez, a World War II veteran, would sit quietly in his wheelchair and hold out hope
that his son would return home.
The family's hopes of a safe return were crushed Thursday when they learned
Hector Perez, 40, of Corpus Christi, Texas, was one of three soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division who were killed in
Iraq after their convoy was ambushed.
"My dad will miss him the most of us," Perez's sister, Sandra Perez-Vasquez,
said in a story in Saturday's Corpus Christi Caller-Times.
The soldiers killed were Perez; Cpl. Evan Asa Ashcraft, 24, West Hills, Calif.;
and Pfc. Raheen Tyson Heighter, 22, Bay Shore, N.Y., according to a statement from the Defense Department.
Perez and Ashcraft were assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry,
while Heighter was assigned to the 2/320th Field Artillery.
All the men were based at Fort Campbell, Ky.
V Corps spokeswoman Spc. Nicole Thompson said the soldiers were traveling
in a convoy toward Qayyarah, 185 miles north of Baghdad, when they were attacked about 2:30 a.m.
The 101st is a rapid-deployment air assault division trained to go anywhere
in the world in 36 hours. Its 20,000-plus soldiers based at Fort Campbell deployed in February.
On Thursday, Hector's wife, Elisa Perez, called from Fort Campbell to share
the bad news and to warn the family to prepare Esequial Perez for the worst. Military officials were coming to tell him that
his son was dead.
"We will be very empty without him, but we are very proud of him," Perez's
sister, Rosa Anna Garza, told the newspaper. "I do not think he would have had it any other way. Men like him, men like my
dad, are the reason for the freedoms that we all share. Remember that he was a hero."
Esequial Perez, who turned 77 on Wednesday, cried softly Friday as he reminisced
about his son.
"I was always proud, ever since he was a little boy," he said. "He was always
a good boy, always joking and playing around."
Hector Perez, who had been married to Elisa Perez for nearly 17 years, is
survived by daughters Marla, 14, Elisa, 13, and Lily, 4.