Friends, relatives honor East Chicago soldier
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent May 10, 2014 8:58PM
Attendees at the honoring of Spc. Sergio E. Perez release balloons in memory of Spc. Sergio E. PerezSpc. Sergio E. Perez who was killed while serving in Afghanistan is honored by the naming the corner of Columbus Drive and Butternut as Honorary Sergio E. Perez". Saturday, May 10th, 2014 in East Chicago. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 12, 2014 6:11AM
EAST CHICAGO — Veronica Orozco sat quietly, tears streaming down her face, as she let her white balloon soar into the wind Saturday morning.
Orozco’s son, Sergio Perez, was killed in combat in July 2012. He would have turned 23 Saturday. In a different world, he would likely be hanging out with his best cousin, Chris Orozco, and friends playing ball and being teased mercilessly because he didn’t understand American football.
Instead, his father, Sergio Perez, gathered with friends, family and neighbors gathered at the corner of Columbus Drive and Butternut Street to honor the National Guard private, for whom the street corner is named.
Perez would have been proud and honored by the privilege, since being a Marine was the young man’s biggest accomplishment, Orozco said.
No one knew that more than Spc. Jeremy Voorhees of LaPorte. Voorhees, who served with Perez in National Guard 713 Engineer Company for nine months, recalled his best friend as the person who always tried to make everyone laugh when they were feeling blue.
That January, the company was in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Voorhees was waiting to hear about the birth of his son, Kaiden. Perez made sure to check in with him every 10 minutes for hours, saying, “Is he here yet? Is he here yet?”
At 6 a.m. Central time, Voorhees got to share the good news.
“I think that was the only time that me and him ever shed a tear, but it wasn’t tears of sadness, it was tears of joy,” he said.
Voorhees didn’t want to leave the crowd with the horrible story of how Perez died, but he did make one thing abundantly clear. Perez fought to the end.
“He let me know that no matter what, I’d get home to my family,” he said, struggling to keep composed. “And I promised him the same thing, but on that July morning, I couldn’t. I tried everything.
“He was the best soldier I’d ever seen, and he didn’t go down without a fight.”
Perez’s cousins, Adriana and Alejandro Lopez, 10 and 12 respectively, remembered how their hero would come back to the old neighborhood on leave to visit their grandmother.
“He would bring light to our lives,” Adriana said.