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Battalion pauses to honor fallen Marine

24 Mar 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

Lance Cpl. Angel M. Samano said his friend Lance Cpl. Stephen J. Perez was a huge source of encouragement and the type of Marine you would want as a friend.

“When he wasn’t making me laugh, he was usually sitting there listening to the problems I had at home or at work,” said Samano, a 21-year-old machine gunner from Los Angeles.

Samano was among more than 100 Marines who attended a memorial service April 28 to honor Perez, who was killed in action April 13.  Perez was 23-years-old and from San Antonio.  He was assigned to 3rd Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

The battalion is currently operating in Gharmah, Iraq – north of Fallujah – in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“From the first time I met him, he was always trying to make someone laugh,” Samano recalled.

The Marines from B Company all came to the ceremony to pay homage to one of their fallen brothers.  Samano and others remembered Perez for the Marine and jokester that he was. Samano spoke of his fondest memory of Perez, during a training exercise.

“It was after post deployment leave last year,” Samano said. “While we were the aggressors, he started yelling out what little Arabic we knew mixed with gibberish to make a pretty convincing Muslim prayer.”

Samano smiled as he recalled not being able to stop laughing the entire time Perez put on his show.

“He was a leader,” said Lt. Col. David J. Furness, the 43-year-old battalion commander from Oceanside, Calif. “First of a machine gun team in Weapons Platoon then of a fire team in 3rd Platoon.”

Perez was a leader who cared deeply about the young Marines entrusted to his care, Furness said.  He trained them hard and looked out for their welfare.

A recent photo of Perez rested on a table beside a memorial comprised of a helmet resting on a rifle with a set of identification tags and a pair of combat boots.  A Marine played “Taps” at the close of the service while all stood at attention.  Perez’s platoon then came forward individually to pay their last respects.

“I knew him as a good kid who played sports,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Castillo, a 29-year-old platoon sergeant from San Antonio. “He played football with my younger brother.”

Castillo described many talks with Perez back at Camp Pendleton.

“He and I would sit and talk about home and how much he loved the festival and about how much he loved the rodeo,” Castillo said. “Most of all he missed eating his mom’s tacos.”

Castillo said being with his family was one of the most important values in life for Perez.

“If he could sit with you he would make you laugh, but most of all when you sat with him, you knew you had a friend,” Castillo said.

Perez graduated from St. Anthony Catholic High School in San Antonio. He reported to recruit training in November 2003. He completed the School of Infantry in 2004 and obtained his military occupational specialty of 0331 – machine gunner. His awards include the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War of Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

He is survived by his mother, Diana M. Perez, and father, Conrado Perez Jr.

“I will never forget his sacrifice,” Samano said. “He was a Marine, a fellow machine gunner and most of all his was my friend.  I will miss you Stephen and I look forward to seeing you in heaven some day.”