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It had been eight years since their daughter had made the ultimate sacrifice for her country.
It helps explain why David and Vicki Perez were so moved when they were contacted by Pastor Mike Dillman and found out a community clear across the country wanted to honor their daughter, Second Lieutenant Emily Jazmin Tatum Perez, who was killed while serving America in Iraq.
“We picked Perez originally as one of our original panels,” Dillman said of the initial Traveling Tribute the Not Forgotten effort organized by The Place of Refuge put together seven years ago. “She’s on panel five.”
The organizers had wanted her family to attend seven years ago but they could not track them down. They continued their efforts until earlier this year when they finally made contact with Perez’ parents that now reside in Virginia.
“They were deeply touched,” Dillman said.
Her parents will attend the dedication of the panel carrying their daughter’s West Point graduation portrait during this year’s Memorial Day Weekend Commemoration at Woodward Park on Sunday, May, 25, at 3 p.m.
Perez was the first female minority Cadet Command Sergeant Major in the history of the United States Military Academy at West Point.
She was born in Heidelberg, West Germany to military parents of African American and Hispanic descent. As a high school student, she worked with the Peace Baptist Church to help establish an HIV-AIDS ministry after family members contracted the virus. The 2001 graduate of Oxon Hill High in Maryland served as wing commander of her school’s JROTC.
Perez maintained a grade point average that allowed her to wear the academic Star and Gold wreath during her entire career at West Point. She graduated in May 2005 in the top 10 percent of her class. She was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army as a Medical Service Officer.
Perez was killed when a makeshift bomb exploded near her Humvee during combat operations with the 204th Support Battalion in Al Kifl on Sept. 12, 2006 at age 23. She was the first female graduate of West Point to die in Iraq, the first West Point graduate of the Class of 9/11 to die in combat and the first female African-American officer to die in combat