NORWALK, Conn. (AP) -Some local veterans are criticizing upcoming honors for an Army private killed in Iraq, saying other Norwalk residents received less attention for giving their lives for their country in previous wars.
The city will mark the fourth anniversary of the death of Army Pfc. Wilfredo Perez Jr. by unveiling a small memorial and a path at Oyster Shell Park in his name later this month.
State lawmakers have also approved renaming an Interstate 95 bridge in Norwalk after Perez, who was killed on July 26, 2003, by a grenade while he was guarding a children’s hospital in Baqouba. He was 24.
Korean War veteran Terry Rooney, who has been organizing parades and other events to honor Norwalk’s fallen soldiers for years, has reservations about the bridge renaming.
“We think they’re paying too much attention to one particular person,” he said. “There’s other guys that gave their lives to their country and didn’t get zilch. We’ve done more for him, the way we look at it, than any other.”
The highway bridge legislation was requested by state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk. Also in the bill was more than 30 other renamings of highway sections and bridges. Duff said he saw no reason to deny the wish by Perez’s family to rename the bridge.
“Why should I?” Duff said. “Wilfredo Perez and the family have paid the ultimate sacrifice. And what the city has done is done by the city. This is an honor bestowed by the state, which is very consistent with what the state does for soldiers and other fallen heroes.”
Perez was first honored by the city when it added his name to Calf Pasture Beach’s Shea-McGrath Memorial, which features the names of hundreds of soldiers who were killed in action.
Daniel John Shea, who died in the Vietnam War, and John McGrath, killed in World War II, both received the Medal of Honor.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Cole, who used to lead the Norwalk Veterans Memorial Committee, said Shea and McGrath should be the only two soldiers honored more than the 200 other city soldiers killed in action.
“The amount of honor (for Perez) is disproportionate to the amount of service,” Cole said. “It’s a tragedy he got killed, but this ain’t Danny Shea and John McGrath.”
Perez grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., before moving to Norwalk with his father when he was about 10. He graduated from Norwalk High School. He is buried in Brooklyn at Cypress Hills Cemetery.
Wilfredo Perez Sr., who has organized an annual golf tournament and high school scholarships in his son’s memory, said he requested the bridge renaming because of the previous uncertainty surrounding the memorial at Oyster Shell Park. He also said all soldiers killed in action should be remembered for their service.
“The city originally didn’t want to do anything for my son, because the vets opposed it. So we went that route, and the city turned around and honored our request anyway,” Perez said. “My son was killed. One of our goals is to make sure he’s not forgotten. These are the ways we’re accomplishing these goals. I owe it to him.”
Jerry Newberry, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars national headquarters, said he has not heard of other cases where older veterans have opposed tributes to military members killed in Iraq.
“It’s just the opposite,” he said. “Quite frankly the complaints I’ve received have been trying to get municipalities to move to honor someone.”
Information from: The Advocate, http://www.stamfordadvocate.com