The parents of Lance Cpl. Richard A. Perez Jr. were already receiving boxes of his personal belongings from Iraq when they got news of his death in a vehicle accident earlier this month.
The 19-year-old Marine Corps reservist, a Los Angeles native, was due to return to the family’s home in Las Vegas this Tuesday, said his father, Richard Perez Sr.
The younger Perez was killed Feb. 10 in Iraq’s Al Anbar province “as a result of [a] nonhostile vehicle incident,” which remains under investigation, according to the Department of Defense.
Known as “Rich” by his family, the reservist apparently was killed in an accident after his convoy’s late-night arrival at its new base, his father said. “He was pinned between two trucks” as a fellow Marine attempted to parallel park their convoy truck, the elder Perez said.
He voiced skepticism about the preliminary account of his son’s death and was awaiting an official report. “I was shocked” on learning of the circumstances, he said.. “I was disappointed with the way it happened.”
The young man’s mother, RoseMarie, had a similar reaction. “In a war situation, your worst thought of it is of a car bomb ... or [him] getting shot,” she said. “He was so close to coming home.”
The reservist was the couple’s oldest child and their only son. He was born in Los Angeles, but was uprooted as the family relocated because of his father’s sports broadcasting jobs. They moved to Las Vegas in 1989, but relocated to Rancho Cucamonga, Indiana and Denver before returning to Nevada in 2000.
Like his father, the son loved sports, particularly boxing and baseball. He had even taken a glove and ball to Iraq. He was looking forward to enrolling at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where his sister Richelle, 18, is a freshman, and where he hoped to play baseball.
The elder Perez said he last spoke to his son Super Bowl Sunday. He said his son told him not to worry, that he’d survived Fallouja and the Iraqi elections and that he’d soon be home .
“He told me, ‘My mission is complete. I’m just training the guys to take over here,’ ” his father said, adding that his son had participated in 64 convoys.
The younger Perez was assigned to the Marine Corps Reserve’s 6th Motor Transport Battalion, 4th Force Service Support Group in Las Vegas.
Before he left for Iraq in August, his father recalls him saying, “If I don’t come back, just remember to tell my family, my friends and everybody that I’m doing what I think I need to do.”
The reservist’s girlfriend, Aurora Sipin, 19, said his death was hard to accept. “I still feel like it’s a dream,” she said. “I wish I could wake up.”
In addition to his parents and Richelle, Perez is survived by two other sisters, Rheanne, 16, and Risa, 10.
He was buried Saturday at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. next Saturday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Henderson, N.V.