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Honoring the ultimate sacrifice

Thousands pay tribute to the fallen

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Honoring the ultimate sacrifice

Retired Army Sgt. Karl Knutsen, right, welcomes Vicki and David Perez, parents of fallen Lieutenant Emily Jazmin Tatum Perez. Seated with them are Supervisor Larry Elliott and his wife Debbie.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED May 26, 2014 1:03 a.m.

The pastor. The retired steel worker. The congressman.

They know all too well the price of freedom.

All three went to war.

The pastor to Vietnam. The retired steel worker to Korea. The congressman to Iraq during the Gulf War.

The three men returned home.

Emily Jazmin Tatum Perez did not.

The West Point grad and Army lieutenant made the ultimate sacrifice during the Global War on Terror.

Mike Dillman, Les Thomas, and Jeff Denham were at Woodward Park on Sunday to make sure that Perez’ sacrifice isn’t forgotten or that of the 7,000 other men and women who have died serving America since the terrorist attacks on Sept., 11, 2001.

Dillman, the pastor of The Place of Refuge, organized the Not Forgotten Memorial Weekend Commemoration that he started 11 years ago.

Thomas, who helped build massive dams as well as skyscrapers in San Francisco, has faithfully since the first anniversary of 9-11 coordinated the placement of 2,400 flags along Manteca streets to mark days such as today. He was there Sunday to distribute the flags that lined the park.

Denham, a Turlock almond farmer, is now in Congress serving on the veterans committee to making sure America honors its commitment to those who have served.

The three were in good company. Thousands of fellow veterans form throughout Northern California made their way to Woodward Park at various times on Sunday. But perhaps more importantly so did thousands who never served.

As Brigadier General Jack Hagan eloquently noted, you don’t have to tell a soldier who has gone to war how sweet freedom tastes nor the staggering cost it takes to obtain and secure it.

Even so, those now serving and who have worn the uniform of their country can take solace in knowing that others appreciate the sacrifices they have made.

Marine Corporal Brock Elliott did not die in vain in the jungle of Vietnam. Nor did Marine Corporal Charkas O. Palmer II die in vain in the desert of Iraq.

And neither did Lieutenant Perez lose her life in vain.

Brigadier General Hagan called Perez a warrior, first and foremost. A warrior leading other warriors in service of their country.

Her mother Vicki Perez also called Jazmin a warrior, first and foremost. A warrior for her faith on God.

The assertions seem to conflict, but they don’t.

For both tell us a lot about Lieutenant Perez and what she and 7,000 others have done on our behalf — strangers that she had never met.

She went to war with guns to protect our freedoms and to keep us free.

She also was a Christian soldier who used the words and power of faith to set people free.

“The most difficult path is the path of a warrior,” Hagan told the gathering. “It requires courage. commitment and resilience.”

A true warrior, as the general noted, loves peace.

“No one abhors war more than a soldier,” Hagan said. “They know the steep price.”

Vicki Perez also shared how her daughter was a warrior.

“My Emily would want people here today to know what God has done for them and what He will do for anyone. God loves you. God saves you. God heals you. Trust and belief and he will see you through.”

The image of Lieutenant Perez in her West Point finest graces the fourth panel of the Traveling Tribute. It will stay in place until 4 p.m. today on a field where children bask in freedom throughout the year playing soccer.

The names of each of the fallen in the Global War on Terror are on the panels. The great sacrifice is also marked by 7,000 white crosses.

If freedom is too abstract of a concept for you to grasp, head out to Woodard Park today where the 7,000 crosses stand without benefit of pageantry or festivities.

Glance at them. Think about the men and women they represent. The lives lost. The families left behind.

Ponder what their blood secured.

And when you leave vow you will cherish, defend, and use the gifts those 7,000 fallen Americans have given you.

It’s the best way you possible to thank Lieutenant Perez and her fallen comrades.

They wer all true warriors.

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