We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France

Pacific Airborne Medal of Honor
27 February 2011, 16:33
Filed under: 511th, Medal of Honor, Paratroopers | Tags: ,

I knew that some airborne units had shipped out to the Pacific and that they’d seen some intense fighting, especially in the Philippines, but I hadn’t realized that they’d made combat jumps. As I was reading about the liberation of Manila, I came across an account of PFC Manuel Perez, Jr’s Medal of Honor in Gerry Devlin’s Paratrooper. PFC Perez was serving as lead scout for A/1/511 during the advance on Fort McKinley on 13 February 1945.

While marching toward the inner ring of the fort’s defensive wall, Perez’s company had managed to knock out eleven of the twelve large bunkers. Perez had shot and killed five enemy soldiers during the preliminary skirmishes.

Now that the smaller bunkers were out of the way, Company A was facing the final and largest bunker blocking the approach to the fort. Inside were two twin-mount .50 caliber machine guns. Paratroopers nearing the big bunker were immediately cut to ribbons by the twin .50s.

In an attempt to take the bunker, Perez ran wide around its flank, killing four more enemy defenders along the way. From his new position, Perez threw a grenade into the bunker. When four Japanese ran out to escape the grenade blasts, he killed them.

Just then, Perez discovered that he had expended his rounds. While reloading, an escaping enemy soldier tried to kill him by <i>throwing a rifle with a fixed bayonet</i>, like javelin. As he tried to parry this thrust, Perez’s rifle was knocked from his hands, causing him to drop his bullets. Reaching down, he snatched the ememy rifle and killed his assailant and another Japanese soldier. Taking advantage of the confused situation, Perez ran toward his objective. On the way he bashed in the skulls of three Japanese who tried to stop him. He then ran inside the bunker and bayoneted the lone survivor of the grenade blasts.

While Perez survived that encounter, he would not survive to be awarded his medal, as was true of many such heroes. He was killed less than a week later, while charging a pillbox alone.

Perez is buried in Fairlawn Cemetery in his hometown of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Perez enlisted in Chicago and there is a plaza named after him in Chicago’s Little Village Square as well as an elementary school.

It’s very easy for the general public when thinking about paratroopers to forget about anyone who wasn’t in Easy Company. Mike Ranney had let Dick Winters know that his grandson had asked if he had been a hero during the war, to which Ranney responded that he wasn’t a hero, but he had served in a company of heroes. With men like Manuel Perez, Jr. in the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment on the other side of the globe, we were blessed with many companies of heroes.

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