Trailblazer of the Day | Sunday, September 15, 2013
Manuel Perez, Jr.
First Illinois Latino Medal of Honor Awardee
Manuel Perez, Jr., was the first Illinois Latino to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military decoration. In honor of El Grito – which represents valor and sacrifice – we salute Manuel Perez, Jr., today.
Born of Mexican-American parents in Oklahoma, Perez moved to Chicago as a boy and graduated in 1941 from Crane Tech High School. He volunteered for the U.S. Army and was assigned to paratrooper school. In 1945, he was sent to the Philippines.
On February 13, 1945, Pfc. Perez’s platoon was making its way through the jungles on Luzon. The mission was to retake a U.S. fort that was occupied by the Japanese. Fighting broke out as Perez’s unit approached. Using a machinegun, grenades and a rifle he seized from an enemy soldier, Perez single-handedly killed 18 enemy troops before being wounded himself. He died a week later.
A plaza in Chicago’s Little Village is named for Pfc. Manuel Perez, Jr., as is Perez Elementary School on Chicago’s 19th Street.