Perez was drafted into the war and spent a year in Vietnam as a security guard for a PX store. He also worked on unloading supplies from ships, which is when he was exposed to Agent Orange, he says.
“We don’t have no proof, but I think we were unloading Agent Orange,” Perez said.
Perez faced decades of health issues following the war. Although a year of active duty and four years of standby took up almost six years of his life, his attitude is positive.
“I’m glad I served; if they called again, I would go again,” Perez said.
Perez left for Vietnam in 1966 on a 30-day ship ride from Virginia, through the Panama Canal and up to California. He said several soldiers went AWOL while docked in California, but he decided not to go along with them.
He didn’t witness any deaths, but two soldiers were killed nearby while doing the same job Perez had, unloading bombs to a small boat.
“It wasn’t very good, but I didn’t have a choice,” Perez said. “I had to stay there.”
Perez took two weeks off from guard duty to patrol the nearby mountainside in Vietnam. He said he didn’t see any combat while in the mountains, but he ran into some Vietnamese snakes and monkeys.
“You’ve got to keep your eyes open; you never know what could happen, but I was lucky nothing happened,” Perez said. “I didn’t like it at all, but I didn’t have any choice. It was scary, man. I was glad to get out of there.”
Perez returned to the United States on April 2, 1968, and worked on the base in Corpus Christi for about a year-and-a-half until his health issues prevented him from working.
Perez returned to Three Rivers shortly after, and has since worked odd jobs in the area when his health permitted it, including farm work, construction, pipelines and landscaping.
“I am happy I came back safe,” Perez said.