Saturday, March 24, 2007

Andrew Perkins laid to rest

With regal military rites mixed with the heart-wrenching sound of bagpipes in the background, New Mexico and the nation honored Army Sgt. Andrew Perkins’ memory and sacrifice Saturday, remembering how he lived and the heroic actions which led to his death while serving in Iraq.

On a sunny spring day with flowers just beginning to bloom on the trees near the church where his casket lay, Perkins was bid farewell in a ceremony the former Boy Scout could hardly have imagined while growing up in Texas. Perkins was honored as “a man trying to make a better way of life for innocent people,” as family members and fellow soldiers described him.

A horse-drawn carriage brought Perkins’ flag-draped casket to the grave site at South Park Cemetery after services at Calvary Baptist Church in Roswell, where hundreds of people came out to pay their respects to a man honored as a hero.

“I at least wanted you to know that he is a true American hero,” said a fellow paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne in a letter read at the ceremony by Perkins’ brother-in-law. The note, written to Perkins’ father, described the March 5 incident that ended in tragedy.

According to witnesses at the scene, Perkins was coming to the aid of his squad leader and friend when he was killed after a makeshift bomb exploded near his unit during combat operations in Samara.

While on patrol, the lead vehicle in Perkins’ unit hit an improvised explosive device and was completely destroyed, according to soldiers at the scene. Perkins, further back in another vehicle, got out and attempted to save his comrade who was injured and trapped inside the burning wreck. On his third attempt through the flames, Perkins died.

For his heroic actions, Perkins was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He also received an Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantry Badge.

Perkins, 27, a graduate of Amarillo High School in Texas, was a member of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. Perkins was born in Lubbock and had many New Mexico ties. He recently re-enlisted for a chance to serve at Fort Hood, Texas, and to be closer to his family.

His parents, Weldon and Elizabeth Perkins, and sister, Melissa Beaty, live in Belen. His grandparents, Billy and Ara Stephens, are from Roswell, and his brother, Alexander Perkins, lives in Albuquerque.

In poignant eulogies at the church service, the paratrooper was remembered by his family and friends as a “great guy” who was proud to serve his country.

“I’m so proud to stand in front of you today and say that Andrew was my hero. But before Andrew became a hero, he had to have a hero, and that was his daddy,” said an emotional Heather Grant, Perkins’ cousin, a sheriff’s department officer.

During the service, Weldon Perkins remained close to the casket of his fallen son, stoic, yet visibly moved by the events of the day.

In a statement read by Dr. Bruce Baker at the service, Perkins mother said, “I’m not for or against war, but on the day you died you helped us all to be free.”

Baker said Santa Fe was considered as a burial city for Perkins, but Roswell was chosen because of a family plot at South Park.

Military honors were provided by the Army’s 82nd Airborne.

From the Record

Related Link:
Andrew Perkins remembered

Related Link:
Andrew Perkins reported killed in Iraq