AUSTIN, Texas - Each time Briana Perez places a flag in front of her brother's grave, the memories of their time growing up together in Austin come flooding back.
“He was the little brother that I literally had to take everywhere with me,” said Briana.
Marine Lance Corporal Nicholas Perez finally made his lifelong dream a reality in 2003. “One of the things Nick always talked about was being in the Marine Corps,” Briana said.
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This time it was Briana who chose to go with him. “When Nick signed, I was like he’s gonna leave me. He’s going to go travel, see everything, and I’m gonna be stuck here. I was like, ‘No, I want to go to,’” said Briana.
Briana enlisted two weeks after Nick, but, because he still had to finish his senior year of high school, she was the first to enter boot camp.
“I was super protective and I actually went into the air wing because I was like, ‘Well, I’ll at least be able to help take care of him because he’ll be on the ground doing what he wants to do and my contribution will be fixing the aircraft or doing something for the aircraft to provide support for them,’” Briana said.
The siblings, then Marines, met in San Diego in February 2004, just weeks before Nicholas deployed to Iraq to work as a machine gunner in a combat zone. That September, Briana got the call she had been dreading.
“Where they ended up parking their Humvee, an IED was close by. It went off and it killed my brother and the three other men with him,” said Briana.
Each year, on Memorial Day, people across the U.S. pay tribute to the brave men and women, like Nicholas, who sacrificed their lives for their country, but that’s something Gold Star families, like the Perez’s, are reminded of every single day.
“I’m super proud to say he’s my brother. I’m incredibly glad that I had him for my 19 years, incredibly sad that he’s not here anymore, but I know he died doing what he wanted to do and not many people can say that,” Briana said.
She always carries those childhood memories of Nick with her. She even gave her son his name. Now each Memorial Day, as the flag stands in front of Nicholas’ grave, she hopes even those who never knew him consider how much he and his family sacrificed for their fellow Americans.
“It’s not about the sales or the day off, it’s about someone gave their life for me. For me to be here, to believe what I believe, to have the freedom that I have, that’s what this day is about,” said Briana.
Marine Lance Corporal Nicholas Perez passed away on September 3, 2004.