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Army Sgt. Joseph W. Perry, 23, Alpine; killed by a sniper in Iraq

October 22, 2006|James Ricci | Times Staff Writer

Joseph W. Perry's life was bookended by association with the Army. He was born 23 years ago in a military hospital in Wurzburg, Germany, to a mother serving in the Army as a Russian linguist and a father who was a combat engineer. Perry died Oct. 2 from a sniper's bullet while on a mission in the Dora Market area of southern Baghdad.

"He basically had the Army in his blood," said his mother, Kirsten Yuhl, now a school psychologist in the Cajon Valley Union School District in eastern San Diego County, where Sgt. Perry, an only child, grew up. "As a child, he loved to play Army. He was serious and quite strong-willed. When he had a belief in something, he was very passionate about it, and I think that's what made him a good soldier."

An instinctively shy and independent sort, the lanky young man blossomed in high school, where he was surrounded by a large circle of friends, said Taryn Roscoe of El Cajon, Calif., who counted him as her best friend. He participated in roller hockey leagues, and as a freshman and sophomore played wide receiver on the junior varsity football team at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon.

At 15, he discovered an unexpected interest in and talent for performing as a hip-hop music deejay at parties and school functions. "I thought, 'Oh, here's a passing fad,' " his mother said, "but someone had a party and rented deejay equipment for him -- and he was good. I refinanced my automobile and got him about $10,000 worth of deejay equipment. He did it for three years and actually did quite well. I thought he might really take off down that road, professionally, but his heart turned out not to really be in it. It was just fun to do as a teenager."

Perry entered his senior year of high school at loose ends about his future. The events of Sept. 11, however, instantly galvanized all his uncertainties into a single resolution: to join the Army and do his part for his country, which he saw was clearly headed for war.

Two months after graduating in June 2002, Perry embarked on a five-year enlistment and was trained as a military policeman. During his first tour in Iraq, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for valor. He was a few months into his second tour there when he was killed.

Perry was serving as a gunner on a Humvee. According to an e-mail his mother received from the wife of the vehicle's driver, the crew members were talking and laughing when they heard a distant pop and Perry suddenly was silent. Other units quickly created a defensive perimeter and tried to revive him, but he was already dead, his mother said.

"The knowledge that he died instantly is such a gift to us, and knowing my son, he wouldn't have chosen any other way than while having a good time with his buddies," she said. "He died instantly, and he died a hero. There's so much peace around that. All of that has helped us as a family tremendously."

Perry was assigned to the 21st Military Police Company, 16th Military Police Brigade, 18th Airborne Corps at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

He was scheduled to muster out of the Army in July, and he and his fiancee, Christina Wert of Fayetteville, N.C., had set July 16 as their wedding date.

His mother said he intended to join the U.S. Border Patrol after leaving the military "and do something good in his home state."

His friend Taryn Roscoe said she'd grown used to the thought that whenever Perry returned home "you never knew if that was the last time you were going to see him."

Roscoe last saw Perry in June, when he returned home to Alpine, Calif., after a member of their wide circle of friends had taken his own life. The friends had gathered at Viejas Casino in Alpine, not so much to mourn the deceased as to take comfort in one another's company, she said.

After learning of Perry's death, Roscoe put out the word to the same group, and two days later 25 friends assembled again at the casino, this time to honor the soldier.

"We just kind of got together, not really to talk about it, but to be in the presence of all our close friends and his, and he had a lot of friends," she said.

In addition to his mother, Perry is survived by his father, Everett Perry, and stepmother, Melissa Perry, of Riverbank in the Central Valley; his stepfather, Vernon Torres of Alpine;, and two half brothers, Tyler and Devin Perry.

A funeral service with military honors was to have been held Saturday at Sonrise Community Church in Santee, Calif. Perry was to be buried at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

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