“Dear Uncle … they are putting me in for a medal and it’s not the purple heart, you will be surprised how big it’s going to be…” ‒Manuel Pérez, Jr. in a letter to his uncle.
Manuel Perez, Jr. was born in the Riverside neighborhood of Oklahoma City in 1923. He moved to Chicago with his family at a young age, but he continued to have strong connections to his family in Oklahoma City. At the age of 19 he was drafted to serve in the Army during World War II. Manuel was charismatic and vivacious, and he quickly volunteered to join the paratroops because he heard they were the toughest in the Army.
Perez was described as “a whirlwind paratrooper who never let up regardless of how tough the enemy or how large the odds.” He was assigned to the 511th Parachute Infantry in the Pacific Theater where he displayed great heroics in the Battle of Luzon, the Philippines. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the country’s highest award, for single-handedly defeating an enemy unit while protecting his fellow soldiers in February 1945. A few weeks later he made the ultimate sacrifice when he was killed during another battle. Manuel’s father, Manuel, Sr. accepted his son’s medal in a symbolic ceremony on the International Bridge between the United States and Mexico near Laredo, Texas.
In 1979 the people of the Riverside community and the American GI Forum raised funds to provide a small park and monument honoring Manuel Perez, Jr. at SW 14 and Harvey. At the dedication Rev. Scagnelli of Little Flower Catholic Church said, "Manuel was born here, and he typifies the spirit of the Riverside neighborhood." For many years the American GI Forum held memorial services for Perez and other veterans in the park, but in 2017 this location was chosen as the new home for Perez Park which now honors Perez and all-American veterans.