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Cara Anna

Sep 26, 2006

She was the first of West Point's "Class of 9/11" to die in war.2nd Lt. Emily J.T. Perez, the highest-ranking black and Hispanic woman cadet in corps history, was buried at this storied military academy today, two weeks after she was killed by a bomb in Iraq.

Perez, 23, from Fort Washington in Prince George's County, was a platoon leader at the head of a convoy when a roadside bomb exploded south of Baghdad on Sept. 12 and killed her.

As she was laid to rest on a sunny fall day, mourners said Perez was always in front, whether directing a gospel choir in Iraq, leading her high school track team in Maryland or being selected by her fellow cadets as the corps commander sergeant major, the No. 3 spot among cadets at the U.S. Military Academy.

"She was like a little superwoman, so full of energy and life," said Meghan Venable-Thomas, a 21-year-old senior who was on the track team and gospel choir with Perez.

Perez was the first female West Point graduate to die in Iraq. And she was the first to fall from the graduating class of 2005 -- called the "Class of 9/11" because the attacks occurred just weeks into its plebe year. She was the 40th West Point graduate killed in terror attacks or at war since Sept. 11, 2001.

"I think we all hoped it wouldn't happen," said James Freeze, the class president, of the first death among the graduates, who numbered exactly 911. Half of Perez' class of 2005 remains on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dozens of cadets watched as Perez was buried in the venerable West Point Cemetery. After accepting the freshly folded flag from Perez's coffin, her mother, Vicki Perez, leaned over, put her forehead on the casket and whispered.

"One of the things important to Emily was not the fear of death, but the fear of not living," E. Faith Bell, reverend at the Peace Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., said after the service.

Perez was fluent in German from growing up overseas. She played the clarinet, and read the Bible every day. She helped start an AIDS ministry at her church. Before leaving for Iraq, she donated bone marrow to a stranger.

To those who loved her, she was Em, Emma, TiTi, Taz and Kobe. People said she was a joy to be around.

"Oh man, that smile," said Derek Wood, who directs the church AIDS ministry. "That's a smile that always stays with you. She didn't raise her flag high, she didn't toot her horn. She did what she needed to do.

"Senior cadet Sylvia Amegashie said the death brings home the danger that all West Point graduates may face.

"What we do here, it matters, " she said, starting to cry. "It makes what's going on out there more real. Here it's like Camelot, you know?"

Perez was a Medical Service Corps officer assigned to the 204th Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division in Fort Hood, Texas.

In an online guestbook, a former instructor, Nicola Thompson, wrote that she used to call Perez "firecracker," for her spirit.

The same God here is waiting for you in Iraq, Thompson told Perez.

"She responded with that beautiful and contagious smile by saying, 'Now that, I already know.'"

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