LEON VALLEY - A newly constructed bridge in Leon Valley connects two busy areas of the city, and it also connects the community to a soldier killed while serving in Iraq.
On Sunday, Veterans Day, the Leon Valley community dedicated the Evers Road Bridge to Leon Valley native Lance Cpl. Stephen Perez.
Perez was killed on April 13, 2006 when his unit came under heavy fire while providing security for a construction site. The bridge, which is lined with posts containing etchings of the crests of each military branch, honors Stephen Perez's sacrifice and others who served.
When the contractor overseeing the construction of the bridge discovered it would be dedicated to a fallen soldier, he added artistic details honoring each branch of the military at no additional cost.
Each military branch crest is illuminated by color-changing lights.
Perez's brother, Kenneth Perez, said if his brother could see the the bridge, he would be in disbelief.
"(Stephen) would be amazed, like 'They built a bridge for me?'" Kenneth Perez said. "He would just be proud."
Stephen Perez grew up in Leon Valley and enlisted in the Marines during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He died at the age of 22.
"He sacrificed his life to give us the freedoms we enjoy today," Kenneth Perez said.
The large turnout for the dedication of the bridge stunned Leon Valley Mayor Chris Riley, who said everyone in attendance had some sort of connection to the soldier.
"Either school, family, neighbors, elementary school, St. Mary's, Marine Corps," Riley said.
Stephen Perez's mother, Diana Pena-Smith, said the bridge is an assurance that her son's sacrifice will never be forgotten.
As the program for the ceremony stated, "This bridge serves as a reminder to all of us that freedom
is not free, we live in the 'Land of the Free' because of the brave."
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