Daniel Perez: Who We Are and Why We Do What We Do

Nov 9, 2021

Daniel’s story is part “Stories of Enduring Service,” a collection of stories from veterans and advocates who were inspired to serve or whose service was impacted by 9/11. Stories of Enduring Service is a story telling element of Operation Enduring Service, a campaign to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and honor those who served in the wake of that day.

Native New Yorker Daniel Perez was nearing his first anniversary of enlisting in the US Marine Corps on the day of the September 11th terrorist attacks. What would have been a relatively normal day to mark an uneventful year, it instead became a day he would never forget. 

Daniel returned to his duty station in North Carolina from a training exercise, in the early morning hours of September 11th. He was sleeping when he was abruptly awakened by a friend telling him that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. 

“I assumed it was some accident and I went back to bed, but because I was one of the New York guys, everyone was coming up to me and telling me about the planes. At that point, it was a big deal and I tried to call some family members.” 

Faced with the realization that this “accident” was actually an attack, Daniel was overcome with confusion and concern, as his thoughts shifted to his family living and working in Lower Manhattan. Fortunately his family was safe, but as a Marine infantryman, he could not help but think about what might come next. 

“Sabers were rattling because the first thing they did when we got to formation was just yell at us, ‘You’re going to war!’ Next thing I know, the base went on lockdown.”  

His unit would eventually be deployed to Iraq in August 2002 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After serving for four years, he went back to Brooklyn and enrolled in college. On the surface, everything was fine, but as his fellow Marines were invading Fallujah and taking part in some of the worst fighting in the Iraqi theater, he felt compelled to reenlist. After serving two more deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he left the Marines in 2010 for the last time. 

“After eight years, it kind of felt like I was doing the same thing. This is it, I’ve definitely seen the world through eyes, unfiltered. I wanted to do something else, be part of the change, but not necessarily have to kill somebody for it. So I decided it was my time to leave and then I moved on.” 

Although Daniel tried going back to college and resume a “normal” life, he felt a complete loss of purpose. 

“I felt very isolated, very alone, and kind of kept to myself. I was just not in a good place. It was pretty obvious, especially when I look back.” 

That sense of purpose finally found Daniel when a fellow Marine reached out to him for help organizing a veteran volunteer event. 

“It was great, but a part of me felt like it wasn’t enough. As I was looking at other organizations that were in that space, I found The Mission Continues and fell in love with it. Eventually I got in touch with them and did a project in the Bronx for the first time. So then I jumped on board and it was something I loved doing ever since.”  

As he became more involved in subsequent projects, Daniel would go on to become the New York City Platoon Leader for The Mission Continues. He has since organized and led service projects throughout the area, helping veterans like himself to find their sense of purpose after serving in the armed forces. 

As the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks nears, Daniel will be reflecting on his fellow Marines and what his service meant for himself and for the country. 

“I know it’s going to be a solemn day. All the blood shed over the years and all the people who didn’t come home. If I’ve learned anything about conflict, it’s that you can get more out of it than necessarily just to win. I hope that in the past 20 years, because of the sacrifices we’ve made as a country, we are clearer and more defined about who we are and why we do what we do, and we can carry those positive values forward.”