These two noble souls will be linked together forever after last week’s tragedy, when 11-year old Anthony Perez died saving his friend at the icy pond in Forest Park named after Private First Class Lawrence Strack, who was killed in action in Vietnam fifty-one years ago at the age of 18.
We all encounter moments of crisis in our lives, some more dangerous than others, and how we react in those moments depends on who we are. Some people hesitate, some people do nothing. Others act.
Anthony Perez acted, and as a result his friend survived. There’s only one word that fits Anthony, a word that gets used all-too often these days in reference to athletes and entertainers: hero.
This is, of course, little comfort to the friends and family of Anthony, who must carry their grief forward while the rest of us get on with our lives. That’s why it’s important to remember and to honor the sacrifices our heroes make.
By remembering, not just in the immediate aftermath of tragedy but from year to year, we provide the friends and family the little bit of comfort that their beloved hero’s supreme sacrifice mattered.
Anthony Perez was a hero and attained a level of achievement in his 11 years that most of us will never achieve in the fullness of our lives.
And it was only fitting that his last moments in life were spent surrounded by other heroes. First by New York’s Bravest, the firefighters who sped to the scene and jumped into the pond, pounding the ice with their bare fists, to rescue Anthony.
And then the EMTs and the emergency room staff at Jamaica Medical Center, who took Anthony in their caring arms for the next step in his journey.
Together, these heroes pulled young Anthony from the pond, managed to revive him, and gave this young hero a fighting chance to live. But the damage was too great and Anthony left us that same day.
If you’ve ever seen any rescue worker in action, you know how hard they try to save each and every life. And you know how hard it is for them to lose anyone, but to lose one so young hurts especially deep.
The hole that this young hero’s passing leaves in many hearts rivals the size of the great hole in the park that Strack Pond sits at the bottom of.
And our hearts go out to Anthony’s friend, who will be living with this for years and years to come. We pray that he finds peace with the loving support of his friends and family.
It will be hard to look at Strack Pond in the same way. It’s one of the most beautiful locations within Forest Park, particularly in the spring, when it is teeming with life, including ducks, turtles, frogs and birds.
It’s a place where people come to enjoy nature, where people come to relax, where people come to get away from life in the city, even if the sounds of Woodhaven Boulevard are faintly audible just over the hill.
Some people have said that the pond should be fenced in. Tragedies like this are hard to make any sense out of, so sometimes we react by doing something, anything. But that doesn’t always mean it’s the smart thing to do.
The nearby golf course is surrounded by a fence, and yet hundreds of kids sneak through the fence every time it snows to go hurtling down ice-covered hills without helmets. And most of those kids are right next to their parents when they do it.
Instead, maybe what we need to think about changing is ourselves. How many of us, had we passed two young boys walking through the park alone would question them? How many of us would stop two kids that we did not know and tell them to stay away from the pond?
Many of us would like to think we’d say something. But the truth is that most of us wouldn’t. Not these days. In the old days, the streets were full of parents, but not anymore.
In that regard, we as a community fail to live up to the high standards of caring for others that heroes like Anthony Perez and Lawrence Strack have set. May these two heroes rest in peace forever, and may we do better in the future.