Thanks to Jim Ott, an English teacher at Las Positas College who also heads the school's veterans' writing program, former Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Francisco Perez-Lopez and his wife Yeny will soon be traveling to Fiji for the honeymoon they never had.
It will be an all-expense-paid trip provided by the Rotary Club of Pleasanton North, whose members heard the post-9/11 veteran who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other injuries talk about his military experiences in February.
Ott invited Perez-Lopez to speak at the club's luncheon meeting about "Nor Shall Death Brag," his moving report as a member of the Marine's Quick Reaction Force while he was serving in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004.
Relating those days in scorching heat and firefights with how he grew up in a rough neighborhood in Oakland, escaping to serve over 11 years in the Marine Corps, Perez-Lopez captured the attention and unusual quiet of the roomful of Rotarians who knew they had to honor the veteran.
They were so touched by his story that they gave him a standing ovation. Then, while answering questions about his life, he happened to mention that he and Yeny never got the chance to go on a honeymoon.
"She has always wanted to go to Fiji," he said. "We got married on November 29, 2003, and 19 days later I reported into 1st Marine Infantry Regiment to deploy to Iraq in February 2004."
Fast-forward nearly two months and the couple and their 8-year-old daughter, Jasmine, were invited back to the club on March 25 to receive what they were told would be an appreciation gift. When the couple was invited to come forward during the meeting, they didn't know quite what to expect.
"I thought maybe Francisco was going to receive a plaque," Yeny said.
Club president Ed Golden turned to Perez-Lopez and said, "When you read your story to us, you touched the heart of every member of this club. So as a thank-you for your service to our country, we are giving you the honeymoon you deserve."
The couple, emotionally moved upon receiving the gift, plans to make travel arrangements for this summer. They expressed deep gratitude to the club and its generous members.
During his service, Perez-Lopez achieved the rank of staff sergeant. He was deployed twice to Iraq, and he volunteered for the 2010 troop surge into Afghanistan. He took part in the 2004 battle of Fallujah, encountered many combat conditions while deployed and lost a close comrade in battle.
To read Perez-Lopez's story, titled "Nor Shall Death Brag," visit the Las Positas College website where student veteran stories are published at www.lpcvetstories.com/
The Rotary Club of Pleasanton North has been active since its founding in 1987 in supporting many worthwhile initiatives and projects, including veterans' programs.
Ott, a founding member of the North Pleasanton Rotary Club, works with Las Positas students to become better writers. His short stories and poetry have been published in several small press literary journals. A former poet laureate of Pleasanton, he also is past-chairman of the Livermore Chamber of Commerce. In 2015, he earned a doctorate degree in educational leadership at Saint Mary's College.
Ott "discovered" Perez-Lopez in his college writing class. Here's what the ex-Marine wrote about the process of writing his personal narrative associated with Ott's veterans writing program:
"Writing about my life has caused many reflective moments. Some vivid reliving served as a reminder of dark times past, yet these repressed memories come to light as the ink dries.
"Reading and writing about what has been swept under the rug for so long was extremely taxing, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
"I am glad I did so, for one of the therapeutic chores I am tasked with in the interest of social reintegration is to confront these dark times past, be it pre-military, during or post-military service. Hard as it was, I am glad I did so for today I stand a more content person."