SEEKONK - Fallen American soldier and University of Massachusetts student, Lance Corporal Eric P. Valdepenas, will be honored by his hometown when the Seekonk Post Office is renamed after him.
"We thought about a way to remember Eric in Seekonk, because that was his hometown, we grew up there," said Valdepenas' sister Nora Lough. "The outreach there was unbelievable after he died, and [Seekonk] is really important to us."
Shortly after Valdepenas was killed in action in Iraq, his family received a call from Congressman James McGovern (D-MA) expressing sympathy and support. The next time McGovern held a public meeting in Seekonk, Mr. and Mrs. Valdepenas approached him expressing their concerns about permanently keeping their son's memory alive in the community.
"It was really the work of Jim McGovern and the Congressman's office," said Lough. "They were so supportive and sensitive in how they went about it. He really wanted to do this for my family."
McGovern, touched by their situation, asked Mr. and Mrs. Valdepenas to write a biography of their son. Shortly after it was submitted, McGovern came up with the idea to pass a bill to name the post office in Valdepenas' memory.
The bill was unanimously passed by Congress, then passed through the Senate and was signed by President Bush on Oct. 13. The dedication ceremony is being planned for early spring.
"It's an important and exciting time for us, because in a world full of sadness and grief, it's a permanent reminder that Eric will be remembered," said Lough. "I think that's one of the most important things you can do to support a family that's lost a loved one in the service."
Valdepenas was a member of the 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment reserve unit based in Fort Devens, Mass.
He was reported KIA on Sept. 4, 2006, along with two other soldiers, when their vehicle hit a hidden, improvised explosion device in the Al-Anbar province of Fallujah, Iraq.
Valdepenas has since been honored at home and at UMass in many ways.
At Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, R.I., his alma mater, a lacrosse scholarship has been set up in his name to acknowledge players displaying qualities of an "unsung hero."
Another scholarship in his name is given by the UMass School of Business. The program helps students who are struggling financially.
Valdepenas was also selected to be memorialized by the non-profit relief group Project Compassion, who paints pictures of fallen soldiers for grieving relatives.
Lough describes the pictures as "timeless pieces of art that show how much appreciation they have for [the soldiers'] sacrifice."
Valdepenas has also been honored by the U.S. military. Honors awarded to him include the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, a Combat Action Ribbon, a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal and a Purple Heart.
During his studies at UMass from 2003 to 2004, Valdepenas was a pre-major in mechanical engineering. In 2004 he left school to join the Marines reserves, and was called to duty in September 2005.
Lough said her brother planned to return to UMass for the Spring 2007 semester, after his tour's scheduled conclusion late in 2006.
"The showing of support, community-wise, has been really great," said Lough. "Not only our political leaders, but also everyday people we have known growing up have been just amazing. I think without their support, encouragement and sympathy it would be a lot more difficult than what it is now."