Don Claudio the Unknown Hero

By: Cristina N. Casiano

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He lives an active life. His mornings start early at four a clock. He leaves his house and drives to town like there was no tomorrow. He grabs a cup of coffee on a local restaurant then heads to his daughters work place and brings her a cup.

After that comes an invigorating walk to the towns plaza, market or were ever his legs can take him. In the afternoon you can find him at the mall sitting on a bench watching the people pass by. Then at around five he leaves to go home, watches television, and goes to bed early. Next morning he gets up and repeats.

Yes, Don Claudio Perez lives an active life. Having lived a full life raising seven children and a loving wife the now 86 year old is retired. He used to work at the experimental station (“estación experimental”) at University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez as the mechanical manager. A job that he carried on with stride thanks to his dominant nature.

The proof lies in his grease stained garage. Every now and then you can hear the sound of tweaking and a small ray of light coming from his working bench. His old tools still stored in their drawer next to his broken down Mercedes Benz, and the silhouette of an old man working, a window into the past he ones lived.

“I enjoyed working as a mechanic”, but even so, “the work comes with its risks” said Claudio loudly “ones a worker crushed his hand in between the parts of a bulldozer”, “Yes, yes, we had to be very careful with the equipment”. he moved his scarred hands to explain the details.

“It was a year before I retired” said Claudio as he remembered the incident that changed his life forever.

It happened while a gasoline truck was unloading the gas into the gas chamber. The tube had a defect that the truck driver had overlooked.

“The tube was supposed to have an opening so that the air could escape through”. “Sense the air had no were to escape the tube came off and the gasoline splashed everywhere and on everyone”.

He paused for a second and continued, “we used to have an old refrigerator that was damaged and every now and then it would create a spark”, “I knew that so I yelled for everyone to get out!”.

He was sitting next to one of his younger daughters Cathy who encouraged him to keep telling the story.

Little did they know that one of the older workers had stayed behind. So what happened?

“Unfortunately there was an older workers had in the back that either was in shock or didn’t hear us so he just stayed there” he paused for  moment.

“He knew full well the the gasoline could light up at any second but he went in there anyway” Cathy continued.

“I went back to get him out of there”, “He had the pace of a turtle” he laughed. But, “just when we were about to get out Puff! the refrigerator sparked and the gasoline light up”. He jolted for added affect. “I heard the spark so I pushed him so he could get out in time”. “Unfortunately I fell on my hands and burned my arms and legs.”

“Fortunately I knew there was a shower nearby so I ran there and put myself out.”

The scars on his arms bear the testimony of that faithful day. His family and friends all admire him for his bravery. Even the man who he had saved visit him in the hospital and thanked him.

“Our mom sat us down in the living room of our old house and she explained what had happened” explained his youngest daughter who was seven years old at the time of the incident. “he spent a month in the hospital recovering from his injuries, and seven months in physical therapy.”

“When he finally came home I was afraid of him” said Cathy. “He had bandages everywhere, he was completely bald and had no eyebrows”, her eyes wide open as if remembering the shock of seeing her father in that condition. “It took me a while to get use to it”.

“My mother was always taking care of him, always by his side”, said Patricia’s voice got sad. “I guess it was bad luck”.

She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she was about to retire” Patricia’s voice got sad. “I guess it was bad luck”

She was only given five years to live. With each year her condition getting worse.

In the same way my mother had cared for my father, no w my father was caring for her” admired with sad eyes.

“She lasted 15 years and she was bed written on the fifth year” agreed Cathy “She spent 10 of her last years on a bed.”

“We miss her very much” agreed Cathy and Patricia, “Our dad never left her side, that is why our dad is very special to us” Cathy and Patricia nodded as they looked down in memory of their loved one.

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Don Claudio and his wife at their daughter’s wedding.

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