Family shares memories of late Veteran killed in water slide incident

Published 12:40 am Wednesday, July 5, 2023

NEDERLAND — Cheryl and Donald Perry stopped celebrating Thanksgiving years ago.

“It’s just not a good holiday for our family,” Cheryl said.

Thanksgiving of 2018, Donald fell off the roof of the house. And the following year, their daughter was in the TPC Group explosion.

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So instead of celebrating Thanksgiving, they began taking a family vacation to Destin, Florida.

“That was our vacation place every year,” Cheryl said. “The whole family is there with us for Thanksgiving. We get a pontoon boat and go out to Crab Island. This year we happened to get one with a slide.”

And on the day before Thanksgiving, Donald went down the slide headfirst.

“Me and my aunt told him not to go,” said granddaughter Kairi Perry, 11.

But he did. And he broke his neck.

Cheryl recalled the moment through tears Tuesday as she stood near the dozens of American flags placed at Doornbos Park in honor of those who have served.

Hours before the City of Nederland’s July 4th Independence Day Fireworks Show event, she and Kyrie visited the Field of Honor to see Donald’s flag, which was placed right next to hers.

Both served in the U.S. Army.

Cheryl joined right out of high school.

“I didn’t know if I wanted college or what exactly I wanted to do,” she said. “I had some friends that went in, so I went in along with them. They called it the ‘buddy system’ at that time. I’m the only one that stayed there. But I met my husband there. He was in the 82nd Airborne.”

Cheryl Perry’s tattoo pays tribute to her late husband whom she met while both serving in the U.S. Army. (Monique Batson/The News)

The symbol, a circle with two As inside, is now tattooed on her arm in black ink along with the words “the Lord is close to the broken hearted” and a copy of his inscription that says “Love you deeply, Donnie Paul.” Perched on the circle is a cardinal — the red bird often associated with the passing of a loved one.

“Anytime there’s something for the Veterans, I’m going to be there in his memory,” Cheryl said.

Kairi said it made her happy to see her grandparents’ names on the flags at the park.

“That was his sweetheart,” Cheryl said. They each have a necklace of a motorcycle with his ashes inside.

Motorcycles were a passion of his.

Donald was from Crowley, Louisiana. So when the couple left the military, they moved to Vinton to be near his family.

But it wasn’t long before they relocated to Nederland, where Donald began working at a local refinery.

When you come from the cities and the bases and go to Vinton, I was like, ‘You have to move me to civilization or I’m going to go back home,’ said Cheryl, who is originally from Saint Paul, Minnesota.

She is grateful to Nederland for the flags that honor servicemen and women such as she and her husband of nearly 38 years.

“Our anniversary was on (June) 12,” she said. “It was a hard day but I still consider us married.”

She and Kairi planned to attend the special Veterans VIP July 4th BBQ prior to the fireworks show.

“We’ll just stay in the heat as long as we can,” she said.