Herman Perry was an African-American soldier in the U.S. Army during World War II, who deserted the army after killing an officer.
He was around eight years old when his mother packed her bags and decided that she was fed up with the Jim Crow life in North Carolina. She relocated to Washington, DC., which at the time was supposed to be the “promised land for poor African Americans from the South.” However, there was no truth to that many of the blacks in the D.C. area only had jobs cleaning white people’s homes or other menial jobs. But most jobs available was twice as better than being in the fields picking cotton.
Perry made to Washington a few years after his mother arrived. He was dropped off at a junior high school and eventually found living quarters. He worked various jobs and was a bit of a womanizer which resulted in one young girl getting pregnant. However, Perry moved on to the next young girl.
At the start of World War II, Perry served in the Army’s 849th Engineer Aviation Battalion, an all-black unit which was headed for Burma and doomed to brutal labor.
Perry had been trained the summer of 1942 in South Carolina at the Myrtle Beach General Bombing and Gunnery Range. During this time, most of the training camps for blacks in the south were operated such as antebellum plantations. The living quarters were shabby, they were fed cold food and sometimes just leftover scraps.
Perry’s unit was ordered overseas in May 1943. He and his fellow soldiers left the States believing that they would be building airstrips, but when they finally reached Burma in September, they learned that they would be “working on a road meant to keep America’s Chinese allies flush with supplies.”
Perry and his fellow soldiers endured 16 hours a day of hard labor. The malaria rate was extremely high and the jungle they worked in filled with leeches. The bad conditions quickly changed Perry’s once happy disposition.
On March 3, 1944, Perry finally had enough and snapped. In a confrontation his white lieutenant, Harold Cady, who “was known for his tough-guy reputation,” Perry fired two shots into Cady’s chest. While the lieutenant lay dying, Perry fled into the jungle.
Perry stayed on the run for nearly a year. For that year, he met people from various walks of life. He befriended Naga headhunters who liked him so much the chief gave him his daughter’s hand in marriage. The two were expecting their first child when word got back about a black man living in the jungle began to spread around. The Army then resumed their manhunt for Perry.
One night, Perry was sitting inside a village hut and spotted a beam from a flashlight. He bolted and several shots were fired. A bullet tore through Perry’s chest, but he kept going. He found a slope to descend, but his pursuers were at his heels. Cornered and bleeding, he collapsed. The hunt was over, and Perry was taken into custody.
Perry’s court-martial started in September 1944 at a tea plantation in Ledo, India. It took just a little over six hours for a verdict to be reached. His military lawyer, Clayton Oberholtzer, had been a small-town attorney in Ohio. It was his first murder case. The verdict: guilty. The sentence: death by hanging. However, due to paperwork being misplaced it was enough time for Perry to put his plan of escape into action. Perry soon became known as the “colored Houdini.”
Perry was caught again and this time he did not have a plan or escape nor did he try to put up a fight. He just told his captors “you got me.”
On the morning of March 15, 1945, Perry was driven in the dark to his date with the gallows. The convoy included 17 military police officers. After Perry was killed he taken to the Army cemetery at Margherita and buried 0ne hundred yards from all the other soldiers in an unidentifiable grave.