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Herman PERRY





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: American World War II soldier
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 3, 1944
Date of arrest: March 9, 1945 (final capture)
Date of birth: May 16, 1922
Victim profile: Lieutenant Harold Cady, 28
Method of murder: Shooting (.30-calibre M1)
Location: Tinsukia distric, Assam, India
Status: Executed by hanging by the United States Army in Ledo, India, on March 15, 1945
photo gallery

Herman Perry (May 16, 1922 - March 15, 1945) was an American World War II soldier, convicted murderer, and fugitive from the army in India and Burma.

He was born just outside Monroe, North Carolina. As a soldier in the U.S. Army, 849th Engineer Battalion, he served in the China Burma India Theater of World War II constructing the Ledo Road.

On March 3, 1944, Perry's CO Lieutenant Harold Cady attempted to apprehend the soldier for dereliction of duty and place him in the area's military prison. Perry had already served in this prison and was well aware of the abuses there. When Perry was found he was holding a rifle and repeatedly warned Cady not approach him and to "Get back." Cady continued his advance, and Perry shot and killed Cady. He fled into the wilderness and lived out a fugitive's life of jungle survival, discovering and adapting to the lifestyle of the Naga people of northeastern India and northern Burma.

He was caught twice by the Army and escaped both times, receiving his death sentence by a military court on September 4, 1944, during his second capture. A final capture on March 9, 1945 in Assam precipitated his execution by hanging on March 15.

His story was recounted in 2008 as Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight From the Greatest Manhunt of World War II by Brendan I. Koerner; George Pelecanos called it "A fascinating, untold story of the Second World War, an incendiary social document, and a thrilling, campfire tale adventure.


The Herman Perry Saga

From: Proud Heritage Vol 3 by DCPA.

The China-Burma-India Theater of World War II is well-remembered for its air and ground wars, but little is known of its only major criminal case.

In early 1944 the Ledo Road was being built from Assam Province in India across Burma to get supplies to China. Among the American troops building the road was Private Herman Perry of Washington, D.C., an uninspired worker more interested in drugs and native women than in the war effort.

In March 1944 Perry disappeared and when he returned he was ordered into arrest. He refused to surrender his loaded rifle, and when an officer tried to take it, Perry shot and killed the officer. He then fled into the surrounding jungle, and was not seen again for five months, when it was learned that he was living with a Naga "headhunter" tribe in northern Burma, far away from any military installation.

A team of Army Military Police went to the remote village to arrest Perry, but he escaped, then was wounded and captured. He recovered in an Army Field Hospital, then was tried by an Army Court-Martial and sentenced to be hanged, the only American "death sentence" ever in the CBI Theater.

Months later, as the paperwork was being completed, Perry escaped in darkness from the barbed-wire Ledo Stockade, and was once again swallowed up by the friendly jungle.

Weeks later, he entered the U.S. "Advanced Section" area and robbed two soldiers. The next night he was wounded by an MP team, but again he disappeared into the friendly jungle. Then General Joe Cranston ordered my father, Earl O. Cullum, a then thirty-year-old major from Dallas, Texas, to "bring him in, dead or alive." He was to give full time to the manhunt, aided by teams from his own 159th MP Battalion.

For eighteen days and nights Cullum led the manhunt, trailing the killer through remote jungles and across unbridged rivers, far away from civilization. Fresh MPs were brought in as needed, but Cullum personally kept on the trail, getting a little sleep whenever possible. Perry stole food from the natives' gardens and holed up during the day, moving only at night. He was never seen by the pursuit teams, who found where he had slept and defecated, but not where he was. As the hunt neared the Naga Hills, it seemed that Perry might never be caught.

Then a native told of an American asleep in a jungle hut, still wearing his army uniform. One MP and Cullum waded across a wide jungle river in darkness, and silently approached the hut. It was empty. Then Cullum turned to a native standing nearby. When he tried to hide, Cullum grabbed him, and an American voice said, "You got me." Cullum held his wrists and wrestled him down, kneeling on him while searching for his gun. But he had recently changed to native dress, and his uniform and gun were hidden nearby, out of reach.

The other two MPs came across the river and tied Perry's hands as he admitted who he was. The party then recrossed the hip-deep river in darkness and on to their hidden jeeps. Then through the jungle trails and across wide rivers (by native barges), they went to an American Field Hospital where Perry's accumulated wounds were treated. He was then confined in an escape-proof stockade.

Five days later he was driven in darkness to Ledo, where he was hanged at dawn, the only American executed in the CBI Theater in World War II. Cullum got his men in position to watch the execution, then walked away. He respected the way Perry had handled himself after his capture and did not want to watch him die. Later his body was reburied on American soil in Hawaii, apart from the "honored dead." The case had taken a full year, from murder to hanging.

Cullum was soon promoted to lieutenant colonel and continued to lead his battalion through the last six months of the war, when it was de-activated and troops sailed for home. He remained in the U.S. Army Reserve and was promoted to full colonel and then recommended for brigadier general (Reserve), but could not accept, as he was then an FBI Agent. He retired with thirty years' service, including active duty throughout World War II.

This account is extracted from the seventy-two-page booklet Manhunt in Burma and Assam, in which Earl O.Cullum fully recorded details of the manhunt, the only major criminal case in the CBI Theater. The story also appeared in the Ex-CBI publications Ex-CBI Roundup and Soundoff.

Earl always regretted his inability to get at least the Army Commendation award for his key men who did so much in the case, but "they were just doing their job," and the medals were for the combat troops. He knew that many of his men deserved more than the thanks they got for their service.

Earl became an FBI Special Agent in 1947 and retired thirty years later, after serving in Oklahoma, Indiana, and north Texas. He worked many criminal cases and personally captured a "Top Ten Most Wanted" fugitive bank robber, among other hair-raising experiences. He could write another book.

The fourth president of the DCPA, Earl also has served as president of Dallas Rotary and as National Commander of the China-Burma-India Veterans Association.

By Kenneth H. Cullum


Herman Perry: Now The Hell Will Start

By Brendan I. Koerner -

August 3, 2008

Herman Perry killed an officer, fled the American army and found paradise among Burmese headhunters. His incredible story has largely gone untold

It is best to use discretion when confronting an emotionally shattered man, especially if he's holding a semi-automatic rifle. Harold Cady, a young lieutenant in the United States Army, should have heeded that common-sense advice on the morning of 5 March, 1944. But several fellow soldiers were watching as he drew near Private Herman Perry, a sobbing, trembling GI armed with a.30-calibre M1. Cady couldn't have the spectators thinking he was soft, or his hard-ass reputation would be ruined. He'd show them he could quell this bad egg Perry, loaded rifle be damned.

Perry was walking toward the muddy roadside, a few dozen yards from Cady's parked jeep. He glanced over his shoulder and spied the onrushing lieutenant.

'Get back!' Perry yelled. 'Get back!'

Cady had left his pistol back at the battalion's camp, near the Burmese village of Tagap Ga. But he didn't appear fazed by his lack of firepower: he advanced to within four feet of the quivering Perry.

Perry spun and faced his pursuer. He nervously pressed the M1's stock against his right hip and trained the muzzle on Cady's chest. Tears spilt down his gaunt, dark cheeks.

'Lieutenant, don't come up on me,' Perry sputtered.

Cady froze. The dank and toxic Burmese jungle, its chaotic flora tinted a hallucinogenic green, towered over the two Americans. To the west loomed the Patkais, the mountain range that lines the northern border between India and Burma. Their thickly forested slopes, teeming with monkeys, tigers, and ornately tattooed headhunters, peeked through wisps of haze.

Courage recouped after a moment's pause, Cady now crept forward. Perry repeated his six-word warning, this time in a frantic shriek: 'Lieutenant, don't come up on me!'

Cady took another step. He crouched low, like a wrestler set to grapple, then placed his outstretched arms on either side of the M1's barrel, as if preparing to clap his hands around the rifle and wrest it away. It was a risky move, but Cady couldn't imagine this kid actually being dumb enough to shoot. That would be suicide: the American army wasn't shy about using the noose, particularly on black men such as Perry. But Perry was too broken to care. He'd been working 16-hour shifts crushing rocks along the Ledo Road, the rugged military highway on which he and Cady now stood. His limbs rife with leeches, his bowels tattered by disease, Perry had come to loathe not just the jungle's hardships, but also the officers who treated him like chattel. He'd found solace in furtive puffs of opium and ganja, but the narcotic veil was always too fleeting. Stress and rage had slowly corroded Perry's will.

Now Cady wanted to haul him off to jail. Perry knew the next stop after that: the Ledo Stockade, an army prison known for its brutality. Perry had served time there once before, enduring three grim months of taunts, parasites and broiling confinement in 'the Box'. He'd sworn that he'd sooner die and go to hell than spend another day behind barbed wire.

Through his fog of tears, Perry thought he saw Cady's hands reach forward. The distraught private pulled the M1's trigger twice in quick succession, and the crack of gunfire pealed across the hills. A plume of smoke wafted from the rifle's muzzle as Cady crumpled to the ground, dead. Herman Perry was now a killer, and soon to be the most wanted man in all of Asia. But he was also on the verge of discovering his own private paradise.

I vividly recall my first encounter with Herman Perry, the anti-hero at the heart of my new book, Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II. It was the afternoon of 24 September, 2003, and I was sitting on the floor of my cramped Manhattan apartment, surrounded by stacks of books, documents and takeaway containers - a writer's natural habitat. I was researching an article for Slate, an online magazine, about the history of military executions in the United States. An Air Force officer had recently been charged with spying for Syria, and news reports mentioned that he could be put to death if convicted. My editor and I wondered when an American soldier had last suffered such a shameful fate.

In the course of my reporting, I came across a 12-page bibliography from an obscure archive in Pennsylvania. The document was, for the most part, a list of esoteric sources that only a professor could love and my eyes were about to glaze over when I noticed a fragmentary note in the margins of page 10: 'Pvt. Herman Perry, murderer who long evaded capture by living with Burmese tribe.'

As a lifelong fan of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, I immediately envisioned a Mr Kurtz-like character sitting atop a throne of skulls, tattered fatigues hanging off his sinewy frame. And though I assumed that this killer's story must be far less interesting than the bibliographical note made it sound, I was none the less motivated to scribble 'Herman Perry?' in my Palm Pilot.

When Google and the local library revealed nothing about the case, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request - an appeal to the American army for all official documents pertaining to Perry's crime and flight. To my great surprise, a thick packet arrived on my doorstep 10 weeks later. Included among the hundreds of photocopied pages was an affidavit from a sergeant named Robert W. Davis, an agent with the army's criminal investigation division.

Davis's gobsmacking statement revealed that, if anything, the bibliography had undersold the grandeur of Perry's tale. After shooting Lt Cady and fleeing into the Burmese jungle, Perry had not shacked up with just any tribe - he had managed to ingratiate himself with the celebrated Nagas, a people widely feared as zealous headhunters. The Nagas had accepted him as a true friend, and the fugitive American ended up marrying the chief's 14-year-old daughter. Enchanted by the joys of tribal society, Perry reinvented himself as a gentleman farmer of rice and opium, an expert hunter of monkeys, and a connoisseur of fine ganja. Herman Perry was arguably the world's first hippie. And I was obsessed.

Prior to becoming headhunter royalty in the jungles of north-west Burma, Perry was an exceedingly ordinary young man - a meatcutter in Washington DC. His younger brother, Aaron 'the Anvil' Perry, was a champion boxer, but Herman preferred pastimes of a gentler nature - specifically the wooing of young ladies. The proverbial lover, not a fighter, Herman enjoyed strolling through Washington's stately parks arm-in-arm with his sweetheart of the moment. Girls found it difficult to resist his charming patter, as well as his soulful eyes and slender cheekbones.

The army was no place for a man like Perry - not just because he was a sensitive soul, but also because of his race. Swayed by the ugly pseudo-science of the day, the military brass believed that African-Americans were innately ill-suited to combat. Leading scientists had concluded, for example, that black men suffered from a variety of anatomical quirks - such as elongated heel bones and shallow chest cavities - that made them unable to march long distances. They also held that men of African descent possessed smaller cranial capacities than their European counterparts, a deficiency said to be caused by irreversible 'premature ossification of the skull'.

The vast majority of black draftees were thus consigned to labour battalions run by white officers. Perry was no exception: at training camp in South Carolina, he was taught how to clear brush and break rocks, rather than fight. Perry and his fellow soldiers quickly grew to despise their white commanders, who were overly fond of sending smart-mouthed GIs to the stockade.

In July 1943, Perry's unit was crammed into the bowels of a troop carrier and shipped to Bombay. From there they took trains across the subcontinent, veering north at Calcutta. Nearly a week later, deathly ill with dysentery from eating maggoty bread, Perry spilt out into the sticky heat of Ledo, a ramshackle Indian town less than 40 miles west of the Burmese border.

Perry might as well have landed on Mars, so alien was the scene: a polyglot bazaar abuzz with soldiers, refugees and beggars. Along the train tracks at the market's edge, small and leathery men squatted in the dirt, smoking strangely fragrant cigarettes and chattering in a catlike tongue. Nearly naked from the waist down, they carried square-bladed swords across their chests. These were the Nagas, an ornery hill people who'd long raided the surrounding tea gardens in search of labourers to behead: their animist religion held that captured skulls were powerful talismans.

Upon first glimpsing the Nagas, Perry could scarcely have guessed that he'd soon be one of them.

Perry and his comrades had been shipped around the globe in order to build the Ledo Road, a 465-mile highway from north-east India to the Chinese border. With Japan poised to conquer all of Asia, military planners hoped the road would keep wobbly China flush with supplies and keep the Japanese at bay.

The project looked straightforward on a table map, and some optimists estimated that it would take less than five months to complete. But such Pollyannas knew nothing of the jungle's malice. The British, who'd spent decades as the region's colonial masters, were more realistic about the road's prospects. Among the sceptics was Winston Churchill, who summed up his opinion of the Ledo Road in a single, damning clause: 'An immense, laborious task, unlikely to be finished before the need for it has passed.'

The roadbuilders quickly became familiar with the cruelty of the jungle. The forests of north-west Burma receive up to 200 inches of rain per year, and punishing monsoons erased the Americans' gains almost daily. Malaria was endemic, with a rate of 995 cases per 1,000 men. Soldiers were crushed by falling rocks, buried alive beneath torrents of mud, swept away by flash floods or mauled by Bengal tigers.

Yet the menace most reviled by Perry and his cohorts was that of leeches. Red or green or chocolate brown in colour, these slimy annelids drooped from trees or clustered on blades of neck-high grass, waiting to gorge on the blood of passers-by. The leeches had a particular affinity for the body's most sensitive areas: eyelids, nostrils and, especially, the privates. Woe betide the man who awoke to discover that a leech had lodged itself in the tube of his penis or anus, and could only be removed with a crudely fashioned pair of bamboo forceps.

These hardships warped Perry's fragile psyche, as did the racist callousness of his battalion's officers. In the October of 1943, Perry was arrested for making a smart remark to a superior, and sentenced to three months of hard labour. He served his term at the Ledo Stockade, where misbehaving inmates were stuffed in 'the Box' - a windowless concrete cell that measured just four feet long and two feet across, with a low metal roof that forced men to crouch.

'Few men were able to walk out of this contraption,' recalled an inmate. 'The guards dragged them out.'

After serving his term, during which he developed excruciating genital lesions owing to the prison's lack of hygiene, an embittered Perry found solace in opium and marijuana. On the night of 4 March, 1944, Perry sneaked out of camp and spent hours getting stoned on 'native intoxicants', floating through a fuzzy reverie while long-limbed apes gracefully swung by. He didn't return to his bunk until nearly dawn, then missed the 6am reveille.

Later that morning, Perry's commander placed the tardy soldier under arrest. Perry was ordered to march down to the supply tent and turn in his rifle, as he was once again headed for the stockade. He seemed docile enough as he gathered his things under a guard's watchful eye. But at the battalion's supply tent, he had a change of heart - despite repeated orders, he refused to relinquish his.30-calibre M1 rifle.

'Nobody is going to get my rifle,' Perry growled. 'Even my mother wouldn't get this rifle.' With those words, he pulled back the rifle's bolt, so that a brass bullet in the chamber was clearly visible. The guard froze.

'Don't try to stop me,' Perry said as he slammed the bolt shut. 'I mean business this morning.'

He then stomped out of the tent like a man possessed. Minutes later, Lt Harold Cady would be dead.

Wanted for the murder of an officer, an offence punishable by hanging, Perry fled into a tiger-infested section of the Patkais. A 1,000-rupee reward was posted for his capture, either dead or alive.

While the military police combed the brothels of Calcutta several hundred miles to the south-west, Perry stumbled through the jungle's dense miasma of trees and rotting ferns. He eventually bumped into a British civil affairs patrol, whom he hoodwinked into giving him whatever rations they could spare. It was enough food to get him through a few more days of flight, but the supplies obviously wouldn't last for ever. Perry needed to figure out a long-term alternative to relying on the kindness of strangers, or else he'd surely die.

A day or two later, while hiking along a mountain stream, he spotted something curious on an uphill ridge: a sharply peaked roof covered with dried palm leaves. The house was positioned to give its inhabitants an eagle's-eye view of the country below. Beneath a bamboo porch, fat pigs rutted around in piles of human waste.

Crossing the stream to get a closer look, Perry noticed something else about the house. Just outside its walls were cords of vine, hung from poles like washing lines. And dangling off these vines were several scrubbed and polished human skulls, with the horns of water buffaloes affixed to their sides.

Perry made his way toward this macabre display. He soon found himself surrounded by armed, semi-naked men with wavy blue tattoos running down their cheeks and necks - Naga headhunters. Whether he would survive this encounter was anyone's guess.

But Perry had two things working in his favour: the effortless charisma that had served him so well in courting girls in Washington, and the tins of chow he'd copped from the British. There was no better way to impress the Nagas than with gifts composed of lightweight metals, which tribal craftsmen had yet to master.

Disarmed by Perry's kindness, the Nagas invited the tallest, darkest man for miles around to stay awhile. The ang (chief) told Perry that the Burmese called their village Tgum Ga. Perry couldn't quite pronounce those alien syllables, so he mangled the village's name into something that more easily slid off his tongue: Glau.

The British had long feared the Nagas as rank savages. 'They are the wildest and most barbarous of hill tribes, and looked upon with dread and horror by the neighbours of the plains who consider them as ruthless robbers and murderers,' observed Josh McCosh, a Scottish surgeon, in 1837.

The Nagas did, indeed, have a powerful yen for human heads, particularly those of infants - the logic being that babies are exceptionally tough to kill, since they're so diligently guarded by their parents. The tattooed tribesmen were also reputed to possess the bodies of leopards and tigers during the moon's waning phases. 'Possession is not confined to men,' the British anthropologist J.?H. Hutton wrote in 1921. 'Women also become were-leopards and are far more destructive as such than men are. Of men, those who have taken heads are the most dangerous, and are believed to kill as many men as leopards or tigers as they have done as warriors.'

Yet Naga society was not without more peaceful pleasures. The tribesmen were renowned for their artistry and music, and their open-heartedness had captivated several madcap Westerners over the years.

Ursula Graham Bower, a British anthropologist who spent the Second World War in the Indo-Burmese hills, was among those to fall under the Nagas' spell. 'I think [they] were a great deal happier than we,' she declared after returning to England. 'There one derived pleasure from small and transient things, from kindness, friendships, loyalties and the like, which because of their simpler, barer state were more deeply felt and of greater meaning.'

Perry was similarly bewitched by jungle society. He revelled in the joys of Naga culture: the communal spirit, the eloquent rituals of love and celebration, the loose sexual mores. In Tgum Ga, amidst headhunters whom the rest of the world rightly feared, Perry managed to find a strange measure of peace.

To earn status among his newfound kin, he trekked down to the Ledo Road and took a major gamble: he flagged down passing African-American soldiers and begged them for tinned food and a fresh M1 rifle. To his great relief, the black GIs happily agreed to aid their murderous comrade. Perry had already become something of a folk hero among the road's enlisted men, many of whom harboured dark fantasies about lashing out at their commanders. These admiring soldiers had even given Perry an adulatory nickname: the Jungle King.

Bearing cartons of fruit cocktail, Perry was greeted with boisterous adoration back in Tgum Ga. The chief took notice of the newcomer's largesse; he urged his 14-year-old daughter to 'make nice' with the American.

Perry and this Naga girl were wed shortly thereafter, in a ceremony involving strangled chickens and copious amount of zu (rice beer). The ang had a hut built for the newlyweds, and Perry used some of his remaining rations to purchase seeds for planting - rice, of course, but also opium poppies. He had enough wealth left over to hire several Nagas to till his fields; Perry himself preferred to spend his days hunting monkeys. At night he'd smoke ganja until late, while watching the nocturnal jungle come alive with fireflies, bats and cacophonous apes.

Perry's wife was soon with child, a final reason for the fugitive to lay down roots. 'I intended,' Perry would later state, 'to pass the remaining years of natural life in the jungles... and live with the Naga girl who I claim as my wife.'

Yet it was not to be. Word of Perry's location eventually spread from gossiping Nagas to British colonial officials, and then to the American military police. An armed posse was sent high into the Patkais, and Perry was shot and captured on 20 July, 1944. He survived his grievous wounds, only to be found guilty of murder by a military court-martial. He was given the harshest possible sentence: to be hanged by the neck until dead.

Judicial foot-dragging saved Perry from a quick trip to the gallows. The army brass took months to complete its required review of the death sentence. And as the weeks flew by, Perry plotted a daring escape from the Ledo Stockade. Just before Christmas 1944, he wriggled his way through a drainage ditch and fled back into the Indo-Burmese wilderness. The Jungle King was once again on the run, to the delight of his fellow black soldiers.

Perry was trying to get back to Tgum Ga to see his infant son. But with the military police now hot on his trail, tracking him through rice paddies with German Shepherds and shooting to kill, it would be a futile quest. On 10 March, 1945, the sick and exhausted Perry was finally captured near the town of Namrup, India. He was executed just five days later.

Before making his final ascent up the gallows' steps, Perry turned to his guard and uttered a grim farewell: 'Now,' he said, 'the Hell will start'.


Soldier fled justice — and injustice — long ago

He was a smoothie and a cad, walking and swaying up and down U Street as if he owned the town. Young women swooned over Herman Perry in...

By Wil Haygood - The Washington Post

June 7, 2008

WASHINGTON — He was a smoothie and a cad, walking and swaying up and down U Street as if he owned the town. Young women swooned over Herman Perry in those pre-World War II days. He liked silk suits and white shirts, soul food and dancing at night. The war, as it had done to so many others, caught him in midstride.

Shipped to the Indo-Burmese theater, he found the terrain strange and the heat wicked. And when Pvt. Herman Perry dashed into the jungle, fleeing the Army and the hangman's noose, then settling in with a tribe of headhunters, he knew quite well that he was a long way from U Street.

It is one of the more bizarre sagas of that war. Herman Perry's military service involved murder, arrest, escape, a young jungle bride and the mind-altering groove of opium. There was also race: A black man, Perry served in a segregated Army overseen by white officers.

But the story and shame of Perry's life all but vanished as the years passed. Historians had so many heroic war stories to focus on. Perry's family lived, until recently, in a state of bewilderment as to the circumstances of his death: His remains were returned to them only last year, 62 years after his death. The life and death of Herman Perry might have remained a footnote — some crazed military cat doped up and living in the jungle — were it not for Brendan Koerner.

Koerner could hardly believe Perry's story when he stumbled across a mention of it in an Army document while researching military executions. He became obsessed with the case and left his Manhattan home to search for Perry in the Burmese jungle.

Escape to the jungle

During World War II, American military officials set about building a road along the Burma-India border that would ferry supplies to aid the Chinese. The massive construction project would tax thousands of troops. And it involved the 849th Engineer Aviation Battalion (750 black soldiers, Herman Perry among them, and about 50 white officers). None of the black soldiers were told their destination.

This is what happened on the sweltering and unforgiving afternoon of March 5, 1944:

A 21-year-old soldier — his handsome features taut and exhausted — began, in plain sight, to walk away from his military camp. He faced disciplinary charges for missing reveille without explanation. He already had served 90 days in the stockade for disobeying an officer. While confined, he had complained about the food, the malaria and the leeches that crawled up and down his body. Like many black soldiers in the unit — men who swung shovels and pickaxes and broke rock all day — he complained of mistreatment. It was quite specific in his case: He had served at least two weeks beyond his 90-day original sentence without explanation. So, on that morning, he walked out of camp as easily as a man strolling across a city park. There was nothing but jungle.

Within hours, Perry was confronted on a road by Lt. Harold Cady, who aimed to arrest him. Perry was sweating and sobbing.

"Get back! Get back!" he called out to Cady, 28, who had hopped from his jeep, unarmed. Three others remained in the jeep. Perry — who, like some other soldiers, had begun using opium — raised his rifle and fired a shot into Cady's heart, then another into his stomach. He then turned and fled into the jungle. Cady died a short while later. He left behind a young wife and daughter.

Within days, Perry came upon a strange sight and heard voices. It was a camp of some kind. "Just outside its walls were cords of vine, hung from poles like washing lines," Koerner writes in his chronicle. "And dangling off these vines were several scrubbed and polished human skulls, with the horns of water buffaloes affixed to their sides." Perry had come upon a group of Naga tribesmen. He charmed his way into their village by using body language, then truly captured their admiration when he backtracked and retrieved some food for them from area farms.

"World's first hippie"

The Army had a murdered officer to bury — and a runaway soldier to bring to justice. The manhunt began: There were roadblocks, communiqués sent over telegraph wires. But days into the search, frustration set in as nothing turned up. Some Army searchers thought Perry might have been devoured by tigers or fallen victim to headhunters.

Grilled by Army officers, the black GIs who knew Perry had no information about his whereabouts. Many believed a mental collapse had driven him to his murderous act.

What the Naga tribesmen did understand about Perry was that he was not a colonialist. He was not British. Their affection for him grew. In time he took a young Naga bride and fathered a child. "I intended to pass the remaining years of natural life in the jungles," Perry would confess later, "... and live with the Naga girl who I claim as my wife."

Koerner came to think of Perry as "the world's first hippie."

Four months passed. Word of a black man living in the jungle then seeped out from a rice station run by the British. The Army resumed its manhunt. 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, Perry collapsed and was taken into custody.

At the makeshift Army hospital, Perry had to be given blood. It was blood from the black soldiers; the Army would not allow a black soldier to be given blood from whites.

Another escape

Perry's court-martial began in early September 1944 at a tea plantation in Ledo, India. It lasted six hours. The verdict: guilty. The sentence: death by hanging.

Perry awaited his fateful day in the Ledo stockade shackled to a log "like a chastised dog," as Koerner puts it. The weeks rolled on, into December, because an appeal was automatic. There was further delay as the Army misplaced documents.

Perry used his time in a manner he thought wise: He plotted an escape. In December, he vanished, compliments of wire cutters that someone had slipped to him. Army brass exploded. Reporters coined a nickname for Perry: the Jungle King.

The Army turned to Earl Owen Cullum and ordered him to recapture Perry.

Cullum had been a Dallas police officer before joining the military. In the Army, not surprisingly, he became a military policeman. He was handsome, no-nonsense, liked having his picture taken, often recited military history and was not amused at Perry's wiliness.

Cullum and his men caught sight of Perry at a woodcutter's camp on New Year's Day 1945. Shots were fired, and one grazed Perry's ankle. But he escaped again. His elusiveness left Perry's pursuers with a feeling they were being taunted.

On Feb. 20, 1945, Perry was spotted again. More shots were fired, and he was wounded in his Achilles tendon. A day later, he popped up from some jungle bush after hearing yapping dogs. A bullet nicked the tip of his nose. But he hobbled away as quickly as he could.

Days later, sitting at a campfire, surrounded again, Perry was out of energy. "You got me," is all he said to his captors.

Date with the gallows

Shortly before his execution, Perry wrote to his younger brother Aaron, who was in basic training at the Army's Fort Meade in Maryland: "I did wrong myself please don't make the same mistake its very easy to get in trouble but hell to get out of ... " He then urged Aaron to spend as much time as he could in the upcoming days with their mother: "While I die once she will die a thousand times ... "

The letter closed with a blunt, chilling phrase: "Don't answer."

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. Army brass feared the convoy might be stopped and fired upon by those sympathetic to Perry's plight: He had come to embody, albeit in a spasmodic and murderous act, some of the frustrations of the oppressed black soldier. If there were any confrontation, Army officers were told, they were to kill Perry immediately before defending themselves. The drive went off uninterrupted.

Before he died in 2003 at the age of 89, Cullum received a letter from Hank Johnson, Perry's half brother, who had been trying to find out about Perry's last days. The two began a brief correspondence. Cullum seemed to have adopted a gentler attitude toward Perry: "If he had used the right attitude, and if the Army had used his abilities, he could have been an excellent jungle scout," Cullum wrote Johnson. "But in the 1940s he was a roadbuilder."

"He's home now"

The sister of the hanged man recently sat at a dining-room table in Anacostia, D.C., in her son Kirk's home. Edna Wilson, 83, lives next door, but she didn't want to disturb her guard dog. She is the sole survivor of the five Perry siblings.

She recalled her youthful brother Herman as being "happy-go-lucky, always asking about the girls."

She has pictures of him: wooing a pretty girl at Meridian Hill Park, in his Army uniform with a cigarette in hand; in a suit with a smooth smile on his face.

She said she could tell her brother was disappointed with his treatment in the military. "It was tough for him all along. Going overseas in the bottom of that ship like that. The colored soldiers were treated like a bunch of animals."

When news of Perry's death reached her family in 1945, she said they were all perplexed. "I felt helpless," she said. "There was nobody to turn to to help you do anything. ... He was just a kid. And to go from the city to the jungle like that ... " Her voice trailed off.

"He didn't have nobody on his side," she added.

For years, Perry's family did not even know where his body was buried. "We thought someplace over there in the jungle," Wilson said.

Cullum told them of Perry's resting place in a military cemetery in Hawaii. Wilson asked Koerner if he could help them bring Herman back.

So Wilson, living on a fixed income, scrounged up $1,000 to have her brother's body dug up and cremated. Seven months ago, there was a knock at her door. The mailman had delivered a box holding her brother's ashes.

"He's home now," she said of the Jungle King.



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