Editor's note: This is the fourth of a six-part series honoring local veterans, leading up to the city of Paducah's inaugural American Hero Day celebration on Nov. 11.
BY SHELLEY BYRNE
MAYFIELD -- Sam Perry's stories from World War II are so detailed it sounds like they could have happened yesterday.
Perry, 95, vividly recalls the sights, smells and feelings that followed him from Lynnville to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, on to France, Germany and Austria, and finally back home to Graves County after two years serving overseas.
Perry, who has lived in Sedalia for decades, doesn't flat out say he lied to get into the Army when he wasn't quite 18, just that he "might have."
He has a wall of metals, but he doesn't remember what most of them were for anymore. Some appear to be marksman awards for rifle, mortar, pistol and bayonet. A 2nd Armored Division patch includes the unit saying "Hell on Wheels."
Perry said, "Because that's what we were."
He also has most of his original Army supplies. When his tour was over, the person in charge told the soldiers to mark everything as returned and get on home.
"I think I'm lucky, fortunate that I still have that much of my equipment," Perry said, showing his canteen, ammunition belt, the leggings he wore beneath his combat boots and his old steel helmet, now hung upside down from a cord.
Pointing to his helmet, he said, "Them things, until you got used to them, would break your neck wearing it."
That helmet may have saved his neck a few times, too. Perry never took a direct hit, but he was close enough to an artillery shell blast more than once to be knocked to the ground.
"Those artillery shells hit close enough to you, boy, they'll jar your teeth out," Perry recalled. "You'd just get back up, get on your steel helmet and go again."
Perry's worst injury wasn't from enemy fire, though. He was riding on the tailgate of a truck when the driver hit a concrete wall, jarring him so hard, "I couldn't move my feet for a while."
He was in France at the time and hospitalized in Paris, so he went to see the Eiffel Tower. Having no camera to take a photo, however, he decided to prop up against it while he smoked a cigarette.
Perry was a sergeant with 15 men under his command when his unit took some of its worst casualties. They had gone into a house when they soon realized German troops had surrounded them and were firing through the walls. The Nazis yelled for them to throw down their guns.
"Two or three of my boys threw their guns down, and I told them, 'Grab that gun back up, buddy,'" Perry remembered. He then used the smoke from the rifle blasts and the dust from the plaster to sneak surviving members of the unit out under cover.
"The smoke and the dust just put up a perfect screen," Perry said. "They were still shooting up the place, and we were out and gone."
One of his strongest memories was when their unit freed a concentration camp.
"Oh, it was terrible," he said, describing people who were so starved they looked like skeletons but so grateful for release that they didn't want to let go of the soldiers they embraced.
"If they were strong enough to stand up and get their arms around you," Perry added, "you couldn't get them loose."
American troops gave them their own K-rations, he remembered. "They were crying just like little babies."
They had been so hungry, he said, that as far as they could reach through the barbed wire fences that had contained them, they had picked and eaten every blade of grass.
Not all memories were horrible, though. Perry remembered one of his unit's duties was to check out what every train was carrying. Someone opened up a tanker car to find it full of wine.
"Everybody shot their own hole in the tank," Perry remembered, saying they found buckets and all other manner of containers to carry the wine away and have a little party.
Perry and his unit were preparing for an invasion for the purpose of capturing Nazi leader Adolf Hitler himself when word was passed that the war was over.
"Our goal was we were going to capture Hitler, and we were about 5 miles from where he had put up when the war ended, and they stopped us," he said.
By the war's end, Perry had advanced to the rank of staff sergeant. He said he doesn't remember what he was doing when he heard the war was over, but he says he remembers what he did afterward.
"I got drunker than a skunk, and I wasn't by myself," he said, grinning mischievously. "I had a lot of company."
Perry returned home to Graves County, where he went to carpentry school and eventually opened Perry's Construction, building homes across the county. He married, had five children and eventually grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren.