Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Mr. Edward B. Perry in Brick, New Jersey, on November 8, 2013, with Shaun Illingworth.
(Rudy Adams?): (Rudy Adams?).
(Joshua Yammer?): (Joshua Yammer?).
SI: Mr. Perry, thank you so much for having us here. Thank you to your wife as well for having us and for sharing all of this material with us earlier in the day.
Edward Perry: Happy.
SI: To begin, can you tell us where and when you were born?
EP: I was born in Chicago, Illinois, October 13, 1925.
SI: What were your parents' names?
EP: My dad's name was Samuel, and my mother's name was Ethel.
SI: Do you know anything about your family background, maybe starting with your father's side, where the family came from?
EP: They were actually from England, and my mother's family was from Scotland. My granddad was an engineer on the B&O Railroad, a big guy. He came to this country when he was thirteen years old, a very industrious guy, saved his money and everything. Later in life, it helped sustain me. My father, unfortunately in life--he was very successful initially. He was in a business where they had the patent on egg crates, and he was a salesman for that and then he went into wholesale jewelry, and the depression came along and of course that fell flat, and he auctioned off a lot of jewelry stores and made a lot of money. He went into business in Marion, Ohio, and we lived in Marion, Ohio, which is just above Ohio State University, forty-four miles north of Columbus. It's the hometown of President [Warren G.] Harding. He had a nice business there, a saloon, and he made a lot of money, but he unfortunately wasn't a great businessman. He took in a woman that fleeced him out of everything, and after that he became almost a total alcoholic. Later, we very seldom saw him. I didn't have much of a father from the time I was about six years old. That was it. So, fortunately, my grandmother and my grandfather had bought a lot of real estate-owned trusts, and that sustained us plus food stamps and vegetable gardens during the Depression. So, I owe a lot to my grandmother. In fact, I go to the grave in Marion, Ohio where she and my grandfather are buried. I go once a year, usually. I go to three graves. I go to one for my former mother and father in law's grave, (Rizzo?) and I put flowers on their graves. Then I go to my sister and my mother's grave in Pittsburgh. From there, I go to Marion, Ohio, for my grandfather and my grandmother. I try to go annually. I go because if it weren't for my grandmother, I wouldn't be here. We moved back to Pittsburgh and we moved into an apartment in Bellevue, Pennsylvania. We were only two doors from the high school at that time. I ran the North Boroughs YMCA. Because of a problem with one of the coaches in football, the coach wasn't going to bend at all for me. I got a job at the North Boroughs YMCA for a year before I went into the service. At that time they couldn't get anybody. They had to fall back to kids that were athletes and that's where I fell in. So, I made ninety dollars a week as the director of basketball.
SI: Was that after you graduated from high school?
EP: While I was in high school, I used to hop streetcars. There were three streetcars that went through Pittsburgh. I'd get up at five o'clock in the morning and I'd hop the streetcars until about eight or eight thirty. I had a study hall for my first class, so it didn't matter what time I got to school. If I got there before nine thirty I was all right. I got my class in. On the streetcar, I sold the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It was three cents. I'd get a big bandolier of papers and I'd go through the streetcar selling them. I was making twenty five dollars a week hopping streetcars when there weren't people--grown men weren't making that [during] the Depression. I left that to take the job at the YMCA. So that was that. So, I don't know anything else I can tell you about that.
SI: About how old were you when your family moved back to the Pittsburgh area?
EP: My sister was in seventh grade at the time, and when I graduated from the eighth grade she got rheumatic fever. She sat in a wing chair up for two years with the footstool and she never moved except to go to the bathroom and that was it. While she was in that state, the teachers from the grade school would come over to visit her. They said to my mother, "You know, (Ann?) is a great student. It's too bad that we can't get our lessons to her somehow. Is there any way you could come over and get them?" So, my mother designated me. So, I was hopping streetcars. At the time was still playing basketball. When I finished basketball, I'd go get her lessons. I would bring her lessons home. I would coach her. She passed everything. She graduated from the eighth grade and she got better, went to high school. She was on the National Honor Society every year for four years. One of the teachers came to me and they said, "Ed, what the hell is the matter with you?" I said, "What do you mean?" "What is the matter with you?" I said, "Why?" They said, "Your sister is in the National Honor Society every year, and you're lucky if you manage to get all A's and B's. You get a C every once a while. You're not applying yourself." Well, I had fun. I was playing basketball. I had buddies. I just did what I had to do and that was it. So, that was the story there. So, anyhow, she went along and she graduated from high school. I graduated when I was in Hawaii. Well, I was in Hawaii when I graduated from high school. The School board and principal underwrote me because they said even though I didn't apply myself as well, I was still in the upper third of my class. They graduated me because I went to the service. My sister graduated and she got a nice job in downtown Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, she died about a year after I got back from the service.
SI: Well, I wanted to go back to when you were growing up in in Marietta, Ohio.
EP: Marion, Marion. Marietta is another city.
SI: Marion, Ohio. You said you endured the Great Depression there. Can you give us a little more detail about what the life was like during that time?
EP: Well, we lived at 309 Willow Street. It was a nice home. It had a big sun porch in the front and my grandmother paid thirty seven dollars a month. She paid the utilities. We got food stamp. My mother and grandmother canned everything. We had a big garden. In fact we grew, which I love, rhubarb. You ever have rhubarb pie? Well, we grew everything in that garden. We had a cistern to put the pail down and bring the pail up and water all the plants. That was my duty. I moved the big concrete cover thing over and dipped the pail down. That was one of my duties. My mother and grandmother, they would can everything under the sun. We had plenty of food to eat. There wasn't a problem with that. Thanks to my grandmother we had a roof over our heads. In 1939, we moved back to Pittsburgh. I went into high school in Bellevue.
SI: Did your mother ever work outside of the home?
EP: She did after I left for the service, and she got a job with Kaufmann's department store. She was a telephone operator and adjuster in Kaufmann's. She worked there. Finally, retired. She got a pension. She and my father, when she got the job, they divorced, of course, and I never knew what happened to my father. I had no father, but I had a family.
SI: When did you get interested in baseball?
EP: Well, in Marion, Ohio. There were twelve boys on the street on Willow Street. The problem we had when we played baseball was [having] enough gloves to go around. I remember playing left field one time, I had no glove and I capped under a fly, came right through and bam, there was blood everywhere.
SI: When you got to high school in Bellevue, did you start playing baseball right away?
EP: Yes, I played softball and baseball. In fact, I didn't play baseball right away, I played softball. I played with older fellows. Some of them were even married. They would put me in a spot, like, "Put him in right field." But I could hit. Later on, I started to play baseball, and we went to a field called Kendall field. It had a wire fence, was 365 feet away. Every once in a while, as long as I didn't have to face my one buddy, he was an Irishman, Ted Dugan. He threw the greatest curve ball. I struck out more times against him than I know. So as long as I didn't face him, I was all right. I could either hit the fence or hit it over the fence.
SI: Was that your friend that went to the majors for a year?
EP: Yes. Yes. There were three Dugan boys. There was Bill, Ted, and Dick. Now, Dick is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a sports writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and he did sports cartoons in the paper, and he got elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame because of his cartoons. Hank Sauer is there. I played ball with him and his brother. His brother was--I can't think of his first name, and he was centerfield for the Cubs in the 1945 World Series. [Editor's Note: Ed Sauer played centerfield during the 1945 Chicago Cubs season.] Hank played for Bill McKechnie and the Cincinnati Reds and then he played for the New York Giants and he became the batting coach for the New York Giants when they moved to the West Coast and he's in the baseball Hall of Fame. Hank's in there. Of course Ted Williams is in there. The north side was called the North Side of Pittsburgh and was next to Bellevue and that's where the Rooneys, owners of the Steelers lived. Well, when I had kids later in life, when I had my son, he played on a lot of teams that played against the Rooney kids on the North Side. So, originally in life, before that even happened, I was playing ball with George Bope. He played basketball in high school, and his mother was a Rooney, Al Rooney's sister. So, Al Rooney used to come out and give us tickets to go fill up Pitt Stadium. The story behind Art Rooney is, if you're interested, Art Rooney was a bootlegger, made a lot of money. Probation came along. He went to prostitution. He had eight houses of ill repute in the Hill District in Pittsburgh, and made a lot of money. In one year, he had a good day or weekend or something, for $3300 or $3400 dollars he bought the Steelers in 1933 or 4. The first Super Bowl they won, he was offered eighty five million dollars for it, which he never sold of course. Art Rooney was the type of guy--he would gamble on what time the sun would come up and what time the sun went down. He was a great guy. He had this big cigar, I don't know whether I ever saw him or not, but he had this Cuban cigar. That was his delight in life. If the nurses at the West Penn Hospital needed a new X-ray machine, they would go to Art, and Art was a soft touch. No matter what they needed, the nurses or the medical staff, they went to Art and he underwrote it. Just wrote a check and bang. That was it. So, Art was very liberal and easy-going. Of course the Steelers, they have a great background. They won five Super Bowls, but anyhow the story, part of that, stemmed from Bellevue and the boyhood.
SI: What positions did you play?
EP: I played either in the outfield, once in a while if they really got pressed I would play third base. [laughter] They had to be pressed pretty hard. Now, one of the nice things in life--I was small, I had small hands, so I wasn't going to go very far in life. I'm not kidding anybody. If I got to Triple-A ball I would've been amazing. I could hit, but I was slow running, I had small hands, and I wasn't a bad fielder as long as I could get to the ball. [laughter] The Pittsburgh Pirates were interested in me was because I could hit, and at that time during World War II, there weren't very many people around, so they signed me up. They signed me a sign sheet, five hundred dollars a month for two and a half months with Hornell in New York. That was before I went to the service, and then when I came back of course that was it. Bob Prince took me down in the clubhouse and introduced you to some of the guys I might have played baseball with." Bob takes me down and I'm going into the dressing room and here on a bench about so wide, like this, is sitting a guy that I recognize. It's Ralph Kiner. [Editor's Note: Ralph Kiner is a Baseball Hall of Famer who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and Cleveland Indians between 1946 and 1955.] Ralph Kiner is sitting on the bench. Everybody else is drinking cocktails and drinking beer. Ralph Kiner's drinking a half a gallon of milk. So, Ralph says to--after we're introduced, he says, "What's Ed doing after the ball game?" He [Bob Prince] says, "I don't think he's doing anything. He rides street cars and goes home to his mother and sister and grandmother." So, he says, "Ask him if he would like to stay and have dinner with Nancy and he is coming." "I don't know who Nancy is." His wife was Nancy Chaffee. She was number three in tennis. He was a great guy. The nice thing about Ralph Kiner is he knew how to save his money. Bob Prince was a salesman and he had sold annuities. So, every time Kiner would get a raise, he put it into annuities. He's like me. I invested in annuities because of that. I learned a lesson. That's what my kids are going to live on when I die, if they can afford to pay the tax on it.
SI: By the time you moved to Bellevue, would you say that the Depression was still affecting the area?
EP: Oh, yes. Yes. Oh, yes, because I was making twenty five dollars a week on the street cars and there were guys that were working, they were building ships down in [Dravo's Neville Island shipyard]. Dravo built a lot of LCI's [Landing Craft Infantry] and LST's [Landing Ship, Tank] in a place called Neville Island. It was an island in the Ohio River and they floated them down the Ohio River down to Mississippi and out into the ocean. There were guys who were working in there who were sweeping floors and everything afterwards; they weren't making twenty five dollars a week, maybe twenty dollars a week. I was making more money than they were. I gave my mother ten dollars a week, and that was for whatever she wanted to do with it. I saved my fifteen dollars. When I came out of the service I had a nice nest egg and everything. So, one of the things I learned from my grandmother is to just gamble only as much as you can afford to lose.
SI: I wanted to ask, did you gamble when you were younger, even before you went in the service?
EP: No, not until after. When I came home, my first wife Catherine, Renie, and I--she was a school nurse. I was making over a hundred-thousand dollars a year, and we used to go--she and I used to go, and we used to gamble and we would win jackpots, both she and I. That's after our kids were grown and everything, we went down. So, we had a tax problem, a big tax problem, because we'd win too much and then we're paying tax. So, I've learned to be a little more modest.
SI: When you were in the service, did you gamble? I know in the service there's a lot of gambling.
EP: No, no. No, never.
SI: No craps games? In those years, before you went into the Marine Corps, even before Pearl Harbor, was the war a big topic in your area?
EP: Oh yes, absolutely. In the war in Africa and Italy, when they came ashore in Italy, and Africa in the desert, with--what's his name, [Erwin] Rommel.
EP: The "Desert Fox" and everything, was always in the headlines. We were very acquainted with it and everything. Of course, my family because of Franklin Roosevelt and all of the things that he put through and everything, we were very stout Democratic, because he was very much in favor of the small guys, and even his wife Eleanor, she used to go in the coal mines and she was a big preacher to get safety in the coal mines for the coalminers, particularly in West Virginia. He had a big fight with John L. Lewis, who was the head of the coalmines at one time, and Franklin won.
SI: That led to the coalminers' strike. Was that while you were in the service or was it before?
SI: I know a lot of people were angry with the coalminers as a result of that. Do you remember having any feelings about that?
EP: I was in favor of the coalminers. When you're on the lower rungs and you're on food stamps yourself and everything else, I don't think you want to be against people--it's just like today with the ObamaCare and everything. See, I have a feeling about ObamaCare. ObamaCare, as far as I'm concerned, is for people that can't afford it and need the money and everything else. I can't understand for the life of me why people are so dead set against it. One of the things that is preached all the time, if you have Medicare and you're over sixty-five, there's no problem. You keep what you got.
SI: When you were growing up, particularly in Pennsylvania, could you see the WPA or other New Deal programs in action?
EP: Well, no, not too much where we were, because we're in Bellevue and there wasn't much going on in Bellevue. In that area of Pittsburgh, there wasn't that much. But they had the CC camps, where the guys went out and planted trees and everything else during the depression. So, I was acquainted with that, but that's it.
SI: Did you know guys in your neighborhood who went into the Civilian Conservation Corps?
EP: No. Gilda, one of her brothers was in the CC camp. Gilda is one of ten children. She's the youngest. They claim she's the spoiled brat of the family.
SI: Do you guys have questions about his earlier years growing up before we go to World War II? Just jump in whenever you feel comfortable. I just want to clarify something. When you were playing baseball in high school were you playing for the high school team or local?
EP: No, just local. Pick up teams.
SI: Pickup teams?
SI: Did they have an industrial league, a semi-pro type thing?
SI: Did you play semi-pro ball, or just amateur?
EP: Well, a couple times I played with the guys that were like semi-pros. Fill in. Like a fill in. Maybe they'd be going to a game and they only had eight guys. So, they'd say, "Hey, get that Perry kid and we'll take him along. Put him in right field." [laughter]
JY: Did your school have a team?
EP: Not a baseball team. They had a football team and a basketball team. I played on the basketball team, and there was a referee that was in the National Football League. His name was Red Moorcroft, and Red Moorcroft was quite a referee. In fact, I think he got hit by somebody one time and pulverized, and they had to carry him off the field. But Red Moorcroft played for Ohio State, and he was a placekicker. I got into the National Football League as a referee and everything. It had opened the doors for him. Well, one time we were at the high school field, and Moorcroft was out there and I used to be able to drop kick. Thank God I could drop kick forty yards, and it would go right through the cross bars. So, Red Moorcroft was from Ohio State and he was home before going back to school. So, he knew I had a paper route and everything, and I was making fairly good money as a kid. So, he wanted to bet fifteen dollars, best out of three from forty yards. I said, "Okay. What the hell?" I can afford fifteen dollars. So, he kicks two and he only makes one. I kicked all three ... "Sorry, Red. Sorry, Red." So, I remember a guy. You probably never heard of him, Bob Waterfield. He played for Los Angeles, and he was a great quarterback for the Los Angeles ball team. He used to drop kick and when they played the Cleveland Browns--the Cleveland Browns they had Lou Groza and Otto Graham and all those guys, and Waterfield used to play against them, and he could drop kick. Boy, he was something, I'll tell you, and he married Jane [Russell].
SI: Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked? What do you remember about that day?
EP: Where was I? Jeez, I'm trying to think where I was. I don't know whether--shortly after that, they had a special come out. What do they call it? They had a special news thing, they used to--
SI: An extra edition?
EP: Yes, extra. Yes, and I don't know whether I was out playing ball or something, and I came home and I found out about it. Then I got a call from the newspaper guy and he said, "Ed, we're putting out an extra. Be down to the corner." Very fortunately, where I lived in Bellevue, the apartment I lived in was three stories high, and we were on the third floor, and next-door was the UP [United Presbyterian] church and then next to that was the high school. So, it was nice for me, and then in the other direction, a block and a half was where I sold papers.
SI: How did your neighborhood, your general area, begin to change after Pearl Harbor?
EP: I don't think it changed that much, except for the young people that were going into the service, and there weren't that many leaving high school because they'd wait until after they graduated to go into the service. So, there wasn't any big influx of people going into the service from the high school, it others that I wasn't acquainted with, maybe newlyweds or guys that were working somewhere else, downtown Pittsburgh or something like that.
SI: Did you see a lot of war industry building up in the area?
EP: Oh, yes. They had Dravo, which I told you about had built the LST's and they built the LCI's, ships. Dravo on Neville Island, that was on the Ohio River. Then down, they had American Bridge, that was a steel factory, and that was on this side of the thing. In fact, from American Bridge there was a famous football player from that area from Aliquippa. That was the name of the town there. Mike Ditka. Mike Ditka, that's where he grew up and went to high school and he played for the University of Pittsburgh, where I went. Also, on the other side of the highway was another steel mill, Midland steel mill. So, there were two steel mills right on the Ohio River that were very big. They were doing everything, building cannons, everything. I don't know what all they were building there. There wasn't any lack of employment during World War II, none.
SI: What about rationing? When did rationing come into effect for you?
EP: Oh, yes, that came real quick. Of course steak and everything was ... rationed and automobile tires. You couldn't buy automobile tires for your car and everything. You had to get it re-treaded. I don't know what else. Ice cream was not rationed though. [laughter] I used to love my ice cream cones. Right where my stand was in the corner where I hopped streetcars was this big drugstore and they had the ice cream fountain right inside, and man, I used to get ice cream cones all the time.
SI: We were just talking about before the war, how things like rationing and the war industry affected your life.
EP: Well, we had food stamps at that time, our family. When we were in Marion, Ohio, of course we had a vegetable garden, but we didn't have that facility when we were in the apartments in Bellevue. So, my mother and grandmother used to look for sales on vegetables that they could can, and then they'd buy them at the local A&P or whatever kind of stuff they could can, tomatoes, whatever. So, that helped sustain us ... but the food stamps were very big for a lot of people then. It wasn't like today when sometimes you see somebody in one of the A&P's or something here, food places, and they have food stamps. A lot of people look down and say, "Oh, my god. What's the matter with these people? Can't they work? What's the matter? How come they're getting food stamps?" Well, maybe they don't understand, but anyhow, in those days it was not considered taboo to be on foods stamps. Today, maybe a lot of people are funny that way. I think it's terrible. People look down their nose at other people. That's not good.
SI: Can you take us through what led you to start considering the service? You said initially you thought of the V5 program rather than the Marine Corps.
EP: Yes, well, when I was in high school, I decide there's a lot of people going into the service and everything, and I thought whatever I can do to enhance my background would be for my benefit. So, I got talked into taking celestial navigation at the Buhl Planetarium, which is a big building on the north side of Pittsburgh. I used to hop streetcars and then take celestial navigation courses. I went from celestial navigation to dead reckoning. So, I thought, "Boy." I was building a little résumé back here hopefully. I was really interested in the V5 program, which was for navigators on these big planes that were bombing Africa and flying from--I don't know where they were flying from, but they were bombing in Africa and in Italy. So, I wanted to go into the V5 program, but that didn't work out. So, when the time came for me to go, I had to go in September because I was going to be eighteen in October of 1943. So, when I got there, there was no way I was going to get into the V5; I tried. Too many college graduates. So, then it's a question of Army or Navy. Well, I didn't like the thirteen buttons for the Navy and I didn't like the Army. I'll enlist in the Marine Corps. My great uncle, my grandmother's brother, had been in the Marine Corps in Asia in the early 1900s, and he loved the Marine Corps. So, I thought, "Enlist in the Marine Corps." Then they had two places where they trained you, boot camps.
JY: The Marine Corps Recruit Depots. So, there's a Paris Island one and then a San Diego one.
EP: Yes, that's right, and San Diego. There are only two of them. Yes. So, there weren't any openings at San Diego or in Paris Island. So, I thought, "Well, okay," but I enlisted anyhow and they said, "We're going to postpone this until we get (we had a big influx of people at both depots) and when we can, we will call you up." "Okay. Great." They called me in March. They sent me to San Diego, which is a great break. That was a great break because if you went to Paris Island, there were a lot of swamps down in Paris Island, a lot of snakes.
JY: Sand fleas.
EP: Yes. Paris Island, forget it. So, I went to San Diego. All there is out there is sand. I was lucky and I got this train ride across the country in a Pullman. I went into the Marine Corps and they take me by Pullman all the way to the West Coast. When I got there, they were issuing new dungarees and everything. The guy in front of me standing in line, they were giving out shoes.
JY: I understand the training environment there is just a bunch of hills.
EP: Oh, that's up around Camp Pendleton where you get the hills. They used to get these big snakes that would swallow an animal and they'd be that big around. One time we were out on maneuvers in Camp Pendleton and we had a forced march. Tt was forty-four miles up in the hot sun on 101. That was the main highway on the West Coast and it was hot. It was about close to a hundred degrees. Jack Shoomis was a guy that had his legs blown off on Iwo Jima. Well, he was leading the parade. He was an all-American end with Baylor. He will never quit. We had one break in forty-four miles. I had blood blisters for two weeks. I couldn't even fallout for duty, but I made it all the way. But this guy, Jack, honest to God, he was something else, I want to tell you. He was a guy that was a football player for the New York Giants. He attended Baylor for one year, then enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Jack got the Congressional Medal of Honor on Iwo--directing tank fire front lines. He stepped on a land mine and blew off both legs. He is in a book, The Wounded of Iwo Jima, along with myself.
JY: Did you get a draft number, or you enlisted on your own?
EP: I enlisted. Yes, I volunteered. They had three categories. You either got drafted or you enlisted for four years, or you could volunteer for the duration in four months or six months. You could enlist for four years. So, you could do one of three things. So, I volunteered for the duration in six months. I didn't get drafted because I was still under eighteen. I could volunteer or I could have enlisted for four years if I wanted to.
RA: Were the people in your platoon mainly people that had volunteered or had they been drafted?
EP: Yes, most of them. A lot of them were enlisted. In fact, what happened in the Fifth Marine Division, when they decided to form the Fifth Marine Division, they brought back a lot of guys from the First Marine Division, the Second Marine Division. We had a lot of veterans in with boots like myself, young kids, which was great because these guys, they tell you, "Shape up or else. My life depends on you, pal." I remember one night, I was on Iwo [Jima], and it was raining and this volcanic ash was sticking to everything and I started to cry. This big guy that was with me, he hit me hard, "Boom." I thought all my teeth were gone. He hit me so hard. He said, "Listen you little son of a bitch. I'm depending on you. Shape up."
RA: How were your drill instructors? How many did you have? Did you only have the one or did you have a team of drill instructors?
EP: Well, when I was in boot camp, I had a tough one. One night, I was writing a letter home to my mother and he got on me. I got up and I flew across, then I caught him in the bed. He thought I was going to kill him.
SI: How long was your boot camp at San Diego?
EP: Oh, I can't remember. It wasn't that long. Eight weeks. Then we got out of boot camp in San Diego and had ten days to go home. So, I went home by train again. Coach to Pittsburgh.
SI: What was it like coming back home now that you were a Marine?
EP: Well, I had a buddy [who] had a little sister. I think she was a junior in high school, very pretty little girl. She was ready to marry me. She was great. I enjoyed her, but I had all my buddies at home and we went everywhere and we had a good time. The guys that I was telling you played ball with me were younger than me, like Ted Dugan. It was nice coming home.
SI: When you went back to San Diego, was that when they put you in the Fifth Marines?
SI: There was no training in between?
SI: Which regiment were you in?
EP: 27th. I was in the Second Battalion 27th Marines, F Company.
RA: Do you remember who was your regimental commander?
EP: The guy in charge of our platoon and everything was Lieutenant Tillman. He actually lives in the mainline on Pittsburgh. I still have his address and everything. I hardly ever see him, but we have a group of about one hundred and twenty. In fact, they're in here. ... These are all people that were in our outfit, who we were involved [with]. This guy, he made a commission in the field. We were pinned down like John Basilone. [Editor's Note: John Basilone is a famous Medal of Honor recipient for his duty and died fighting on Iwo Jima.] He had hand grenades, threw [them] in the pillboxes, blew them up, and I think he got the Silver Star for this. Then, he earned a commission in the field. So, he became a Lieutenant Colonel, as a result of the commission in the field. Billy was from Maryland somewhere--Hagerstown, Maryland. So, we used to see him at the reunions. We used to have a reunion once a year, throughout the continental United States. One year would be in Philadelphia, next year maybe Denver, Colorado, next year Dallas, Texas, New Orleans, all different cities. We had a good time. I'd say there was anywhere from two to four hundred at every reunion we had for about forty or fifty years. They still have one and they call it Iwo Jima, and it includes the Marines that were on Iwo Jima. It includes the Navy. It includes anybody that flew their in planes in the Army and landed on Iwo Jima or anybody that was in battleships or ships off of Iwo. They presented to me at the last reunion we had with a painting "Bar on Beach." That was two years ago. Gilda went with me and we were sitting at this table and she had nine men around her. She thought she died and went to heaven. The one guy was a great dancer. They presented this painting. This wall was decorated with all kinds of memorabilia, Marine flags, everything under the sun. Gilda's first husband was in Korea. It's a little too much for her sometimes, too much Marine Corps. So, she said to me one day, she says, "Can't we get rid of some of that stuff down in the basement?" So, I got rid of 95% of everything I had on the wall and gave it to my children, my ribbons, everything I had, any commendations, anything, I give it to the kids. So, the only thing I have on here now is the Pittsburgh Steelers, and this plaque. That's it. I keep a lot of books in the cabinet there so it doesn't bother her.
SI: How long did you train with the Fifth Marine Division before you were sent overseas?
EP: Maybe three months? That was it.
SI: Did you find that you got into a good working relationship with the men that you were in the same unit with?
RA: You said you went on a lot of liberty while you were training.
RA: Can you tell us more about that? What was your favorite story from that time?
EP: A lot of guys who were in the Fifth Marine Division, they went up to Los Angeles and they'd get drunk. I wasn't a drinker, never have been, and I had a great aunt that was in Santa Monica.
Gilda Perry: He should be giving you lunch.
EP: My great aunt was up in Santa Monica [with] my great uncle. That was my grandmother's sister. Her boy was the dentist that was in Brentwood Park where O.J. Simpson was. Had a big dentistry and he had a lot of these movie stars and people in the industry, vice presidents of banks and everything. I used to go up there. I would go to their house. They had one boy that was a Johns Mansfield Executive Vice President. The other one was this dentist. The guy that was with Johns Mansfield, he had a room at home with his parents, but he was always traveling. There was always a key somewhere in the house that I could get. So, if I got time off and I'd come up the highway on 101. I'd get there in Santa Monica and I'd get the key and then I'd usually go down to Casino Gardens. Casino Gardens was a great big dance hall. It had parquet floors on it, beautiful. All around the perimeter were great big lounging chairs, sofas, everything. Then, they had a tremendous deli in it. Also, if you went in there, they had a place you could get your uniform dry cleaned, you could get your shoes shined, you could take a shower there, and it only cost you maybe a quarter for whatever you were doing. It cost you eighty nine cents to get in first, and then everything was available, all the services if you wanted. Well, the nice thing was when you got in there; there were all kinds of girls coming in who were making money in the defense factories. They had money coming, so they'd buy everything, whatever you wanted.
EP: Anyhow, whenever I'd go there it was great. I would have a good time, and that one time I was telling you I walked from--I used to have to take a couple of buses to get to this Brentwood Park where O.J. lived and where my mother's cousin lived, my great aunt's boy. So that's where I met Pat O'Brien. One time he said, "There's something wrong with you." I said, "What you mean?" He was a great Irishman, got that brogue and everything. He was a movie star. "What is the matter with you? Walter's got three cars up there. Why don't you to get a car of his?" I said, "I don't drive." He said, "Jesus Christ, are you Marines all that dumb?" [laughter] I remember it just like yesterday, and when I left he said to me, "Here. Here's twenty dollars. For Christ's sake take the bus back to camp".
RA: All these trips you took on your own or would you have a liberty buddy where people come with you?
EP: Yes, a lot of times. One time there was three of us that came up, and we went to across the street from the theater, that's where they put your feet in the mud and cement and everything. There was this .... place and everything. So, we decide we're going to get drunk, we're going to have a few beers anyhow. Maybe not get drunk, but we're going to have a few beers. So, we go into this place, and at that time it was customary for a beer to be maybe fifty cents. So, we ordered three beers, and I laid five dollars on the counter. He gave me a dollar back. I said, "You made a mistake." He said, "Oh, no." He said, "I didn't make any mistake." I said "What do you mean?" He says, "We have entertainment here." I said, "What's the entertainment?" Nat King Cole was there, and he was playing. This is when he first started out and he was called Nat King Cole ... He had three pieces and he played the piano. He stood up and played the piano and sang. He said, "That's our entertainment." We had to alter our plans. They had in the suburbs, this big home and you went to this home and they had a pool that was built by Sardi's. That was a restaurant where they used to have a restaurant in the morning, Sardi's Restaurant. They had older women in the kitchen and they'd cook you steaks, and there was a dining room and a big dining room table and then the girls would dance with you. So, the one girl said, "You want to go swimming?" "I don't have a swimsuit." She said, "That's alright. We have paper pants." I thought, "I don't know about paper pants." [laughter] She said, "They work, Ed." I said, "No, I think I'll stay here." So, we ended up at Sardi's and we had steaks and everything anyhow.
JY: Did you see yourself having a lot of free time?
EP: No. We got maybe three or four trips in the three months I was in at Camp Pendleton, that's it.
SI: You said that a lot of the men you served with had served in these earlier units and had been early in earlier campaigns. Do you remember anything that they taught you or told you that wasn't necessarily in your other training or in the manual? Things that they taught you from experience?
EP: Well, at the time, none of its vivid, but they were great because it's like having somebody behind you that knows what the hell they're doing. We had a lot of older guys. There wasn't any kidding around. There were quite a few young ones, but I'd say it was better than 50% older.
RA: There wasn't any sort of rift between the guys?
EP: The Indian that I told you about, the guy that got shot between the eye, one time everyone got on liberty. So, he made this concoction of cactus apples and all kinds of fruit and he put it in some kind of crock and he put it up in a tree and let it ferment. Man, did he get bombed and he was in terror. He got out his bayonet and he was threatening people with it. They got in the tent with him and he hit the tent pole with his bayonet. The tent pole is thick. It went right through it. It broke the blade off the thing and the tent comes down. They're all under the tent with him. They had to tackle and sedate him. Hemmenger was a nice kid. He was sending his money home to his mother and sisters and never went on liberty.
JY: Did you join the Marine Corps because you thought you had a responsibility to help out your family or you wanted to serve your country?
EP: No, I liked the Marine Corps better than any of the other services. The other services--like I said, if I could have gotten into the Army Air Force, I would have gone in the Army Air Force, but it was closed. If you were a college graduate, you had already graduated from college, maybe you could get into that program, the V5 program. That's it.
SI: When you were training with the Fifth Marine Division in Camp Pendleton, did you know about John Basilone at that time?
SI: Were you aware of his presence?
EP: No. In fact, when I first got there, John Basilone wasn't there.
SI: Wasn't there.
EP: He was still selling bonds across the country. I wasn't too interested in who the hell was selling bonds or not because there were a lot of celebrities, the glamour girls get on the train and they get off and there would be Marilyn Monroe or a Jane Mansfield, whoever was involved.
SI: Tell us about shipping out from San Diego. I guess you went to Hawaii first.
EP: Yes. Well, we had a big ocean-going vessel, a big passenger vessel at the time. In fact, one of the things, the officers had their own booze and the enlisted men were always involved in loading the booze for the officers, and it's surprising how much of those booze disappeared. I wasn't involved in that, thank God, but I remember one night we were in Camp at Camp Tarawa, that was in Hawaii. We were in Hawaii, we were about two or three thousand feet high up in the mountains. They actually have in Hawaii, a lot of times during the year they have a lot of snow in the peaks there and you can ski in the big Island of Hawaii. One thing you have to watch when you're skiing in Hawaii is snow blindness, because the reflection off the snow can blind you. So you have to make sure that you have good goggles here so that it doesn't affect you while you're skiing. Anyhow, what was I going to tell you about that? I lost track of--anyhow, we were just down from that, underneath that, and when you get up in the morning, man it was cold. I had this one kid that slept next to me, and he would take all--he had two blankets and he'd put his blankets around him and put it down over his head and we had roll call. I forget what his name was right now, but they'd say his name. He'd come out from under the blankets. This kid was from New Orleans; he couldn't stand the cold.
SI: What did the training in Camp Tarawa consist of?
EP: Oh, we had a lot of--they would demonstrate--first, we had the infiltration courses, infiltration where you went under the barbed wire and they'd fire machine guns overtop of you, and of course that was one course that was universal. I can't remember a lot of--one of the nice things when I was in Camp Tarawa, I got officer's mess. Oh, man, was that great. I loved that, because then I ate as good as the officers. See, I served them, but then I got to eat the steaks and everything they were eating. I was on that for about two or three weeks. We had a guy, Bob Crosby, that was Bing Crosby's brother, and he had a band, and he was also in what they call the Fifth Marine Division band. I remember having--we had a couple of beers at night. I had a beer once in a while with him, but what they really loved was they got sardines in the can, and they'd have sardines and crackers. I've never had sardines or crackers since or before, but they were great. In fact, I would have no reservation about eating sardines and crackers. They were great with beer. One of the things, I got a liberty one time from Camp Tarawa and it was up in the mountains about two or three thousand feet high and then when you came down, you got into this jitney and there were maybe ten seats, long, limousine-like. I don't know if there were ten seats, maybe five seats, and it'd come down the mountain and it would be around the curves. You could look down maybe three or four thousand feet. Here's the ocean down there, and this guy is driving, he doesn't even worry about brakes. I'm sweating like cold blood. We got down--In fact, the other day I was at ShopRite and I saw this sign from Hawaii and it said, Honokaa. Now, Honokaa is the name of this small town that's halfway between Hilo on the western side of the island. It's a nice city. In fact, it's a tourist attraction now, but halfway down the mountain was this town, Honokaa. It had boardwalks. It had mud streets and then you didn't walk in the streets, you walked up these steps and there are walks along with overhangs at the stores. Well, they had a little ice cream place there. You get down halfway and I would just get out at Honokaa. I always got banana splits there. So, one day, I go into this place and I'd order two banana splits. I'd have one and then I'd have another one. The guy got to know me from the deli there. So, he said to me one day, while having my banana splits, "We're having a big USO dance here." I said, "Really?" I had been involved with USO dances in California. You'd turn around with the girl and someone would tap you on the shoulder, now that was it. You got to turn around with her and that's it. I don't want ... If I can't dance with a girl, I don't want to be bothered with her. So, anyhow, he said something about the USO dance. I said, "Oh, no." In fact, the First Marine Division had been there and they had raped a lot of the girls on the island. I found it ironic that they were even having a USO dance. He says, "You're not going, Ed?" He knew my name after all the banana splits and everything. Got to know him; a really nice guy. I said, "No, I'm not going." I said, "I'm not going to stand in line for fifteen minutes and then turn around with a girl and that's it. No, no. That's not for me." "Would you like to go?" I said, "What do you mean would I like to go?" He says, "Pick one of these girls." I said, "Those girls are not going to go with me." He said, "They're my daughters. They will go with you, Ed." Now, two really nice looking girls. One of them, she was going to the University of Hawaii and I said, "Your father said you'd go to the dance with me." She said, "Sure." She said, "But you have to pick me up and my father and mother are going to go with us." They walked behind me to the dance, they watched me every minute I was at the dance with her and then I walked them back home and they followed back home. It was something. This girl, she was very smart. She was a bowler on top of everything else and she was an athlete, but a pretty girl.
SI: You mentioned the ride down the in the jitney, a few other veterans have told me that they took a train up to Camp Tarawa?
EP: Oh, yes. A flatbed. Oh, my god. I want to tell you, that was a ride and a half up to Camp Tarawa. Yes, man. I want to tell you, when you sit on those flatbeds and you look down several hundred feet or more. That was like the same amount of distance you see in the jitney, only it was on the flatbed and you're looking straight down and there's nothing there. If this thing let's go, we're all in trouble.
SI: After your training at Camp Tarawa, where did you go next?
EP: Well, we got on the ocean-going ships. We went from Hawaii to Saipan. We had come on the ocean-going ship from San Diego to Hawaii. Then to Saipan and we got off and got on the LST's.
SI: How long were you on that ship at the time?
EP: A couple of days.
SI: What were the conditions like? Did you have any idea where you were heading?
JY: What were your emotions when you were going to Saipan? Were you very afraid?
EP: No. I had no idea where I was going, and one of the things, they had a lot of things that we knew we were going to a place that we were going to invade. There wasn't any question about that. One of the things that I remember that I told you about when I got hit, I came back down about the ticks. We had had a briefing on board ship about the ticks, make sure your dungarees are tucked in and everything else and you wear rubber bands or something around your wrists so you don't get ticks, and they were considered deadly ticks if they bit you. This was Iwo Jima.
SI: So, when you got onto the LST's at Saipan, were you headed directly to Iwo Jima?
EP: Yes, it took about a day or day and half, two days at the most.
SI: Once you got within range of the island, what do you remember seeing?
EP: Well, we didn't see until the night before, and the night before we had steaks. I remember coming out with a fellow, a buddy of mine and we were standing at the rail and everything, and we look and we see Mount Suribachi. It's like a haze. We could see it way off in the distance. He said to me, he says, "Ed, if I don't make it, make sure you see my parents ..." So, we had a bond that if either one of us didn't make it, we would go talk to the parents. So anyhow, that's the story there, but we were at the rail, and where we were, it wasn't bad. There was a partial moon and some light, but Iwo was, I don't know, maybe five or six miles. Then, it comes daybreak and we got up even before it was light out and we had our breakfast of everything. We had ham and eggs and everything, super-duper. We never had it that good in the Marine Corps for breakfast.
SI: Did your friend make it, the one that you made this agreement with?
EP: Yes, yes. He came to see me one time when I was in the hospital. When I finally made it back to Aiea Heights, which is a big naval hospital in Hawaii about eight stories high and then they had these ramps built into the hillside. They were long hospital ramps--Quonset huts built all the way out on the level and they had eight levels. I was in row L. That's all the way at the top, so it was hard for people to find me. [laughter] One of the things up there--there were some really bad cases up there, really bad. One guy had half of his head off and they managed to keep him alive. I laid on my stomach there for three and a half months, and the nice thing about laying on your stomach was they had earphones and they'd play music and shows that were on radio and everything for you. Then they'd come by with this flat cart, and they had these great big tumblers of ice cream, and what they were doing--high butterfat and they were trying to build you up because I went from one hundred and sixty pounds down to about a hundred and twenty five pounds. I was skin and bones. So, they were trying to build me back up. So, they gave me all the ice cream I wanted to eat. I'm laying on my stomach now. I have to eat my ice cream like this laying on my stomach. Man, I ate a lot of ice cream I'll tell you.
SI: Going back to the eve of the invasion, you were on the LST and you got up before dawn. Tell us about the process of getting into the smaller ships and forming up and going.
EP: We had our breakfast real quick, and then we went down into the hull of the ship and you moved along. The first LST is the one that I was in. They had a lot of LSTs lined up to go. I was in the first one. When they had the Marine Corps photographers who were there, and they were taking pictures--
EP: So anyhow, that's what happened there. I got into the thing and I looked and I saw Suribachi and I said, "Oh, my God. The rock of Gibraltar. They're crazy." The rest of the guys up in the front.
SI: So, you got down into Amtracs [amphibious tractors]?
EP: Yes, we went down and we hit the Amtracs and we went ashore and when we got on the island we turned toward the sea, so that the front of the Amtrac's out here. Most of the guys got off on that side, but I was in the back of the Amtrac and the guy was sitting on my legs all the way in and my legs were asleep. Now, when I get out and they're yelling at me, the boatswain or whatever were yelling at me, "Get the hell out of here, Marine." So, I had to go over the side about like this and they have a rail and you just pick yourself up and then you drop off the other side. Well, that wasn't bad. Normally, that wouldn't be bad, but I thought, "Oh, because my legs were asleep, I'll just go right on the tracks of the Amtrac, and that'll be it. Forget it."
SI: As you were heading in, were you nervous? Were there men visibly nervous as you were going in?
EP: I don't think so. I don't think so. We all thought, "Well, we were here. We don't have any choice." That's it.
JY: What were your views of the Japanese?
EP: Well, even today, I look at it a little differently than a lot of--They're there because they're told to be there, and they don't have any choice that I'm here. I didn't hate them, but I had to do what I had to do to survive.
SI: Yes, we're looking at the Fifth Marine Division history and one of the soldiers with blood on him. So, once you went over the side, ocean side, how did you come around and what did you face once you were around?
EP: Well, my legs worked very fortunately. [laughter] I ran around the thing and I hit the volcanic sand and I went up halfway to my knees. Then, I was scared, so I ran up to the top and I beat everybody to the top. When I got up there I thought, "Jesus." Here's John Basilone. There's John Basilone, if you want to see a picture.
SI: We're looking at a picture of him in the book. At that time, were you getting fired upon as you were running up the beach?
EP: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Yes, but very fortunately, one of the things--the Japs decide, since we're on the lesser of two approaches, the other side was real flat, the western side and this side had the dunes. The other side, the high-octane drums were on and they ... to protect that sandy beach and they were going to blast us and cook the first two or three waves. Well, they thought--what they were trying to do was let the two or three waves come in and then hit us. So, since I was in the first wave, they didn't hit us very hard in the first wave. Actually, the third and fourth waves got hit the hardest. That's where they had the most casualties, so I was very fortunate that I was in the first wave like John Basilone was in the first wave on my right. We got in and we got ashore before they started really zeroing in on the beach. So, by that time I had run through the ... patch, got shit all over me and everything. So, that was it. By the time I got to the end of the first runway is when they were really zeroing in on the beach. So, where we were, they never zeroed in on us that well from Mt. Suribachi. So, that was a break. That was a real break.
SI: You got up to the first airfield.
SI: Can you tell us what you faced there?
EP: I remember one of the guys, Japanese guys, came out and he must have been liquored up with sake, and he had his swords and his ceremony thing on, and he's cutting the sand and everything. Boy, they took care of him in a hurry. [laughter] So, I thought, "Jesus, criminy, these guys are crazier than hell." So, I remember one guy, he was sitting up on a bluff just above me, and he got a bullet through the top of his helmet. It went right through, straight through, and you could see the hole was nice and--nice hole on both sides of the helmet. Went right through and missed his head. So, it's like when I got hit, when I was in the air--see this, this is my skin graft here, this is not bad here because really it was down to here and they burned me down with silver nitrate, so that they didn't have to put as big a scar on there. What do you call it? A patch. So, when I got that when I was in the air, I was up like this, it just missed my head. So, by the grace of the good lord above, by a fraction of an inch, that's why I'm here today. Missed my head and everything. Yes, sure tore my shoulder out and I had a lot of pain and everything else all my life, but there's a lot of people around with pain all their life. You don't have to look very far to find somebody that has as much pain as you do in life. I don't care who you are. If you have a problem, you look around and there's always somebody that's worse off than you are. All my life I've been lucky. I've had two wives, two great kids. My kids have never gotten in any trouble at all. They both graduated from school. My first wife was a college graduate. I was a college graduate. All four of us graduated from school, all four of us. Now, this gal here, she's a brilliant gal. She never went to school because of her family background. They were poor Italians and she never had a chance. She is an absolutely brilliant girl. She would have gone to school, she would have been much, much better off, and everything, but she got involved with some goddamn Irishman. [laughter] She'll have to tell you that story.
SI: At the end of the first day, were you still on the airfield?
EP: They moved up--I think at the end of the first day we saw the first tanks come ashore and they moved up and we moved pretty well beyond--almost beyond the airport, the airfield. So, we gradually moved up. I think we were between the first and second airport when it started to rain and I damn near cracked up. The volcanic ash was more than I could take. I had enough trouble with the shit getting that off me, and then I had this volcanic ash that was sticking to everything, if you would get C-rations, it was hard to keep the damn volcanic ash off the food that you were getting and everything else. You had cans that came ashore that would have ... stew in it and you didn't have no way to heat the damn thing, so you'd eat the ... stew cold. That's it.
SI: In the other video you talked about how the water was all gasoline tinged or full of gasoline.
EP: Well, see they would bring five gallon cans in there about this big and they would be filled with water one time and then the next time it would be filled with gasoline. So, they inter-mixed the gasoline, at least in a couple cases I know, because there was a lot of gasoline in that goddamn water. Now, what are going to do? Are you going to drink that or not? Well, I used to take it and I'd swoosh my mouth out with it and that's it. We had a canteen of water. Well, my canteen, I rationed that, get a little water at a time out of the canteen, that I had from onboard the ship.
JY: Did you see people getting sick from drinking the water?
EP: Oh, I don't know. I don't know that many people that drank the water.
SI: You were wounded on the fifth day, the fifth going into the sixth.
EP: Sixth day, yes. Sixth day.
SI: What happened on those days in between? Does anything stand out?
EP: Well, the nice thing is at night they had the flares up and we had the infiltration that the Japs tried to come behind our lines and the Doberman Pinschers would put them out. There was about four or five dogs and they tore the Japs to hell and back. Other than that, the (USS) North Carolina was off the seashore, and they were shelling Iwo. Very fortunately--they shelled for two or three days. They raised a little dust, that's all. Finally, they hit an ammunition dump and it was right above--we had this place we had to go down and that was up above the high ground that we were going to take and everything blew to hell and back. Well, this area where we had to go down like this, there were so many guys that got hit and that's where I got hit and it's called Death Valley. That's where I got hit, in Death Valley on Iwo.
SI: Do you want to tell that story again, how you got wounded?
EP: I was running along and I saw this indentation and there were two guys there. I was going to flop down beside them, and this Sergeant (Petrosky?) said, "Perry, get the fuck out of here!" So, I ran another twenty. thirty yards and I flopped down. As soon as I hit, a shell fell in behind me somewhere, and that's what blew me up in the air. I don't know why they didn't get hit. I don't know where they were. I have no idea where the shell hit and if it got anybody else or not, but it blew me up in the air, and while I was in the air, I twisted like this and I'm looking up at the sky and they took this shoulder out with machine gun fire, just missed my head. Now, some of the guys that go to the 5th Marine Division [reunions] say--they don't even realize I got hit by shell fire. They remember me getting hit by machine gun fire.
JY: Do you remember how many bullets were extracted?
EP: No, there weren't any extracted. It took all the flesh out. There was nothing there. It was just raw flesh. The only thing I have in me is one hundred forty pieces of real fine shrapnel, maybe like pinheads, that are still in there yet, that they didn't take out. They took out the bulk of the whole big stuff in the shrapnel out of me during the eight hospitals I was in. The last hospital I was in, in Philadelphia, they took a piece out about that big.
SI: Half an inch.
EP: Yes, that's when I was going with this nurse here.
SI: Tell us, you've obviously been massively wounded. You're down on the ground. What happens from that point on?
EP: Well, one of the guys, the corpsmen, (Paul Bradford?), who became a friend of mine, he was in our outfit, came up and he said, "How are you?" I said, "Well, I don't know." I asked him if I was hit in the spine because I thought, well, if I'm hit in the spine then it's just going to be a matter of time ... Paul said, "No, I can see your spine, Ed." So, in the meantime, he put sulfur in my wounds and he says, "I'll be back to get you as soon as I can." He puts a canteen of water out here beside me, his canteen of water. So, that was good. Well, I think I went in and out quite a few times. So, finally when they got out to get me and pull me back on the poncho, then they got me on the poncho and eight of them carried me to the beach. Now, I'm in the thing and I'm blowing to hell and back like I thought I was cut almost in half. I thought, shit, the poncho sagged like this. Jesus, they're carrying me to the beach just split in half. You don't say a damn thing. The guys are getting you the hell out of there. So, they get me to the doctor. What's his name?
EP: Brown, yes, where the guy that lost his life and stood up--First Lieutenant. They treated me and then they put me on the stretcher on the Higgins Boat to take me out to (Senora?) and then they lifted me up the side and that's when I went from there. We went to Saipan and then we went to Guam and finally, I was cleaned up in Guam and everything.
SI: You said that when they brought you up you passed out for three days?
EP: Yes, but it was nice when I woke up because I was in this nice, clean, white sheets and I thought, "Jesus Christ, I died and went to heaven." So, that's the way it goes.
JY: Did you have any broken bones?
EP: No, it didn't break any bones. It hit my coccyx on the end of my spine and they had to do a lot of work on my coccyx. I don't even know whether I have a coccyx. It's never been told to me one way or another. They may have even taken it off. That's the end of your spine, the coccyx, and they may have taken that off. I don't know. But, I had a lot of spinal problems because of this. That's why I'm not a hundred percent. It's not because--this is only--this would be twenty or thirty percent here, and up here I got blown across here too. Right up in this area is a big scar, and any one of those could have killed me. Very fortunately, it wasn't time. So, anyhow, I don't have any regrets. I don't have any regrets because actually, I came back, I got an education through the University of Pittsburgh. They sent me to school. I come out of school. I got a great job in banking. I've had two great wives. I've had great kids. I made enough money that I didn't have to kiss anybody's ass. They pay my--on this house, they pay my real estate tax. I don't pay real estate tax in life. They pay me thirty six thousand dollars a year from the time I got hit until now, tax free. Then, whatever else you make in life. At various times in life I was well over $100,000 dollars a year in banking. So, does your ... for me? [laughter] I don't think so.
SI: Tell us about your long recovery through the Army and Naval hospitals.
EP: I took quite a while. First they did all the major operations. One of the most painful things was when they were burning the silver nitrate down, this scar was all the way down here like this.
SI: Down to your elbow.
EP: Well, they wanted to reduce this by fifty percent. So, the doctor used to burn my scar tissues down by silver nitrate and that took a couple months. Man, I want to tell you, every time he did that, tears flow like crazy. So, finally, they got it down to where they felt it was manageable and they took the tissue off my gut and put it on my shoulder here, and then they sent me back after they got all the major operations done on me at Aiea, [Hawaii]. They sent me back to the naval hospital in Oakland in California, where they taught me how to walk, and then of course the Navy nurses taught me how to dance and they hugged me and I said "Jesus, this isn't a bad life." [laughter] Then, I went down to Camp Pendleton and they wanted to try me out on liberty to see how I would do, and I did pretty good. Then he sent me home to Pittsburgh for convalescent leave and I ended up in the naval hospital in Philadelphia. So, they did a couple of minor operations at the end in Philadelphia and then I finally got discharged.
SI: Where were you when the war ended?
EP: In Philadelphia. Philadelphia, yes. In fact, they had the biggest celebrations in Philadelphia. Yes. So, that's the whole story really.
SI: Did you have any lasting effects from your time in the service? I know obviously you have physical scars and problems, but did you have problems with nightmares, things like that?
EP: Nope. No. No. I've had two knee replacements since. So, I have two knee replacements. I now have a pacemaker. So, they keep patching me. I'm like an old car. This goes wrong, we'll patch that up and put it back on the road. [laughter]
SI: Were you discharged from Philadelphia or did they send you back?
EP: Yes, Philadelphia. Yes.
SI: What did you want to do then? What was your plan for once you were out of service?
EP: I knew I was going to have to go to school. So, that's where I went to University of Pittsburgh and I used to have this chair and I used to move along to register for classes. I'd unfold the chair and I'd sit. Then they'd move up and I'd fold the chair up and I'd move up a little bit more and then I'd set down the chair down. That's when one guy said to me, I'm in my sophomore year, he says, "What is the matter with you? You're all fucked up. Why don't you go see the dean of men? See what they can do for you." I said, "Okay. Great. ... Thank you." So, I go see the dean of men, Richard (Burrell?), that was his name. Richard (Burrell?) was one of the four that had evaluated me when I went into the Marine Corps that gave me--they okayed me for my high school diploma even though I wasn't there. So, Richard (Burrell?), when I went in there I was surprised it was Richard (Burrell?) because he had moved from Bellevue High School to the University of Pittsburgh as dean of men. So, I said, "Oh, my god." So, I thought, "Oh, boy. I have it made." He looked at me and he said, "Oh, Ed. I'm so thrilled to see you." He's hugging me and everything. He said, "I heard all about you," and everything. So many people hear stories and you're a big hero. Well, I told you that several times, I'm not a hero; I'm a survivor, and thank God, I am a survivor. So anyhow, he'd say, "What can I do for you today?" I'd tell him about moving up with the chair and everything. He said, "Ed, I love you as a person. I love you as a buddy. I love you as a classmate. I love you as a student, but there's not a goddamn thing I can do for you." ... "Why?" He's telling me all of this and I'm supposed to be special and everything, and you can't do a damn thing for me? He said, "Ed, I got five thousand students out there. If I do this for you, they'll come down on me like a clap of lightning." So, that's it.
SI: What were you asking him for?
EP: I wanted him to be able to take me so I could go to the front of the line and register for my classes. That's what I wanted to do, I didn't want to have to stand for an hour and a half or two hours with my folding chair for a line for this class or that class. So, I wanted him to bypass that line for me. He said, "No, no way." So, that's it.
SI: When you came back to Pittsburgh, it was mostly GI's. Was there a mixture of GIs and other kids?
EP: Yes, ninety percent.
SI: What was it like getting back into a classroom after so many years in the military?
EP: Well, a little different, a little different. Yes. You got to acclimate yourself to studying and learning and everything else. But, one of the things--I never learned to read real well, books, regular books, like this, until I had one of my knee operations. With the last ten years, I learned how to read books. All I did was read the texts that I had to study and that's it. I didn't bother with anything else. I didn't read the newspaper that much, except the sports page, that's it. So, it's only been within the last ten years I've learned how to read. My wife will tell you that.
SI: So, you were at Pittsburgh for two years.
EP: Robert Morris [University] for three years, because I finally--I put in two years. I needed a class or two and I had to go at night to finish up. So, I did, and I got my degree from Robert Morris then. I was very fortunate. I got a job with Gulf Oil for twelve years in Pittsburgh. I was in the twenty fourth floor of the Gulf Building. I loved my job. My first wife said to me, she built a little bonfire under my ass, and she said, "Ed, you're not doing what you're capable of doing." I said, "What are you talking about?" She says, "You've got a degree in accounting and business administration and you're just a senior accounting clerk at the best. So, she built a bonfire under my ass and I got a job in banking and it was the best move I ever made. Within a couple years I was Senior Vice President of a bank, and a nice salary, a lot of benefits, a lot of fringe benefits, a lot of traveling, everything.
SI: Which bank were you with?
EP: Oh, I was with First Pennsylvania Bank first and then I ended up with a savings loan--First Federal Savings Loan in Bucks County. So, between the two of them I have a nice pension, I have a nice social security, and I have a nice disability pension, and I accumulate money for my wife.
SI: We just have a couple more questions. I wanted to ask was there any way that you think your time in the service affected your life afterwards positively, like the way you handled yourself in business, that sort of thing?
EP: Well, I think one of the things. You have to be appreciative of everything you got. Everybody that's involved in everything. When you're like I was and all the nursing and doctors and everything around you and everything, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that. I've always tried to be a very positive person; I don't look for the negative. I don't look for the negative at all. If there's something I can do to remedy the negative in something, then I will, but that's it.
SI: Have you gotten involved in any kind of veteran's groups or veteran's issues?
EP: Yes, I did with the 5th Marine's Division for a number of years. We went to all the reunions and everything, a lot of them. We missed one in Seattle because I had some professional things I had to take care of. That's when they did this, Red Blood and Black Sand: [Fighting Alongside John Basilone from Boot Camp to Iwo Jima by Chuck Tatum]. That was one of my buddies that did that so I would have been involved in that tape, but it didn't work out that way.
SI: Well, is there anything else that you would like to add to the record?
EP: No, better cut it. [laughter]
SI: Well, thank you very much for your time today and for your service.
EP: Shaun, it was nice meeting with you.
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Reviewed by Molly Graham 1/17/15
Reviewed by Edward Perry 1/31/2015
Reviewed by Molly Graham 2/18/15