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Epilogue | Alva Perry

Alva Perry: World War II Marine survived Saipan, Iwo Jima, won Silver Star

CLEARWATER — Alva Perry lived through the best and the worst of war.

He watched countless fellow Marines die in fighting the Japanese. He thirsted in 100-degree heat, dodged improvised rockets filled with scrap metal, chains and horseshoes. He held his breath while burying the dead.

Company A of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division fought in four island battles in World War II, including Saipan and Iwo Jima. Of about 246 men in the original company, Mr. Perry was one of seven not killed or wounded.

For repelling a Japanese counterattack in Saipan, he was awarded a Silver Star. For surviving the incomprehensible, he forged friendships that lasted a lifetime. On his website, he repeated a question others frequently asked him: "How do you remember that far back?"

"That's not a problem," Mr. Perry always replied. "The problem is, how do I forget."

He would go on to lead a Honeywell plant in Tampa and rise to general manager, then vice president. He married and raised a family.

When his son asked him about the war, he usually answered, "I'm lucky to have lived through it."

"That's about all he said," said Mitch Perry, 55.

The son of a foundry worker in Nashville enlisted in the Marines at 17. On the island of Roi-Namur, Mr. Perry and another Marine sipped brandy as they buried the bodies of countless enemy soldiers that had been lying in the sun for days.

In June 1944, the 4th Division numbered among 71,000 Marines coming ashore on Saipan Island in the Marianas. Thirty-thousand Japanese defenders fought back fiercely, and at times seemed to shell Company A to oblivion.

"Here is a place where you are unable to do anything but squirrel as low in your hole as you can and put your fingers in your ears to stop the screaming and begging from men who are dying all around you," Mr. Perry wrote in his war memoirs.

In Saipan, he also found his most heroic moment, bursting from a foxhole to his feet and spraying a wave of advancing soldiers with his automatic rifle. The private first class killed 27 Japanese before the rest of his company closed in behind him, repelling the counterattack.

Mr. Perry also fought in Tinian, then Iwo Jima, where he crushed two discs jumping from a landing craft and encountered more horrors.

He resumed a civilian life with his wife, the former Ellie Frazier, and graduated from an engineering college. He worked for the Burroughs Corp. in Detroit for 14 years, ending as a plant manager in its computer division.

He stayed fit, diving into a love of racquetball that would last into his 80s. He made a neat bed and tended to wash the dishes before anyone else could.

In 1964 he helped start a Honeywell production plant in Tampa. After a realignment of the company's computer division with General Electric, he moved to the Boston area and took a top job with Honeywell Information Systems. He remained in charge of the Tampa office and several others across the country.

Despite leading a contented life with his family, Mr. Perry continued to have nightmares stemming from his war experiences. "On the Fourth of July, if he was sleeping and heard fireworks, he would think he was under attack," his son said.

About 12 years ago, he attended a 4th Marine Division reunion, where he reconnected with old friends and made new ones.

After the reunion, he began to talk more about the war.

"I think my dad wanted to repress that but he couldn't at the end," his son said. "Seeing all those other Marines, he relived it."

After that, he told war stories often. "War is crazy," Mr. Perry wrote. "The most obscene experience I have encountered in my lifetime."

Mr. Perry began showing signs of Alzheimer's disease in 2007, not long after his wife's death. He died July 3. Mr. Perry was 86.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

. BIOGRAPHY

Alva Roland Perry

Born: May 5, 1925.

Died: July 3, 2011.

Survivors: Sons Mark and Mitch Perry; brother Eugene Perry.

Alva Perry: World War II Marine survived Saipan, Iwo Jima, won Silver Star 07/09/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 9, 2011 9:07pm]
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