Clyde Beal: A welcome home that came 45 years late
When Wayne Perry was a youngster growing up along Huntington’s Norwood Road, he was part of a neighborhood club of boys who gave birth to a most unusual initiation ritual. If you passed this initial screening for membership into their exclusive youthful organization, you were given the privilege to submit to a midnight meeting at a local cemetery. During this final orientation you were required to eat a “blood”-soaked catsup sandwich that had to be eaten while sitting on a pre-selected tombstone. Only then, were you given the secret password for membership. That was over 60 years ago and Perry still chuckles when he reminisces about those midnight rendezvous.
Perry was the only child of Jack and Edna Perry born in a Huntington hospital. He grew up with 9 older siblings who were all born at home.
“I had four brothers and five sisters all older than me,” said Perry. “I kind of grew up as an only child. My oldest brother Ronald did take me on a fishing trip once. I remember it well because he gave me cigars to smoke and I burnt my fishing line into while smoking. We lived in town until I was 15 which allowed me to deliver newspapers. I would pay my paper bill at the newspaper office on Saturdays and then go visit the basement bowling alley in the downtown arcade. I wanted to play billiards but wasn’t allowed to go into the pool room. After that it was usually off to the Beverly Theater for the Saturday matinee.”
Growing up, Perry was both a little country and city because his grandparents owned a farm in Martha, out behind Barboursville.
“Granddad would always let me bring vegetables into town for sale during the growing season,” said Perry. “Course he always got a little work out of me in exchange. Swimming under the Martha Bridge was always a popular spot during those country visits. Granddad also had two real good coon dogs named Nip and Tuck, I always considered them more like pets than hunting dogs.”
Perry walked the half-mile to Geneva Kent Elementary; he also walked back home for mom’s homemade lunch and apple pie. One teacher in particular was Ms. Morris who never became upset when he needed something explained again and again. Because of that Perry was never afraid to ask her questions. He did visit Camden Park for the first time with the school safety patrol, but thought it was more entertaining to go swimming in the Guyan River.
“I tried playing football at Beverly Hills Junior High, said Perry. “But I never played much and got tired of just being a practice dummy, so I decided to join the wrestling team. I stayed with that sport for a couple of years in high school.”
After his first year of riding the city bus to Barboursville High School, the family moved to Barboursville where he graduated in 1966.
“While attending high school I started driving stock cars at the Skyline Raceway in Charleston,” said Perry. “I was 15 and had to have a waver signed by my parents. I never won enough to pay expenses but I sure had a lot of fun tearing cars up.”
After high school Perry tried a year at Marshall but with his interest so deep into racing stock cars, his grade average began suffering so he just dropped out of college. That move threw him into the military draft pool which quickly invited him to come for a military physical.
“I was drafted into the Army in January of 1968,” said Perry. “I went to boot camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where we lived in a drafty, cold wooden barrack heated with coal. After boot camp I was sent to Fort Rucker, Alabama, where I was taught how to make emergency repairs on a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter. My next assignment was to Fort Hood, Texas, where I worked on portable generators; so much for helicopter training. No sooner did I settle into a work routine I was sent to Fort Eustis, Virginia, for training on the assault Cobra helicopter. After graduation, I was shipped to Vietnam.”
Perry’s distinguished flying career over the jungles of Vietnam in the UH-1 accumulated more than 1,000 flying hours while picking up body bags, wounded, hauling medicine and supplies, making mail runs and food drops. He eventually became a statistic himself when his chopper was shot down by rocket propelled grenades.
“There were four crew members on board when we were shot down and crashed inverted,” said Perry. “As bad as my wounds were, I was hurt the least. Somehow I managed to drag everyone away from the burning chopper before the craft completely burnt up.
“The machine gunner’s name was Bill Hoban, a youngster from California. Every year since that crash he has faithfully called me on Veteran’s Day to thank me for pulling him from that burning helicopter.”
Perry was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star for his recovery efforts following that accident. According to Perry it was an act that anyone would do under the same circumstances.
He returned home and put his life back together, found a job with C&P Telephone Co. and retired 30 years later.
“The best thing to happen to me at the telephone company was that I met JoAnn, who also worked there.”
After the two dated for a while, Perry decided to take JoAnn to Florida for the Daytona 500 stock car race in 1983. While in route to Florida JoAnn decided they should get married. The next town was Dobson, North Carolina, and they had no trouble finding the courthouse but they lacked the required witnesses.
“When the justice of the peace heard we didn’t have anyone with us to witness the wedding he found a couple of courthouse workers to sign the marriage certificate,” said Perry. “After the wedding we went on to Florida where we eventually ended up at the Daytona 500 and watched Cale Yarborough win it.”
Perry has since given up racing cars for a more laid-back leisure life just down the road from his grandparents’ farm. He still likes fishing but gave up cigars long ago. He has two black bears in his basement; one was made into a rug, the other was stuffed — he shot them both.
Recently, Perry was among those traveling to Washington, D.C. as part of last October’s Honor Flight. He was finally given the welcome-home salute he should have received over 45 years ago.