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June 29th, 2005

a thumbnail image of Gunnery Sergeant Wilmore Perry Gunnery Sergeant Wilmore PerryGunnery Sergeant Wilmore Perry was born in Washington, D.C., where he completed high school and a year of business school. Before entering the Corps in 1943, he was employed by the federal government with the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Agency. He served in Guam and the Mariana Islands and was discharged in 1946, returning to Washington to work for the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Agency until it was taken over by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947. He then joined the Post Office, where he worked until he retired in 1978. He lives in Washington, D.C.

INTERVIEWER: Your name, and spell it for us, please.

WILMORE E. PERRY: My name is Wilmore E. Perry, W-I-L-M-O-R-E, middle initial E. P-E-R-R-Y.

INTERVIEWER: Mr. Perry, tell us a little bit about your background, before joining the Marines, things like, where you're from, a little bit about your family and your education.

WILMORE E. PERRY: I'm from Washington, D.C.. I was born in D.C., uh, my parents were from Maryland, and, what else was it that you asked me?

INTERVIEWER: Your education.

WILMORE E. PERRY: Oh, I attended public schools, and also, uh, had a, (STAMMERS) part time going to a, business college, which was in D.C., just one semester, before entering uh, the Marine Corps. Uh, I was working at the age of 17, in the government. Started off with foreign broadcast intelligence, and after coming out of the service, went back to my job which the CIA had taken over. Transferred from there to the post office, 30 some years. And retired from there.

INTERVIEWER: Why did you join the Marine Corps?

WILMORE E. PERRY: I felt it was a challenge at the time, and, I wanted to get into something different. So I chose that.

INTERVIEWER: Now, how did you learn that the Marine Corps was recruiting African Americans?

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, I had heard that, they were accepting a few, and, I tried, and I wanted to be a part of that (STAMMERS) so I succeeded.

INTERVIEWER: What did you do, exactly, to, to get into the Marine Corps?

WILMORE E. PERRY: Just, went over for a physical, I, had a, uh, exemption, because of working in the Government. I gave the exemption up, because all of my friends had left, and, uh, I wanted to join something, to be with them for one thing, and to fight for the country, for another thing. So I chose the Marines.

INTERVIEWER: Did you know, uh, (STAMMERS) did you know that, uh, you were among the first African Americans to go into the Marine Corps, and if so, how did you know that?

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, I got to the induction point, and they were telling us that they weren't accepting Black, a few fellows, told the Marines, I think of, out of the, 300 that, uh, were there that day, the only took three, and I happened to be one of the three. At the time, I didn't know there was a restriction.

INTERVIEWER: How did you get from, uh D.C., to, uh, Montford Point, and tell us a little bit about the trip.

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, it was by train, and I didn't know anything about segregation going South, we were able to sit on the train until we got to Virginia. Any way you wanted to, you were able to sit, 'til we got to Virginia, then you had to go to a special car, which was behind the coal car. They didn't have diesel or electric engines then, that I knew about. It was just regular coal burning engines. So, after we get to Virginia, you had to move to a front seat, (STAMMERS) I mean a front coach, behind the coal car.

INTERVIEWER: Did, uh, did you, did you ever know of anybody who ventured out of the coal car, and, uh, had problems, uh, because they did that, and if so, tell us what kind of problems, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, going to camp, we didn't have a problem, after camp, after we got in, we had problems then. With riding in restricted areas on the bus, and train.

INTERVIEWER: When you got Montford Point, uh, what did you think of the camp, and the set up, of your situation, and the people that were there to train you?

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, it was all brand new. And, I had no idea what it was going to be like. But I was impressed, By the way all the non-coms I didn't see anything but why non-coms. I saw one Black non-com, that was uh, (SOUNDS LIKE) Hash Marlon Johnson, and, uh, the rest of them, were privates, PFCs, so I was just impressed with the fact that they were not in the a, uh, staff in the COs, or sergeants at the time, that I saw.

INTERVIEWER: Did you uh, ever remember encountering any kind of a prejudice at the camp on you, as an African American, and if so, tell us more about that.

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, they had, uh, White non-coms, and, uh, drill instructors reported to. Prior to my getting there, they had White drill instructors. But the only, the only thing that I noticed was, we were called you people, and only addressed as you people. That I didn't understand. but I got accustomed to it.

INTERVIEWER: Um, what was the spirit, first of all, tell me exactly when you reported to Montford Point, and then when you got there, uh, tell me what the spirit was like, on the camp ground, among, among the troops?

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, everybody was willing to do what they were told to do, or else. And when we say or else, we thought of the consequences, such as extra duty, policing the head, doing extra things, that uh, weren't normal. You were subject to do those things, if you didn't cooperate.

INTERVIEWER: When you, uh, went off to camp, left Montford Point, and, uh, went out into liberty, uh, tell me where you went, and then what, what was the liberty (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ?

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, first off, we was supposed to ride in the back of the bus to get there, but we took public transportation. Sometimes, we had a bus they called a cattle car, they would take a group into various nearby towns, such as, New Bern, uh, Mount Airy, Reedville, anything that was close by. And, uh, after we got into town, we went right into the area where the Afro-Americans stayed, we didn't venture out of that.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have any problems with, uh, with, with the White people, uh, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ?


INTERVIEWER: Tell me, tell me a little bit about that.

WILMORE E. PERRY: We had a little problem with the White Marines. They didn't want us in there to begin with, and, whenever they had a chance, they expressed that to us. So consequently, uh, we had some skirmishes, between the White Marines an the Afro-American Marines.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have any situations where you felt that, uh, (STAMMERS) the Whites, uh, White Marines welcomed you, as a Marine? I mean, did you ever have any friends uh, that, that were White Marines, that you felt accepted you, and, as a marine and if so, tell.

WILMORE E. PERRY: Yeah, we, uh, well, I experienced it, uh, coming back from overseas, I uh, was put in charge of the troop train, from California, to North Carolina, and I had White Marines on there, and some of those guys I got to know and be friends with. So, it was a little different than when I was in North Carolina.

INTERVIEWER: Um, about your off base experiences again, uh, what do you remember most about those experiences? Is there any one thing that jumps, any one experience that you felt was, uh, interesting, that you'd like to tell us about?

WILMORE E. PERRY: Yeah, I was thinking about an instance, where we, I had, uh, one fellow, and myself, we're going into, uh, Jacksonville, and we encountered these three White Marines, and they suggested that we start a race riot. And, uh, my friend wanted to oblige them, so we they agreed that they would have this race riot, and he took out a knife. And the White man, he's, didn't like that, and he moved out.

WILMORE E. PERRY: (CONTINUED) The next time we saw them, they had about five of them, coming for us. So we in turn retreated, went to the, uh, area where most Black Marines hung out, and we recruited some of them. Consequently, before we could get together, the MPs, moved in, and took us all back to camp. I was put in the, uh, brig overnight, and as a staff NCO the next morning, had to report to an officer, I was to explain to the Commanding Officer.

INTERVIEWER: What, uh, what were your experiences in the Marine Corps after you left Montford Point? Where did you, what did you do? (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, I, uh, after getting out of boot camp, I was in Recruit Depot for, uh, approximately eight months, then I was, uh, assigned to go overseas, so we went to Hawaii for a about four months, or five months. From there I went to Guam, and the Marianas. And I got there, and, uh, about November of '44, and I didn't leave them until March of '46. During that time, the island was supposed to be secured.

WILMORE E. PERRY: (CONTINUED) But, Japanese were there, all through that time, and, we experienced some of them, (STAMMERS) now being in the area, and having to chase them and, when we did that, we chased them into high grass, and we wouldn't venture in there. They wouldn't allow us to go in after them. But, uh, some of the guys we didn't count on them, and, take care of them without anyone else knowing about it.

WILMORE E. PERRY: (CONTINUED) And I did observe one Japanese coming into surrender, and, uh, the group had just got there, was from another island, they weren't used to seeing them so he came in with his hands up, and they politely shot him about 50 times, and cut his ears off. That is an experience that I didn't, didn't understand too well.

INTERVIEWER: Um, when, when you went to, when, when you left, and went overseas, and you went to Hawaii and these other places, what kind of reaction did, did people have to you, as a Marine?

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, on the island, it, they treated me as, all of them, as far as I know, nice, they, didn't have anything over there, so they looked up to the Marines for whatever they could give them. Sometimes food, clothing, friendship, whatever, they had to offer, they accepted.

INTERVIEWER: Did they treat you, (STAMMERS) do you believe that they treated you any differently 'cause you were a Black Marine?

WILMORE E. PERRY: No, I don't think they did.

INTERVIEWER: Were you ever involved in combat? Can you uh, tell us where and under what circumstances, and...

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, actual combat, I didn't see, but, the island was supposed to have been secure, but as I said, Japanese were there, up until five or 10 years later. That they still had occupied caves, and things like that. Now, uh, I did have a chance, several times to go in B-24s, as, uh, gunners, and I wasn't on flying pay. But, my lieutenant, one of my lieutenants, who was an adventurous type, he liked to go through different things, and we went up in B-24s several times.

WILMORE E. PERRY: (CONTINUED) And I manned some of the guns, belly gun, waist gun, and things like that. And we also explored the caves, uh, just to see if there was any Japs in there, but the actual being fired on by the enemy, I wasn't under fire. But I did have a lot of Japanese prisoners that I had men guarding.

INTERVIEWER: Uh, what do you think is the historical significance of the Montford Point Marines? This, this experience that you went through, how do you believe it fits in history?

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, I think, if the Afro-American Marine had failed, there may not be any in there today. But, uh, they all seemed to want to survive, take the challenge, and, to succeed. We were selected, segregated, and succeeded, is what I think is most significant, because it made the groundwork for what we have now, it's some outstanding officers.

INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me a little bit about your training day, just take (STAMMERS) one day that you remember, (STAMMERS) training was like, maybe the day you report in, or just a day.

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, every day was a hectic day. Uh, you got up early in the morning, you would get up late at night you never knew when you were gonna be called out. And, uh, when you were asked to fall out, you fell out. We lived in cardboard huts, maybe eight guys to a hut, and when you were ordered to fall out, you was supposed to try to tear the door down getting out, as quick as possible. And like I said, you might march at midnight.

WILMORE E. PERRY: (CONTINUED) You never know, and if you marched in the water, you just kept marching 'til they gave you the order to halt, the order to about face, or whatever, you just obeyed it.

INTERVIEWER: How, how do you think that experience effected your life, you know your Marine Corps experience?

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, they gave me, it, it gave me a different outlook on life. Like, uh, one thing to be aware of whatever's around you, to be able to take orders, to be able to obey orders, to be able to uh, evaluate different situations, and, to have respect for others.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that, uh, the person that you came to be was a direct result of your experience in the Marine Corps?

WILMORE E. PERRY: I think it had a lot to do with forming character. And, the way, uh, you look at life. I think it did that, for me.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us, uh, about your experience, uh, your, that you haven't, that we didn't ask you, that you haven't told us?

WILMORE E. PERRY: Well, I don't think I have, uh, an exceptional experiences, but what I did have, I value, and I wouldn't do it, give anything or I wouldn't give anything for that experience. I appreciated it, and I recommend it to all the young fellas, to get some of the same, it teaches you, uh, commitment, honor, and, uh, loyalty.

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