Tech journo Brendan Koerner rummages through US Army archives to dig out the fascinating story of WW-II ‘fugitive’ soldier Herman Perry, writes Utpal Borpujari
On March five, 1944, deep in the jungles of the Patkai mountains in Burma not far from border with India
The story, built up through painstaking research by Koerner, otherwise a contributing editor to technology magazine Wired, has resulted in “Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier’s Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II” (The Penguin Press, US), and it is no less dramatic than the title itself. As has emerged from Koerner’s research, Perry was the
Koerner says in the book that Perry could not endure either the jungle’s brutality or the racist treatment meted out by his White officers, and found solace in opium and marijuana, which warped his fraying psyche. A 1996 Yale graduate, Koerner spent nearly five years researching on the book, travelling to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar, taking the lid off the forgotten story of the Ledo Road‘s Black soldier labourers. Through a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the Army, he got hold of the trial transcript of Perry’s court-martial, to weave out an “Apocalypse Now type” story. “There was plenty of primary-source documentation of Perry’s adventures in North-East India and northwest Burma
The author makes it a point to emphasise that despite the book’s dramatic content, it is “entirely” non-fiction and “a very serious history of both the manhunt and the Ledo Road.” The number of footnotes – 1,248 – points to the seriousness of research, he says. “There are some details that may sound recreated, but they’re really not….My goal was to create as richly detailed a book as possible, and that’s really tough when dealing with events that took place over 60 years ago. Memories fade, documents get lost, and even the Ledo Road
At the same time, he admits that as he poured through the archival documents, “I started to see Perry as a tragic figure as well as a folk hero. He wasn’t a bad guy, really—he just cracked under the pressure of the war and the jungle, which could happen to anybody in similar circumstances. I was impressed by the fact he was able to persevere, even flourish, while on the run, but ultimately saddened by the fact that his grandest dream—to raise a family in the Patkai Mountains—was not to be. His wants were modest, but his crime was too grave to afford him a second chance.” As they say, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, as Perry’s story is a real testimony to that.
(Published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 24-10-2008)