World War II Veteran: Clifford Perry

Time Frame: ca. 1940's

Cliff Perry served in the Army with the 36th Mechanized Cavalry. Cliff was the company clerk for two years. When they ran short of replacements, Cpl. Perry lost his typewriter and gained a tank. After one hour’s instruction, he became a tank driver. As a farm boy, it didn’t seem too strange to get in, start it up and head out. Cliff tells us his first encounter with the Russian army at the Elbe River. It was two 15 year olds in ratty-looking clothes looking for food. He also shares his experience at the Battle of the Bulge.

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I was in the tank company, but I was the company clerk. I was the company clerk for two years and I followed a group - after we were overseas, and we had casualties, and we were running short of replacements. So, Corporal Perry was a tank driver.

So, from company clerk to tank driver?

Right. I lost my typewriter but I gained a tank. And I had one hour's instruction. Now days, you'd have 6 months. The main thing was get in there, start it up and head out. Well, I was a farmer, so I suppose I knew how to handle that type of equipment. I didn't think I did, but it was quite simple.The part of it I liked was that you never had to walk. You rode everywhere.

So, tell me what it's like driving a tank. What do you see? What's it feel like?

You're ahead of the track. I don't know if you know about tracks on each side for movement .... You float along. You'd be surprised - we cruise at 50 miles an hour. I mean, we can on the autobahn, which is the interstate. We can cross country too, which is at 2 miles an hour. And we can jump ditches and climb over trees.

I'll say one thing; we were never short of food. We carried a week's supply of sea rations with us. And we had plenty of ammunition. We never were short of fuel. And everything went the way it's supposed to. We had casualties. We lost tanks, we lost men, and we lost officers. But, I guess that's war.

Probably my highlight was the day - we were ahead of the infantry, with the 9th army. And this was the latter part of April. The war in Europe ended May 8. We were at the Elbe River. That was as far as the Allies were supposed to go. The Russians were coming from the other way. We got to the Elbe River on the 25th of April. We just sat around there and wondered what kind of equipment we were going to see. What kind of men we were going to see. Here we saw two 15-year-old kids. I call them kids. They each had on old what looked like army-surplus clothes. And they had an old rifle. I'm sure that it could never have been fired. And we met them. Here we were in all of these pressed shirts. Boots shined. And here they were just typical teenagers, ratty looking clothes. First thing they asked, have you got anything to eat? One of us looked at the other and we said yeah. Go back and make them some peanut butter sandwiches. So we did. We gave them each one. They smiled, and we never saw any more of them. So, that was the end of the Russians. We never did see any of their equipment. Never did see any of their officers. Never did see any of their vehicles. I was just wondering what type of equipment to expect. I never did see any Russian equipment. We'd seen plenty of Germans. That was my experience there.

Two hungry 15-year-old kids.

Yeah, they must not have got enough to eat. I think one of my experiences was the Battle of the Bulge. Stub just talked about that. I saw it from a little different angle than he did. There was a lot of snow on the ground, if I remember right. We were living I think in houses that had been empty. Nobody lived in them. And it was foggy. No planes were flying, and that's just what the Germans needed. They were using every bit of manpower, every bit of equipment that they had. But as soon as the sun came out, about 2:00 in the afternoon, we were standing out in the street, and somebody said there's a hum. And the other guy says so what? Well, it was not only a hum, it was B-17's coming. There were 24 of them in formation. And they were going east. That told us right there that the German war machine had been broke down. Or they soon would be. So that was one experience I had.

I would say crossing the English Channel in an L.S.T. was quite an experience. An L.S.T. is a small ship. We had 12 tanks, and we parked them all inside of that. We only had about 60 men with us. We pulled into Le Havre Harbor. We pulled right up to the shore and there was a bulldozer there. He pushed some sand up. We dropped the door down and we drove off. I never knew a ship could pull up to a harbor like that. It was quite a thrill to think welcome to Europe!

I think another interesting experience was crossing the Atlantic. We went in convoys. We were six ships wide. And I imagine there were about 40 ships. They put the troops in the center two. And then there was a Red Cross ship next to us. There was an aircraft carrier ahead of us fully loaded with planes. Then over on one side was a locomotive and freight cars on another one. Then on the outer edges, the escort ships. We all cruised at the same speed day and night, for I think 9 days. Clear days or foggy, it went on. But I thought that's one time the military was organized.

It had to have been a feeling of power and of being part of something.

It was. The ship we were on was a British ship. So we learned how to be Limey in a few days. Everything was different. Their type of food - it seemed like they boiled everything in water. We had baked chicken; they had it in water. Everybody was seasick anyway, so I guess it didn't matter. They were career Navy men, no doubt about it. It was an old ship, converted over. We all slept in bunks; three bunks high, I guess it was.


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