Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Paul Earl Perkins is one of the oldest living World War II veterans in Soddy-Daisy, according to local veterans organizations.
He will celebrate his 90th birthday July 21 at South Soddy Baptist Church at 3:30 p.m. along with family and friends.
As a sophomore at Soddy High School, Perkins began trying to enlist in the U.S. Navy. It took a few tries to join the military since he weighed in at 115 pounds with a pack that outweighed him. After joining the Navy Reserves he was sent to Norfolk, Va., for six weeks of intense boot camp training.
At age 19, in 1941 he joined the U.S.S. Idaho Battleship that carried ammunition and guns, where he served as a 2nd Class Machinist Mate, taking care of the ship’s engine. He said the ship sailed to New York, Rhode Island, Iceland, San Francisco and Alaska.
“We were in Iceland when they bombed Pearl Harbor,” said Perkins. “We came back and unloaded supplies in Norfolk. We took off down the canal to San Francisco. We stayed there about a week and then we went to Pearl Harbor to see all the damage.”
After serving on the battleship for two years, he was transferred to the U.S.S. Arneb that carried heavy equipment. He remained onboard for another two years, completing his four-year tour of duty in 1945. He was recalled in 1950 to come aboard the U.S.S. Cronin, where he served keeping watch on the engine until 1952.
“It was scary at times,” said Perkins. “It’s like driving a car; you go and don’t think about what could happen. You’re in the military with a daily routine and time flies.”
He said he was lucky to be spared from attacks. In the event of an attack, he was trained to use a 16-inch gun to shoot shells.
Although he never heard artillery fire, he still remembers the 6 a.m. sounds of the whistle blowing and voice over the loud speakers commanding the more than 1,000 mates to rise and shine.
Perkins was born July 21, 1922 near Pikeville, Tenn. His father was a coal miner who suffered an injury, so Perkins moved to Soddy-Daisy to live with his aunt and grandparents in 1929 at age 7. He enrolled in Soddy Elementary School.
“I grew up during the Depression years,” said Perkins. “I lived close to the railroad tracks. I could look out my window and see flatbed trucks carrying men down the street looking for work. There were soup lines too. The people with farms did well.”
He married his wife Leona May 10, 1947. They celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary this year.
Perkins worked for a few factories after completing his military duty. He retired from soda machine manufacturer Cavalier Corporation after 22 years.
He helped his wife tend to a garden of tomatoes, green beans, okra, squash and zucchini until this spring, when he had to have surgery on his lungs. Now his wife continues to tend to the garden and cook the vegetables for him.