Pearl Harbor: Adventurous spirit

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 7, 2001

The stunning news came only a few weeks before young Hal H. Perry Jr. would have returned to Louisiana to visit his family.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the 20-year-old private was at Hawaii’s Hickam Field, where he relished his job as aerial photographer with the U.S. Army Air Forces.

“He had wanted so much to be a pilot,” said his sister, Aileen Perry Guthrie McIntosh of Saint Joseph, La. “But he was six feet six inches tall, and that was too tall for a pilot back then.”

Email newsletter signup

Perry had completed prep school at Gulf Coast Military Academy in 1939 and had headed for Tulane University, where his father hoped he would stay to complete his college education.

The adventurous Perry had other ideas, however, and they centered on airplanes and the military life.

“He brought this little clipping about the Army Air Forces to show my father and told him that’s what he really wanted to do,” his sister said.

After one semester at Tulane, he left to follow his dream. No one who knew him could have imagined the bright, vibrant young man never would return to his family.

One family’s tragic loss

The life of the tall, handsome Perry would be cut short, a brother and a son dead from a Japanese air assault that destroyed not only many U.S. Navy ships in Pearl Harbor but also nearly 200 planes at three nearby air fields, including Hickam.

“It was a Sunday,” said McIntosh, who was a freshman at Louisiana State University at the time. “I was at a movie in Tiger Town right outside the LSU campus.”

The theater proprietor interrupted the movie to tell patrons about the Japanese attack. The chilling news sent McIntosh immediately back to her dormitory, where she tried to get in touch with her parents. She and her brother were their only children.

“We didn’t hear until Wednesday that he had been killed,” McIntosh said. “He was the first Louisiana casualty to be announced.” Like most of the other 2,400 who died in the attack, Perry was buried in Hawaii until well after the war, when the family had his remains moved to his Louisiana hometown of Newellton.

Perry had saved his leave time so he could take it all at once January 1942. “He was very close to coming home,” McIntosh said. “He had sent us wonderful pictures of Hawaii, and I remember one in particular that was taken on a Christmas Day. He was on Waikiki Beach, and we were having a very cold Christmas.”

Her parents were devastated by the loss of their son, McIntosh said. Once she completed exams, she left the university and returned to Newellton, where her father owned and operated Newellton Hardwood Mill.

War takes a husband, too

The mood on the LSU campus was somber but agitated after the infamous attack. The United States would enter the war as a result of it. “We knew nothing about war,” McIntosh said. “All the boys began making arrangements to sign up to go. Everyone wanted to go. They were proud to go. In fact, they were disappointed if they were left out and couldn’t go.”

That included the man she would marry two years later, Marion Guthrie, also of Newellton.

“He was already in the service when we married,” she said. “I went with him to Mountain Home, Idaho, where he was training as a pilot. He was killed in an awful accident three weeks before going overseas.”

They had been married for 10 months. She was two weeks pregnant. The baby, a boy, Marion Philip Guthrie III, was born in 1945. He would be a blessing to her and to her parents.

“They treated my son as though he belonged to them,” McIntosh said. “He really became a kind of replacement of the son they had lost.”

Her father and mother died in 1970 and 1972, respectively. Their loss of a son had cut them deeply. And McIntosh had suffered doubly, losing brother and husband.

“You had to go on with your life. You had to take each day one at a time,” she said. “I&160;had a brother, a husband, cousins in my husband’s family and many close friends who were lost in the war.”

In 1982, having lived as a widow for nearly 40 years, she married her present husband, Mack McIntosh. She now has three grown grandsons, five great-granddaughters and one great-grandson.

Richly rewarded, she knows life’s joys, but also its sorrows.

“I’m as patriotic as anyone,” she said. “But I know what I’ve given up.”

Her brother received the Purple Heart posthumously. The citation accompanying it, signed by Gen. H.H. Arnold, declares Perry’s supreme sacrifice in the performance of his duty as a soldier.

“He lived to bear his country’s arms. He died to save its honor,” it reads. “His sacrifice will help to keep aglow the flaming torch that lights our lives … that millions yet unborn may know the priceless joy of liberty.”