Veteran recalls dad’s service in World War I

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  • Perry family photos Edwin H. Perry poses for a photo in his uniform during World War I.

  • Photos of Edwin Perry's ambulance division in World War I

  • Another photo of the ambulance unit in World War I.

  • Edwin Perry and fellow soldiers during World War I.

By Ann Genader

WEST MILFORD – World War II Veteran William “Bill” Perry of the Echo Lake community will be celebrating his 93rd birthday this week and remembers his dad, Edwin H. Perry, speaking about his service to the nation during World War I when he was a member of American Red Cross Ambulance Company No. 33.

Edwin attended a training camp for members of a volunteer ambulance corps that was opened on the Van Wyck family estate on Macopin Road in Apshawa near the Bloomingdale border.

It was set up by contributions from donors for purchase of tents, cots and clothing for the group.

The Van Wyck family in later years sold the property and it became Camp Vacamas.

Word eventually came from the War Department in Washington D.C., that American Red Cross Ambulance Company 33 would become part of the Army Fourth Division. Edwin and the company was sent to Camp Greene in North Carolina.

There, they transported people at the camp who were sick. Nine GMC 1915 ambulances were donated to the unit by the American Red Cross Society.

“Maintenance of the ambulance service necessitated night and day work at times – due to poor condition of the roads and an excessive run of sickness prevalent at that time,” wrote a company journal writer. “The records indicate that 1,700 patients were being transported by ambulances in one week with the total for one day alone being 326.”

The ambulances were left at the hospital after the 15-member crew returned to Camp Merritt in New Jersey on May 18, 1918.

They crossed the Hudson and at Bush Terminal on board the “Honorata” and sailed out of New York Bay for England.

Edwin and the men landed at Liverpool, England after being attacked by a submarine in the Irish Sea.

After spending two nights and a day on the ship they traveled by train to Winchester. Two days later they arrived at Southampton on the “Antrim” steamer that took them to LeHarve, France.

They went to Fayl Billet France for intensive training in gas defense, and then it was onward to Pierre Levee for more training.

On July 1, 1918, the men became litter-bearers to assist the Marine Second Division at Belleau Woods.

On the night of July 3, 1918, Pvt. John (Jack) Dean of Company 33, a Butler resident, was killed in action at Belleau Wood.

Bill Perry said Dean and Carl Nixdorf were carrying a wounded man on a stretcher over rough, broken ground and remaining tree stumps in the forest when a shell exploded next to the stretcher.

The patient was killed and Dean was also mortally wounded.

Nixdorf had dressed Dean’s wounds and went to get help.

Edwin Perry told his family he saw Dean about an hour after he was wounded, and it was at the Aid Station where Dean died.

Perry said a piece of shrapnel had hit Dean in the neck and shoulder.

Dean was initially buried in Belleau Wood.

His body was later returned home to Butler where he was given military honors and buried at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Butler.

The American Legion Post in Butler is named in Dean’s honor.

Bill Perry said his father, Edwin, had a miraculous escape himself.

He said his father was unloading his ambulance at a field hospital and an exploding shell landed nearby and demolished a French ambulance. Shrapnel flew past him and another piece landed in the calf of his leg, but he managed to stay on duty.

On July17, 1918, the unit received 17 ambulances.

Five or six company officers went on to Noroy and Thury with 40 stretcher bearers and first aiders. Edwin Perry told his son they carried out 2,700 people.

On Aug. 14, the older Perry and the others in the unit were taken to Prezsous where the ambulances were repaired and the company was re-equipped.

In September, they were working at established dressing stations.

One of their ambulances was the first motorized vehicle to enter Haudimont while the Germans still had possession of that part of the country.

A detail of eight men from the unit brought medical supplies to the front by hand due to transportation problems.

Arriving back to the company after 42 hours it was described as a difficult trip.

When the war ended, the Fourth Division came home and resumed their lives.

Edwin Perry married and the couple had a son, Bill, who would one day serve his country in the Navy during World War II.

His father and those who experienced World War I had hoped that the bloody conflict would have been The War to End All Wars.

Obviously it wasn’t.

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