Now the Hell Will Start
One Soldier’s Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II
Brendan I. Koerner 2008 400p 5 x 8
This is the story of Herman Perry, a black GI during World War II, and the road he was forced to work on. The Ledo Road was a 465 mile supply road from British occupied India through the jungles and mountains of Burma to Chiang Kai-shek’s China (an ally of the U.S. against Japan) that took the length of the war to finish and had a 50% or higher mortality rate for its builders. The actual construction of the road was left to black GIs and local indentured servants from India and Burma whose ranks were continuous thinned by malaria and dysentery, tigers, Japanese snipers, poisonous snakes, humidity and 100+ degree heat, festering leech wounds, 16+ hours a day of grueling, dangerous work, and (though not mentioned in the book, but I assume) suicide. As for the road itself, it was continuously washed away by monsoons with months of construction where only road was lost, not gained. Within a year or two of the war ending the road was impassable having been taken back over by the jungle.
After six months of working in this hell, a stay or two in the army hospital and stockade, and having developed a weed and opium habit, Perry refused to work culminating in him killing a lieutenant who was trying to arrest him. After doing so, Perry fled into the Jungle, eventually living amongst and being hidden by a village of Naga natives.
Though the book concentrates more on the Ledo road (which is a fascinating social history in itself) than Perry, it does also shed light on—to limited degrees—the segregation of the U.S. military during World War II (and tensions that at times boiled over into riots and refusals to work), the governing of China during the war, the Naga peoples of Northern India/ Burma and British colonialism in (mainly) north-eastern India. These last two points (particularly Koerner’s treatment of the Naga tribes) are a little questionable and readers should take them with a grain of salt
1942-1943 saw a series of riots and shoot outs on segregated U.S. military bases between black GIs and their white officers and MPs. One regiment that stood up for itself a number of times, the 364th, is rumored to have been massacred (300-1,200 killed ) at the end of one such riot. For those interested in a conspiracy theory take on the 364th, here is History Channel episode (at times in the vein of Ancient Aliens) about them.