By Catherine Ellerton
Moapa Valley Progress
Overton resident Harry B. Perkins, now 88, joined the Naval Air Force back on August 8, 1941 when he was only a teenager. A few months later, Perkins was in training at the Radio Training School in Los Angeles to become an radio operator when on December 7, 1941 the instructor coded the fateful message – PEARL HARBOR BOMBED.
After his training, Perkins headed to the Aleutian Islands off the tip of Alaska. The Japanese had bombed Dutch Harbor and invaded Attu and Kiska Islands in an attempt to stop any U.S. attack across the Northern Pacific. The Japanese believed this was a strategic hold in order to control the Pacific Great Circle routes.
Perkins was a member of the crew on a PBY5As which he described as a flying boat with wheels.
“Everything was hectic in the fight to reclaim the islands,” Perkins said. “For a little desert boy this was quite the experience.”
Perkins recalls that the troops were getting tired, they were low on rations.
“Even the chewing gum was getting brittle,” he said.
The country had not been prepared for this war in Alaska. The battle for the Aleutians became known as “The Forgotten Battle” because it took a back seat to more high profile locations like Guadalcanal which was taking place at the same time.
Perkins eventually returned to Alameda where he was assigned to the PV1 Ventura Squadron (a medium range bomber). The squadron was assigned to Hawaii where further training was obtained. Perkins said that the destruction from the Pearl Harbor bombing over a year earlier was still very evident.
The squadron stayed there for several months training and then headed into the South Pacific where “things got really bad.” Then on to Canton and Tarawa, which were “bloody places” per Harry.
During that time, near Nauru Island, their plane was hit. The elevators and rudders were damaged so the plane could not function properly. They had to fly over 400 miles back to Tarawa before they could land. Harry credits the pilot with getting them back. Perkins said that they kept radioing ahead letting them know they were still airborne.
He then spent about 6 months in the Southern Pacific Campaign at Saipan, Guam and Tinian. The PV1 was one of the only planes that could assist the Army. This plane could fly at the same speed as the Army Air Force planes and, therefore, they were able provide navigation requirements.
After the end of the war in 1945, Harry returned to his home in Overton. He went to work for Nunn Co. (now known as Simplot) and later for the Nevada Test Site in the Fire Dept.
Perkins and his wife of 64 years, Betty, currently live in Overton. He was not alone in his military career – in his family 6 or 7 siblings were in the Army or Navy and Harry’s son, Roger, was in Vietnam.