Segregation is the context for Koerner’s biography of Herman Perry, and the Burma theater of World War II is the stage. Shipped to Asia with thousands of black American draftees to build the Ledo Road, Perry generated considerable documentation in his short life, and Koerner fully capitalizes on it. Producing a riveting personal drama, Koerner glimpses Perry’s essentially ebullient personality forming in the Jim Crow world but rebelling against its army version on the other side of the world. Not glossing over Perry’s transgressions of military discipline, one of which was a capital offense at the tragic heart of the narrative, Koerner solidly anchors them in their emotionally stressful context of miserable road construction in a pestilent jungle amid contemptuous treatment from some white officers. There were two extraordinary consequences of Perry’s central misdeed: his court-martial, whose procedures Koerner critiques, and beforehand, Perry’s escape and year-long survival in the Burmese wilds as an adoptive member of the Naga people. With arresting pacing and empathy for its participants, Koerner’s skillful rendering of the Perry saga exerts certain appeal for the WWII audience. --Gilbert Taylor
Journalist Koerner recounts an obscure 1944 murder whose story is linked to the building of the Ledo Road, a massive and ultimately useless American project that linked India to Chinese forces. Most African- American soldiers spent WWII doing menial jobs. One man, Herman Perry, was shipped to northeast India to work on the Ledo Road. The labor was backbreaking; with rudimentary living conditions and no access to most recreation facilities, blacks had few pleasures besides drugs. Psychologically fragile, Perry had already been jailed for disobedience when he wandered off, carrying a rifle. When a white lieutenant grabbed it, Perry shot him and ran into the jungle, eventually reaching a village of Naga tribesmen. Pleased by gifts of canned food, they allowed him to stay, and he reinforced this welcome by stealing from the builders camp only six miles away. He married a local woman, but after three months, word of his presence filtered out; he was captured by Americans, tried and hung. Koerners engrossing story illuminates one of WWIIs fiascos as well as the disgraceful treatment of black soldiers during that era.
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Compelling niche history about a black soldier who murdered his lieutenant then fled into the Burmese jungle during World War II.
Journalist and first-time author Koerner has unearthed a minor treasure in the criminal records of Herman Perry, a meat cutter drafted in 1943. Since military leaders considered African- Americans unfit for combat, Perry was shipped to India in 1944 to join 15,000 mostly black laborers building the Ledo Road, an immense project extending nearly 500 miles through mountainous jungles to China. Working conditions were nightmarish. The project had low priority, so supplies and food were inadequate, and black troops received the worst. Amenities, R&R facilities and even brothels were off limits. Morale under white officers was terrible. Miserable and depressed, Perry had already served one stockade sentence and found himself threatened with another when, on March 5, 1944, he lost control, murdered an overbearing white officer and fled. Believing that blacks were sexually ravenous, his pursuers focused the subsequent manhunt on brothels in distant Calcutta. Meanwhile, Perry stumbled through the jungle into a village of the Nagas, a primitive tribe of headhunters who occasionally traded with the soldiers. Won over by a few gifts and the supplies he stole from construction sites less than ten miles away, the tribe accepted him. Perry married the chiefs 14-year-old daughter and settled in, but rumors of a Negro living in the jungle eventually filtered out, and a patrol arrested him. Shortly before his death sentence was confirmed, he escaped and spent two months frantically trying to reach his village before being captured and hung. The long description of his trial may offer more information than most readers want, but few will be unmoved by the stinging depiction of Perry struggling to live first in an oppressively racist society, then in an army whose leaders considered him subhuman. Gripping and cringe-inducing.
Now the Hell Will Start is a fascinating, untold story of the Second World War, an incendiary social document, and a thrilling, campfire tale adventure.
"Now the Hell Will Start is a dazzling look at a heretofore unseen and untold drama of WWII. Koerner takes us inside the Burmese jungle, where tigers and headhunters roam, and into the mind of an American, marooned by injustice, who struggles to survive as a man without a country. As Koerner points out, the hero of his tale, the pursued Herman Perry, may have just been the world's first hippie, certainly a father to Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. Koerner is a startling writer of great humanity and a driving sense of plot, and this tale of survival and race enlarges our sense of American history."
--Doug Stanton, author of In Harms Way
"Koerner wandered into the jungles of Burma in search of a fugitive whose name indeed was buried in time. What he has come out with is a first-rate portrait of muscle and bone and soul."
--Charlie LeDuff, author of US Guys
Brendan Koerner's Now the Hell Will Start rockets you from the WWII jungles of southeast Asia, to the streets of Washington DC, in a meticulously crafted narrative so wild it must be true. With a painstaking eye for detail, and the kind of prose that edges truth into art, Koerner's one of those journalists who nearly makes fiction irrelevant.
--David Matthews, author of Ace of Spades
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.