The China-Burma-India Theater of World War II is well-remembered for its air and ground wars, but little is known of its only major criminal case. In early 1944 the Ledo Road was being built from Assam Province in India across Burma to get supplies to China. Among the American troops building the road was Private Herman Perry of Washington, D.C., an uninspired worker more interested in drugs and native women than in the war effort.
In March 1944 Perry disappeared and when he returned he was ordered into arrest. He refused to surrender his loaded rifle, and when an officer tried to take it, Perry shot and killed the officer. He then fled into the surrounding jungle, and was not seen again for five months, when it was learned that he was living with a Naga “headhunter” tribe in northern Burma, far away from any military installation.
A team of Army Military Police went to the remote village to arrest Perry, but he escaped, then was wounded and captured. He recovered in an Army Field Hospital, then was tried by an Army Court-Martial and sentenced to be hanged, the only American “death sentence” ever in the CBI Theater. Months later, as the paperwork was being completed, Perry escaped in darkness from the barbed-wire Ledo Stockade, and was once again swallowed up by the friendly jungle.
Weeks later, he entered the U.S. “Advanced Section” area and robbed two soldiers. The next night he was wounded by an MP team, but again he disappeared into the friendly jungle. Then General Joe Cranston ordered my father, Earl O. Cullum, a then thirty-year-old major from Dallas, Texas, to “bring him in, dead or alive.” He was to give full time to the manhunt, aided by teams from his own 159th MP Battalion.
For eighteen days and nights Cullum led the manhunt, trailing the killer through remote jungles and across unbridged rivers, far away from civilization. Fresh MPs were brought in as needed, but Cullum personally kept on the trail, getting a little sleep whenever possible. Perry stole food from the natives’ gardens and holed up during the day, moving only at night. He was never seen by the pursuit teams, who found where he had slept, but not where he was. As the hunt neared the Naga Hills, it seemed that Perry might never be caught.
Then a native told of an American asleep in a jungle hut, still wearing his army uniform. One MP and Cullum waded across a wide jungle river in darkness, and silently approached the hut. It was empty. Then Cullum turned to a native standing nearby. When he tried to hide, Cullum grabbed him, and an American voice said, “You got me.” Cullum held his wrists and wrestled him down, kneeling on him while searching for his gun. But he had recently changed to native dress, and his uniform and gun were hidden nearby, out of reach.
The other two MPs came across the river and tied Perry’s hands as he admitted who he was. The party then recrossed the hip-deep river in darkness and on to their hidden jeeps. Then through the jungle trails and across wide rivers (by native barges), they went to an American Field Hospital where Perry’s accumulated wounds were treated. He was then confined in an escape-proof stockade.
Five days later he was driven in darkness to Ledo, where he was hanged at dawn, the only American executed in the CBI Theater in World War II. Cullum got his men in position to watch the execution, then walked away. He respected the way Perry had handled himself after his capture and did not want to watch him die. Later his body was reburied on American soil in Hawaii, apart from the “honored dead.” The case had taken a full year, from murder to hanging.
Cullum was soon promoted to lieutenant colonel and continued to lead his battalion through the last six months of the war, when it was de-activated and troops sailed for home. He remained in the U.S. Army Reserve and was promoted to full colonel and then recommended for brigadier general (Reserve), but could not accept, as he was then an FBI Agent. He retired with thirty years’ service, including active duty throughout World War II.
This account is extracted from the seventy-two-page booklet Manhunt in Burma and Assam, in which Earl O.Cullum fully recorded details of the manhunt, the only major criminal case in the CBI Theater. The story also appeared in the Ex-CBI publications Ex-CBI Roundup and Soundoff.
Earl always regretted his inability to get at least the Army Commendation award for his key men who did so much in the case, but “they were just doing their job,” and the medals were for the combat troops. He knew that many of his men deserved more than the thanks they got for their service.
Earl became an FBI Special Agent in 1947 and retired thirty years later, after serving in Oklahoma, Indiana, and north Texas. He worked many criminal cases and personally captured a “Top Ten Most Wanted” fugitive bank robber, among other hair-raising experiences. He could write another book.
By Kenneth H. Cullum for Dallas County Pioneer Association‘s Proud Heritage, Volume III.