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Gordon Dean Perry

Pfc. Gordon Dean Perry in dress blues

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial

Remember...

Gordon Dean Perry
1949-1969

“I had prayed to God that this thing was fiction.”

Pvt. Varnado Simpson, soldier from Charlie Company of the 23rd Infantry Division, 1969

Gordon Dean Perry was born November 22, 1949, in Bradshaw, West Virginia, to Mary Katherine Cook Perry and Everett Edward Perry Sr. He joined an older brother, Everett Edward Perry Jr. (Ed). Sisters Beverly (Perry) Fragale, Kathy (Perry) Westbrook and Kimberly Perry Groves would be born into the family in 1951, 1954, and 1961. Everett Sr. worked for Consolidation Coal Company in construction, building coal mine tipples. The job caused the family to move around a lot. They lived in a travel trailer, which had bunk beds in the hallway. The boys slept on the top bunk, and the girls slept on the bottom. Still, Kathy (Perry) Westbrook remembered that no one complained that the quarters might be cramped. The family was close and made closer by living in a travel trailer. From McDowell County they moved to Morgantown in 1951, then to Fairmont, and then to Tazewell, Virginia. The family moved a final time in 1955 to Morgantown, where they happily settled. Mr. Perry began working for Greer Limestone Company, and the growing family moved into a house in 1961.

Gordon Dean, whom the family called by his middle name, attended Flatts Elementary School and Morgantown Junior High School, where he wrestled. Dean was a responsible young man who worked after school. Dean was known as a quiet kid, but his sisters and mother remember that he also was ornery and played pranks on the neighborhood girls. Kathy and Beverly wrote, “The girls in the neighborhood would have a camp out, building tents out of sheets and blankets on the neighbor’s clothesline. Dean would get the boys together and end up scaring us.” Dean was a problem-solver, if also a prankster. When he was a child, he teamed up with his friend, Terry Hagedorn, and successfully slowed the traffic on the gravel road in front of their homes. The boys dug a ditch into the gravel road in front of the Perry home, creating a speed ditch, instead of a speed bump! But the unauthorized speed ditch resulted in a visit from the police. Mr. Perry compelled the boys to fill in the ditch.
Gordon Perry

Dean Perry in family trailer

Gordon Perry

Third grade photo

By 1968 Dean attended Morgantown High School (MHS). He enjoyed sports. In high school he played on the Morgantown High School football team. He was a member of the Key Club and belonged to the Highland Park Methodist Church, where he was a member of the Youth Fellowship. His jobs included delivering newspapers; a job at the West Virginia University (WVU) student union, the Mountainlair; and a job at the concession stand during WVU football games at the old stadium. Dean graduated from MHS in 1968.

After graduation, Dean and his friends joined another important organization: the United States Marine Corps. Like his father, Everett Perry, a Marine during World War II, and his brother Ed, who was already in the Army, Dean would join the military. Ed Perry returned home in September, after Dean left for training in August. Ed wanted to extend his tour, with the intent of keeping Dean in the states, because the family didn’t want Dean to go to Vietnam. Ed was willing to postpone his planned September wedding to do this, but Dean was determined to go. The Perry family remembers that their son and brother was honored to serve.

Gordon Perry and friends

Dean Perry (on left), March 13, 1969, on Wake Island with friends from boot camp

Dean started his tour on Sunday, March 16, 1969. (Source: The Virtual Wall, http://www.virtualwall.org, accessed 17 December 2015.) The Perry family remembers that Dean and his friends, Dan Barker, Meade Grow, and Robert Gallon, joined together, and left for Basic Infantry Training Services with the Marines in August. Dan Barker wrote that they all spent boot camp at Camp Pendleton. They were in infantry training together, but were separated during their specialty training. Dean and another friend, Joe Slavensky, went to specialized training as mortar men, while Dan Barker went into anti-tank assessment training. Meade Grow and Robert Gallon went to machine gun training. After boot camp, they went home to Morgantown for 30 days and then returned to the Marines to begin a 30-day staging period before going to Vietnam.

Pfc. Gordon Dean Perry was a member of the H&S (Headquarters and Service) Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division as a mortar man. (Source: Coffelt Database of Vietnam Casualties, http://www.coffeltdatabase.org/, accessed 17 December 2015.) In 1969 the 1st Mar Div Da-Nang units were involved in Operation Pipestone Canyon.

Operation Pipestone Canyon was a “major land clearing operation in the Dodge City and Go Noi Island area, 10-20 km south of Da Nang.” Other units involved in this operation were SLA Alpha, the 51st ARVN (South Vietnamese Regional Army) Regiment, and the 2d Korean Marine Brigade. During this time, most of the island’s 27,000 residents fled to other areas of the Quang Nam Province. The area had become an operational area for the Viet Cong, who had tunneled underneath it, who occupied the caves, and who used the treeline for concealment. Mines were buried there. The objective of Operation Pipestone Canyon was to clear 250 acres at a time to a depth of 6 inches, completely destroying the area for military use by the enemy. The operation had many phases and infantry units, moving to phase lines and blocking positions. (Source: “Operation Pipestone Canyon,” http://1stbn4thmarines.net/operations/history-folder/operation_pipestone_canyon.htm, accessed December 17, 2015.)
Gordon Perry

Pfc. Gordon Dean Perry in Vietnam

Gordon Perry

Deeply involved in Vietnam

The goal of the operation was to “transform Go Noi Island from a heavily vegetated tract into a barren wasteland, free of tree lines and other cover….” It started on May 26 and ran through November 7, 1969.

The area around Go Noi was a treacherous and dangerous place. Liberty Bridge was only two kilometers away. The bridge was attacked often, felled more than one time, and rebuilt. The enemy appeared suddenly and disappeared nearly as quickly around the Dodge City area, into the tunnels and treeline. Operation Pipestone Canyon would eventually result in 852 enemy deaths, and 71 USMC killed in action, mostly due to mines.

According to “Operation Pipestone Canyon,” most of the land was “flat but covered with rice paddies, thick brush, tangled hedgerows, and vast expanses of tall elephant grass.” Describing the operation, the narrative continues that “the morning of 26 May opened with a blistering bombardment of the AO’s western’s region. Heavy 8-inch shells from the offshore USS Newport News and artillery fire from the cannons of 1/11 ripped into the terrain with an explosive fury.” The description continues: “The first few days of the movement resulted in only minor contact. However, as the Marines moved closer to Dodge City and Go Noi Island, enemy resistance picked up. By mid-afternoon on 30 May, the battalions had set up their blocking positions just west of the railroad berm. They had killed 16 NVA but lost a total of ten dead and more than a hundred wounded.”

That night, the Marines were setting up night defensive positions, which could have been foxholes, or trenches. Pfc. Gordon Dean Perry died the evening of May 30, 1969, due to gun or small arms fire, a ground casualty who died outright in hostile fire, according to his death certificate, while setting up a night defensive position.

Pfc. Gordon Dean Perry was buried in East Oak Grove Cemetery in Morgantown, West Virginia. Dean was one of the service men featured in the June 27, 1969, Life magazine cover story entitled “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week’s Toll.” The feature story was about the 242 men who were killed between the dates of May 28 and June 3, 1969. Dean appears on page 28, looking fit and ready at the age of 19.
grave marker

Family grave marker for Dean Perry in East Oak Grove Cemetery. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

military headstone

Military headstone for Pfc. Gordon Dean Perry

Today, Dean’s memory lives on with the Perry family, and in two of his nephews and a niece who were named for him. “Dean was so loved and is missed,” wrote Kathy and Bev. Dean’s name also appears on a memorial tribute at Morgantown High School for alumni who were killed in Vietnam.

The Perry family lost Everett Perry Sr. in 1979, and sister, Kimberly, in 2014 to cancer.


Photos of Gordon Dean Perry provided by Kathy (Perry) Westbrook
Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens, who gratefully acknowledges the contributions of family members Kathy (Perry) Westbrook, Beverly (Perry) Fragale, Everett Edward Perry Jr., Mary Perry, and friend Dan Barker.
December 2015

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Gordon Dean Perry

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