Lt. Col. Richard “Perky” Perkins, who served during both World War II and the Korean War, recounted his service to the United States during a special Veterans Day Program on Nov. 8 at Carroll County Intermediate School. Perkins was the guest speaker for the program, which also included performances by the CCIS chorus and band, as well as recognition of all the veterans present.
Lt. Col. John Carper, senior army instructor for the Junior ROTC program at Carroll County High School, introduced Perkins, who flew “90 fighter bomber missions during World War II and 100 during the Korean War.” Carper advised those present to “soak up the wisdom and love of country of a great American” in his introduction.
Although Perkins had always had an interest in flying, it wasn’t until he became a student and a member of the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech that he got the opportunity. He was accepted into a flying program that was started during his sophomore year, and accrued 100 hours of flight time before being commissioned into the Army Air Corps after graduation in 1942. Following training, Perkins departed for the China-Burma-India theater, where he joined the 23rd FTR Group, a unit that grew out of the Flying Tigers. There, he flew bomber escort missions, fighter sweeps and interdiction missions, slowing the Japanese movement across China.
“In the fall, the Japanese would come out and steal the harvest that the Chinese had grown. So, we’d go out and shoot at the Japanese,” said Perkins, who piloted a P-51 Mustang.
While serving in the Far East, Perkins’s squad was joined by a pilot from St. Albans, West Va., Perkins’ hometown.
“He borrowed my parachute for a mission and got shot down behind enemy lines,” recalled Perkins. “Months later he came walking back. When you come out from enemy lines walking, you don’t have to fly (combat) again.” Later on, Perkins again loaned his parachute to the man, who was flying home. Perkins then heard his plane had been shot down, but it wasn’t until “four years later” than Perkins found out his friend had once again survived.
After World War II, Perkins became a flight instruction at Williams Field in Arizona, then four years later was assigned to the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing in Korea. Once again, Perkins played a key role in providing close air support and helping destroy supplies all the way to the Yalu River. Six months later, he was back in the U.S., however, this time his enemy was something entirely different – cancer. Perkins underwent radiation treatments for six weeks, and was later cleared to fly. Perkins taught ROTC at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., for four years, then served in a staff position before retiring in 1962.
He returned to Virginia Tech in January of 1963, and after completing graduate school, joined the faculty at Wytheville Community College. After teaching business courses, mainly accounting, for 21 years, Perkins retired in 1984.
“I had a great career flying and a great career teaching young people,” he said.
The program opened with the presentation of the colors, followed by the CCIS band’s performing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The chorus sang two patriotic selections prior to Brock Burnette and Sarah Burnette reading the Voice of Democracy essays. The band then performed two selections before Perkins spoke. Veterans present for the program were then recognized. That was followed by the flag folding ceremony, the bands’ performance of “Taps,” and the retiring of the colors.