Every veteran has a tinge of survivor’s guilt, Dave Perry said. He’s trying to lessen his through volunteering to help other soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard vets, many of whom had it far rougher during wartime.
It’s his way of making things right for not being sent to fight with the brown-water Navy in the Mekong River Delta.
Perry, a 74-year-old Albany resident, was honored Friday night at the Veteran of the Year Banquet, held this year at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center.
He acknowledges that he won the lottery with his Vietnam-era Navy assignment in Hawaii.
“All the men and women in Vietnam were doing the heavy lifting,” Perry explained.
Perry has a long list of volunteerism, including with the Vietnam Veterans of America and Vets Helping Vets HQ.
He is particularly fond of his work for a Wall of Honor recognizing those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as taking residents at the Edward C. Allworth Veterans’ Home in Lebanon to a fishing pond almost every week in the spring and summer.
“There are men and women who come. They just love catching fish,” Perry said. Some of the vets don’t have the motor skills to cast and reel in a whopper, but they can get help, and they enjoy the field trips and being outdoors, he added.
The Wall of Honor, which has been displayed five times at Heritage Mall, is a sort of magnet for veterans, Perry said. “Regardless of when a vet was in, vets come to see that,” he said.
Perry also has helped build wheelchair ramps for disabled veterans, and brought meals and other food resources to vets in need.
Volunteering for and with other veterans gives him a sense of connection and fulfillment.
“I tell you, I made some of the best friends of my life,” Perry added. “A lot of people don’t understand the brotherhood and sisterhood of the veterans community. … I think it’s true of a lot of vets: You find a cause greater than yourself.”
Perry enlisted in the Navy while he was enrolled at Southern Oregon College in 1965 because felt the draft breathing down on him. He had two years in the active reserves, two years of active duty, followed by another two years in the active reserves.
He expected to experience heavy combat in Vietnam, but when he got his duty orders they said “ComServPac” — which stands for commander service force Pacific fleet.
A grizzled vet first wondered aloud how Perry landed his assignment, then explained to him that he was headed to the Hawaiian Islands.
“I don’t know why I got the lucky straw,” Perry said.
“I’ve talked with so many guys who went over there (to Vietnam) and the crap they had to endure…” he said, his voice trailing off.
He spent much of his time working for a fleet supply admiral, and he later became the classified materials custodian for the admiral.
“Our job was to get all the beans and bullets over to them,” Perry said.
With the classified clearance, he also saw the tallies of American soldiers killed in action every day, and wondered if he’d see his cousin among them. (Thankfully, the cousin wasn’t.) He also became skeptical of the media after seeing inaccurate coverage of the war.
Perry grew up in Eugene, and his great-great-grandfather was the captain of a wagon train that arrived in Oregon in 1851.
That led to work at the Gillespie Cemetery near Eugene, which is named for his ancestor. Perry has helped identify about 45 veterans there who weren’t being recognized, including a Civil War vet and two men who were part of the Oregon militia in 1859.
Perry came to Albany in 2002 to take a job with Citizens Bank as the manager of its east Albany branch and he hasn’t left. “Albany’s our hometown now,” Perry said.
The graduate of South Eugene High School has been married to Annette Perry for 50 years. They have two children and two grandchildren.