By Paul LaRue, Member of Ohio World War I Commission
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
Nearly eight months to the day after Armistice had been declared, Fayette County, Ohio lost its last son in World War I. Seaman Second Class Homer Perdue drowned on July 12, 1919, in the sinking of the USS Richard Bulkeley.
By the summer of 1919, most U.S. service members had returned home. The Navy transported most of these service members. The Navy had also begun the process of removing mines previously laid in the North Sea. The American mine layers had placed more than 56,000 floating mines to thwart German U-Boats. Following Armistice, the process of removing the mines began. Sweeping mines was a dangerous job, as evidenced in the 1919 Annual Report of The Secretary of The Navy: “… There were, in all, eight mine sweeping operations, and in nearly every one mine sweepers were badly damaged by explosion near them. …”
Homer Perdue was born in Fayette County Ohio in 1880. When the U.S. entered World War I, Homer wanted to serve his country. Unfortunately, he was 37 years old; at that time, he was too old to enlist. Homer continued working as a construction crew foreman for the Central Union Telephone Company. The Selective Service Act was amended in August 1918 and expanded to cover men between the ages of 18 – 45. That same month Homer Perdue enlisted in the US Navy.
July 1919 found Seaman Second Class Homer Perdue serving on the Mine Sweeper USS Richard Bulkeley in the North Sea. The 1919 Annual Report of The Secretary of the Navy states “… The trawler Richard Buckeley was sunk by a mine explosion on July 12, with the loss of her commanding officer. Commander F.R. King, and the following members of the crew:
Floyd Hartman, Roann, Ind.; engine man, first class.
John Vincent Mallon, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; seaman.
Homer Perdue, of Washington Court House, Ohio; seaman second class.
Antino Perfidio, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; ship’s cook, first class.
George Paul Rezab, of Warman, Minn.; fireman, second class.
George M. Sowers, of Knob Lick, Ky.; fireman, first class. …”
An excellent account of the U.S. mine sweeping operation and the sinking of the USS Richard Bulkeley can be found here.
Word of Seaman Second Class Perdue’s tragic death quickly reached Washington Court House. On Tuesday, July 15, 1919, the front page of the local newspaper, the Washington Herald, proclaimed: “WASHINGTON C.H. MAN IS KILLED IN EXPLOSION OF MINE IN NORTH SEA”. Seaman Perdue’s Mother, Mrs. T.K. Perdue received the following dispatch from the Bureau of Navigation:
“Bureau regrets to advise your son, Homer Perdue, seaman second class, U.S.N.R.F. was drowned when the U.S.S. trawler Richard Buckeley was sunk as a result of a mine explosion on July 12.
Body has not been recovered. Bureau extends its sincere sympathy to you in your loss. Any inquiries should be addressed to Bureau of Navigation, Washington, D.C.”
The Naval Operation to remove the mines was completed by September 30, 1919. 20,711 mines were destroyed. The shipping lanes in the North Sea were re-opened.
Seaman Second Class Perdue’s body was never recovered. Today his name is one of the 974 missing in action, lost, or buried at sea on the bronze tablets at the Suresnes American Cemetery Chapel in France.
Homer Perdue’s headstone can be found in the Perdue family plot in the Walnut Creek Cemetery in southern Fayette County, Ohio.
Homer Perdue waited patiently for the chance to serve his country. The Washington Herald stated: “… Those who knew him best rest assured that if he had been choosing death, his choice would have been death in the service…” Homer Perdue made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and is remembered as Fayette County’s last World War I death in service.
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