Sunday, December 15, 2019
Navy Man Continued Family Tradition Stemming to Revolutionary War
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David Lipman, who presented an emotional tribute in honor of his grandfather, enjoys a moment with retired Navy Medic Thomas Perry.
 
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

They called the destroyer that Thomas Perry served on “the most dangerous thing afloat.”

The 150-foot warship carried enough nuclear missiles to take out 16 cities within a 1,500-mile radius.

Fortunately, none were ever launched while Perry was aboard. Instead, he found himself confronting  40-foot waves that would wash over the boat as the Navy ship circled Arctic waters searching for Russian submarines.

 
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Rich Cardillo, director of military programs for Higher Ground, noted how everyone who has served in the military has taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, which he described as the nation’s foundational document.
 

“It was like ‘The Perfect Storm’—really rough weather,” said Perry, who lives in Bellevue. “We hardly ever saw sunshine—just grey skies and icebergs the size of houses.”

Perry joined with other veterans on Monday for a Veterans Day tribute at The Senior Connection in Hailey. More than a hundred vets and their spouses enjoyed a prime rib and turkey dinner donated by a man in honor of his father and prepared by The Connection’s Erik Olson.

“Those who have been in the military know that you’re all part of a larger family,” Higher Ground’s Rich Cardillo told them. “It doesn’t matter what job you had in the military,” he added. “What matters is that you served.”

Perry served in the Navy from 1953 to 1970 during the Cold War and the Vietnam War.

 
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Teresa Beahen Lipman, the director of the The Senior Connection, welcomed vets, who spanned the decades from World War II to present day conflicts.
 

“My last name is Perry—my family goes back to the Revolutionary War,” he said. “My father was a highly decorated officer with World War II—he was in the Battle of Anzio, which was an extremely bloody battle. I was a bit of a wild kid, chasing girls, not studying as much as I should. So, my father, who was chief of engineering for a TV station, decided the Navy might instill some discipline in me.”

The day Perry turned 17 he raised his right hand, pledging to serve the Constitution of the United States. He spent the summer between his junior and senior year in high school attending boot camp in the Great Lakes.

“They got us up at 5, we learned ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘No, sir.’ We washed our clothes by hand with a scrub brush and, if there was anything on our undershirts, we had to start scrubbing,” he said.

Perry got a degree in geology at Northland College in Ashland, Wis., then joined the Navy full time. He’d hoped to get a job drawing on his experience as a ham radio operator. But the Navy needed a medic so he drew, instead, on his experience as a weekend ski patroller in Vermont.

He went to sea for two to three months, then get 12-hour leaves in such ports as Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Reykjavik, Iceland.

“You really don’t want to be in warm water on a ship like that,” he said. “The worst place we ever went to was Guantanamo. The ship is so tight that it’s hotter than hell being in it—it can be 110 degrees in there. I don’t know how the guys in the engine room survived.”

After he hung up his Navy blue, Perry joined his ski buddies at a commune near Woodstock, N.Y., for a couple years. As he became disenchanted with their experiment in socialism, he took note of Pro-Am racing buddies from Sun Valley who told him, “You’ve got to go to Idaho. You’d love it out there.”

New York stockbroker Henry Taylor was his ticket to the Gem State.

“He moved to Sun Valley where he remodeled the Christiania Lodge. Then he did the Tyrolean Hotel and the Heidelberg and a couple of lodges at Yellowstone and Flathead Lake. We’d give them a facelift and  run them a couple years to get the occupancy rate up and sell them.”

Perry thought he’d died and gone to heaven when he set foot in Sun Valley.

“Blue skies, warm weather in summer. No people. No crowds. All ski bums. It was a bigger mountain than I’d skied back east and there was none of the blue ice we skied on there. And the skiing community was smaller then so I knew all those guys from the different ski races I’d taken part in.”

Eventually, Perry started his own electrical company, specializing in audio visual and lighting projects for high end homes and high-profile clients.

He retired eight years ago and began sailing again—this time on poker cruises with his son.

“It’s like a whole different world from the Navy,” he said. “A five-star hotel!”


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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