Cover image for Now the hell will start : one soldier's flight from the greatest manhunt of World War II
Now the hell will start : one soldier's flight from the greatest manhunt of World War II
Publication Information:
New York : Penguin Press, 2008.
Physical Description:
386 p. : ill., map ; 25 cm.
Personal Subject:
The remarkable tale of Herman Perry, a native of North Carolina who wound up going native in the Indo-Burmese jungle. Perry was shipped in a segregated labor battalion to South Asia in 1943, one of thousands of black soldiers dispatched to build the Ledo Road, from the mountains of northeast India across the tiger-infested vales of Burma. Perry could not endure the jungle's brutality, nor the racism of his white officers. Finally, in emotional collapse, he shot a white lieutenant. So began Perry's flight through one of the planet's most hostile realms. He eventually stumbled upon a village festooned with polished human skulls, where, amid a tribe of elaborately tattooed headhunters, he would find bliss--and would marry the chief 's fourteen-year-old daughter. Author Koerner spent nearly five years chasing Perry's ghost through the remotest corners of India and Burma, and uncovering the forgotten story of the Ledo Road's black G.I.s--Publisher.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 PERRY 1 1

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Part history, part thriller, Now the Hell Will Start tells the astonishing tale of Herman Perry, the soldier who sparked the greatest manhunt of World War II— and who became that war’s unlikeliest folk hero

A true story of murder, love, and headhunters, Now the Hell Will Start tells the remarkable tale of Herman Perry, a budding playboy from the streets of Washington, D.C., who wound up going native in the Indo-Burmese jungle—not because he yearned for adventure, but rather to escape the greatest manhunt conducted by the United States Army during World War II.

An African American G.I. assigned to a segregated labor battalion, Perry was shipped to South Asia in 1943, enduring unspeakable hardships while sailing around the globe. He was one of thousands of black soldiers dispatched to build the Ledo Road, a highway meant to appease China’s conniving dictator, Chiang Kai-shek. Stretching from the thickly forested mountains of northeast India across the tiger-infested vales of Burma, the road was a lethal nightmare, beset by monsoons, malaria, and insects that chewed men’s flesh to pulp.

Perry could not endure the jungle’s brutality, nor the racist treatment meted out by his white officers. He found solace in opium and marijuana, which further warped his fraying psyche. Finally, on March 5, 1944, he broke down—an emotional collapse that ended with him shooting an unarmed white lieutenant.

So began Perry’s flight through the Indo-Burmese wilderness, one of the planet’s most hostile realms. While the military police combed the brothels of Calcutta, Perry trekked through the jungle, eventually stumbling upon a village festooned with polished human skulls. It was here, amid a tribe of elaborately tattooed headhunters, that Herman Perry would find bliss—and would marry the chief ’s fourteen-year-old daughter.

Starting off with nothing more than a ten-word snippet culled from an obscure bibliography, Brendan I. Koerner spent nearly five years chasing Perry’s ghost—a pursuit that eventually led him to the remotest corners of India and Burma, where drug runners and ethnic militias now hold sway. Along the way, Koerner uncovered the forgotten story of the Ledo Road’s black G.I.s, for whom Jim Crow was as virulent an enemy as the Japanese. Many of these troops revered the elusive Perry as a folk hero—whom they named the Jungle King.

Sweeping from North Carolina’s Depression-era cotton fields all the way to the Himalayas, Now the Hell Will Start is an epic saga of hubris, cruelty, and redemption. Yet it is also an exhilarating thriller, a cat-and-mouse yarn that dazzles and haunts.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist Koerner recounts an obscure 1944 murder whose story is linked to the building of the Ledo Road, a massive and ultimately useless American project that linked India to Chinese forces. Most African-American soldiers spent WWII doing menial jobs. One man, Herman Perry, was shipped to northeast India to work on the Ledo Road. The labor was backbreaking; with rudimentary living conditions and no access to most recreation facilities, blacks had few pleasures besides drugs. Psychologically fragile, Perry had already been jailed for disobedience when he wandered off, carrying a rifle. When a white lieutenant grabbed it, Perry shot him and ran into the jungle, eventually reaching a village of Naga tribesmen. Pleased by gifts of canned food, they allowed him to stay, and he reinforced this welcome by stealing from the builders' camp only six miles away. He married a local woman, but after three months, word of his presence filtered out; he was captured by Americans, tried and hung. Koerner's engrossing story illuminates one of WWII's fiascos as well as the disgraceful treatment of black soldiers during that era. Photos. (June 2) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

Compelling niche history about a black soldier who murdered his lieutenant then fled into the Burmese jungle during World War II. Journalist and first-time author Koerner has unearthed a minor treasure in the criminal records of Herman Perry, a meat cutter drafted in 1943. Since military leaders considered African-Americans unfit for combat, Perry was shipped to India in 1944 to join 15,000 mostly black laborers building the Ledo Road, an immense project extending nearly 500 miles through mountainous jungles to China. Working conditions were nightmarish. The project had low priority, so supplies and food were inadequate, and black troops received the worst. Amenities, R&R facilities and even brothels were off limits. Morale under white officers was terrible. Miserable and depressed, Perry had already served one stockade sentence and found himself threatened with another when, on March 5, 1944, he lost control, murdered an overbearing white officer and fled. Believing that blacks were sexually ravenous, his pursuers focused the subsequent manhunt on brothels in distant Calcutta. Meanwhile, Perry stumbled through the jungle into a village of the Nagas, a primitive tribe of headhunters who occasionally traded with the soldiers. Won over by a few gifts and the supplies he stole from construction sites less than ten miles away, the tribe accepted him. Perry married the chief's 14-year-old daughter and settled in, but rumors of a Negro living in the jungle eventually filtered out, and a patrol arrested him. Shortly before his death sentence was confirmed, he escaped and spent two months frantically trying to reach his village before being captured and hung. The long description of his trial may offer more information than most readers want, but few will be unmoved by the stinging depiction of Perry struggling to live first in an oppressively racist society, then in an army whose leaders considered him subhuman. Gripping and cringe-inducing. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Segregation is the context for Koerner's biography of Herman Perry, and the Burma theater of World War II is the stage. Shipped to Asia with thousands of black American draftees to build the Ledo Road, Perry generated considerable documentation in his short life, and Koerner fully capitalizes on it. Producing a riveting personal drama, Koerner glimpses Perry's essentially ebullient personality forming in the Jim Crow world but rebelling against its army version on the other side of the world. Not glossing over Perry's transgressions of military discipline, one of which was a capital offense at the tragic heart of the narrative, Koerner solidly anchors them in their emotionally stressful context of miserable road construction in a pestilent jungle amid contemptuous treatment from some white officers. There were two extraordinary consequences of Perry's central misdeed: his court-martial, whose procedures Koerner critiques, and beforehand, Perry's escape and year-long survival in the Burmese wilds as an adoptive member of the Naga people. With arresting pacing and empathy for its participants, Koerner's skillful rendering of the Perry saga exerts certain appeal for the WWII audience.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2008 Booklist

Library Journal Review

The China-Burma-India (CBI) theater of operations has been called the "forgotten theater of World War II." Koerner (contributing editor, Wired) takes pains to bring to light an obscure and unusual story from this theater. As a member of one of the U.S. Army's segregated construction units, Herman Perry was exposed to the full force of degrading racism directed at African Americans serving their country. Along with thousands of other black soldiers, Perry was relegated to brutal manual labor on the ill-fated Ledo Road, which snaked through the Burmese jungle. His story could only end badly after he killed his superior officer, a white man. Perry fled to the jungle and lived for a time with the area's indigenous people, but following an intense manhunt and several escapes, he was handed over to the army's harsh--and racist--criminal justice system. Koerner provides plenty of colorful digressions and offers an impressive account of the unsung accomplishments of the U.S. Army's segregated units. But the awkward yet florid prose never strikes a consistent tone, making this a disappointing read.--Elizabeth Morris, Barrington Area Lib., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.