World War II Veteran Recounts Battle of the Bulge, Working in Hudson County

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014 11:46 am EST

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NJ.com

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Henry Perkowski was a reluctant soldier.

He was drafted on January 7, 1942, but didn't want to leave his job working at the Lipton Tea factory in Hoboken. He was living in Jersey City at the time and was the third child of six. He had a "wonderful job" working for maintenance, doing mainly electrical work, he said. He never drove to work, but always opted to walk to the Hudson River.

"Maybe that's why I've lived so long!" he said on Monday.

Perkowski, now 97, lives at Sunrise of Edgewater, a senior facility on River Road. Surrounded by medals and other honors he earned while serving as a technician for four years, the World War II veteran recounted horrors and hijinks from his Army days.

In terms of the latter, in his own words, he "screwed up a lot."

While briefly stopped in Hollywood, he drank a bit too much and missed his convoy headed to the Mojave Desert. The stunt forced him to hitchhike to the Mexican border, where another troop was able to reconnect him with his convoy, he said.

"The Army life was like an adventure," he said. "The Army was happy."

But much of his experience was devastating. He said guard duty saved his life just before German forces attacked the Belgian city of Bastogne in December 1944.

When Allied forces arrived in the city, the men thought the war was basically over, he said. He and his fellow soldiers were enjoying their time with the Belgians, unaware that a firestorm was heading their way. Perkowski said he would have likely been killed if he hadn't been placed on guard duty on a hill in the city the first night of the attack.

"The most happiest guys you'll ever meet, and none of them made it," he said of his comrades, beginning to cry.

The siege, a seminal part of the Battle of the Bulge, devastated the city.

"We just got clobbered," he said. "Just picture a city as big as Hoboken. Everybody, dead."

Perkowski also helped liberate the concentration camp at Buchenwald. He said many of the people were so starved that they couldn't be fed.

"I saw the young ones," he said, unable to finish the thought, as he started to cry. ""We saw the people were just like skeletons walking around."

While in the Army, Perkowski earned five medals, including a Bronze Star and a New Jersey medal for Distinguished Military Service. After the war, Perkowski met his wife Norma and they moved to North Bergen, where they lived with their daughter Adrian, he said. He continued to work at the Lipton factory, retiring after 38 years.

Now, Perkowski still walks to the Hudson River each day, accompanied by his cat. He'll turn 98 in December, but he still keeps busy, filling each day with various activities, including working as a reporter for the Sunrise's newspaper.

"I'm too busy to die!" he said. "I have so much to do!" 

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