May 2, 2010

James Perrine ’21, WWI Vet, to be Buried in Iowa After 35 Years

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After his ashes sat on a shelf in a funeral home for 35 years, James Owen Perrine Ph.D. ‘21 will be buried in May with full military honors for his service in World War I.

“We expect that this will be the last World War I veteran to be buried in Iowa,” said Patrick Palmersheim, director of Iowa Veterans Affairs.  There is only one surviving American World War I veteran, Frank Woodruff Buckles, at 109 years of age.

After Perrine’s story aired on Iowa television, Palmersheim said a great deal of history poured in on the Cornell alum. “So many people heard the story on T.V. We didn’t really know who he was before that.”

Palmersheim was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa from 1911 to 1920. The College Eye, Northern Iowa’s newspaper, referred to Perrinne as, “one of the most popular members of the faculty during his time here.” While at Northern Iowa, Perrinne served in the physics department and also coached and refereed for a variety of sports teams.

When the university established the Radio School, they placed Perrine in charge. On May 1, 1918, the College Eye reported that he was commissioned by the military as a lieutenant in the Signal Corps. While in the military, Perrine trained members of the armed forces in New Haven, Conn., before they were deployed abroad.

After being discharged from the military, he got his Ph.D. in physics from Cornell and began to work for AT&T, eventually being promoted as the company’s assistant vice president. He pursued his interest in science as well, writing The Slide Rule Handbook in 1963. Perrine died in 1974.

Shortly after returning from his duty in New Haven, Perrine paid a visit to Iowa and spoke to students about his military experience. The College Eye reported on the event, though they did not directly quote him.

“He told of the carelessness and laxness in both work and recreation that army life caused, but he emphasized especially the effect army life had in giving every soldier a larger outlook on life, and a desire to take part in the handling of world affairs,” the article said.

Palmersheim, who will be leading the services, expects attendance of anywhere between  1,000 and 1,500 people. He said that he has not been able to locate any surviving family members.

The delay in burying Perrine remains a mystery to officials.

Original Author: Juan Forrer