Perry Monroe has carried many titles during his lifetime; from gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps to aerospace consultant, volunteer and part-time actor.
The Temple resident has spent the last 10 years volunteering with the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, and has been giving back to the Temple/Killeen/Fort Hood communities since moving to the area in 2007, the year he retired from active military service.
Monroe grew up a Navy brat. His father was a 34-year Navy man who didn’t want his son joining the military at all. Monroe said he had to lie to his parents when he enlisted.
“I told my parents they needed my help, and they said ‘OK go.’ Well they didn’t know I was enlisting in the Marine Corps,” he said. “And you know how the Navy and Marine Corps are.”
Monroe said when he went home and announced he was a Marine, there was pandemonium.
“But it was my mother who said it wouldn’t be half bad if I joined the Navy,” he said. “And I said, ‘But I did, Mom.’”
Monroe said it was his father’s influence that made him want to join the military. His father fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
“I kind of felt like if it wasn’t a tradition, make it a tradition, because he served and he was my hero,” Monroe said. “That’s the best way to put it. So I wanted to serve as well.”
His son, Sgt. Christopher Monroe, continued the tradition by enlisting in the army after 9/11. Oct. 25 of this year marked the 15th anniversary of Christopher’s death in Iraq.
“Yes, I’m a gold star father,” Monroe said.
After he enlisted in Indiana, Monroe went to San Diego, then to Twentynine Palms for communication school, then to Camp Lejeune. While there, he ended up doing a lateral shift to infantry, and went to School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, then Barstow for advance training. Then it was back to Lejeune. Monroe was infantry until the day he retired.
“And when I was at 24 years, my unit was going back to Afghanistan, but because I was retiring I couldn’t go,” he said. “But I had the — I call it ‘privilege’ — to be the ammo NCO and brought their ammo to the plane and gave it to them and wished everybody a good tour.”
Monroe retired as a gunnery sergeant; he said a lot of his friends still call him “Gunny.”
While he served, he was part of combat deployments in Cuba, Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. He said there were a lot of deployments, like Haiti, that were considered non-combat, but still “an adventure.”
“They gave us hazardous duty pay,” he said. “The biggest thing we had to watch out for was goats, I think.”
Monroe’s faith was influenced by his experiences in the military, and vice versa. Before the Gulf War, when his barracks were right across from the church, Monroe would participate every time Eastern Orthodox services were held. He said when the priest and deacons found out he was deploying, they asked Monroe if he would be opposed to being ordained as a brother who could conduct services during the Gulf War. Monroe told them he would be honored.
“So the last Sunday, instead of sitting in the pews, I’m at the altar and they ordained me, essentially, to be able to conduct mass and give communion and that, and I thought that was an honor,” he said. “And even though I go to other churches that are not (Eastern Orthodox), I still keep that as the heart of my faith.”
After the military, Monroe put his education to good use by doing consulting work for NASA, DARPA and as a member of the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation, an international think tank focusing on keeping the world safe from near-earth deflection and other space-related scenarios.
Monroe said his work has led to encounters with several important space-related figures like former NASA Director Charles Bolden, Jr.; Gene Kranz, the former NASA flight director who famously said “failure is not an option;” Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise; and several cast members of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
His son’s hero was astronaut William Pogue, who Monroe also got to meet. He said it was ironic, because the day his son was killed was the anniversary of the day Pouge got his wings to fly.
Monroe said he once got “run over by Neal Armstrong.”
“We were at a conference and there’s this mass of people, and they say ‘Hey, Neal Armstrong’s over there.’ So, I’ve never seen him or had a chance to meet him,” Monroe said. “And as I get to the edge of the crowd, it parts and he runs right into me.”
There was another incident at a conference when Monroe’s seat was accidently stolen by Buzz Aldrin.
For the past 10 years, Monroe has been volunteering with the National Museum of the Pacific War’s popular Living History Program, also called the Pacific Combat Zone.
“In fact, in the past 10 years, I’ve only missed one weekend,” he said.
He said he’s been a historical reenactor for years, and he tried to find a character he could identify with and relate to.
“And I found in the rolls of casualties for the Marines during World War II a Gunnery Sergeant Warren Goodwin,” he said. “The age which he was killed on Iwo Jima was my age when I retired. And we had a lot in common.”
Because Goodwin was a member of the “old breed” who had no family, he was buried in the National memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
“But I tell them the Marines never forgot his sacrifice, and our motto we have at the museum, ‘We do what we do because they did what they did,’ and to tell his story in that process,” Monroe said.
He said the reenactments and his work at the museum has given him a chance to meet so many great people. He said they get nothing but praise for the reenactments. One time, after a battle was finished, the actors came out for a meet-and-greet type encounter with the audience.
“I had a guy who was a veteran, and he’s coming up to me with tears in his eyes,” Monroe said. “And all he can say is ‘That’s exactly what was like.’ And he’s looking over my shoulder at the American flag that we had raised. And that one event has always haunted me; to think that we do it that well that it brought back his memories of being in a place like that.”