Thirty Who Dared to Serve Gratiot County in the Great War, Part 4: “He Died in Belleau Wood: Clarence B. Perkins”


Above: The only surviving picture of Clarence B. Perkins from the August 29, 1918 issue of the Alma Record. Also, Perkins’ marker in Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France.

It was the late summer of 1918 before most people in Gratiot County knew of the loss of Clarence Perkins. It turned out in the end that there were reasons for this.

Clarence B. Perkins was said to be from North Star, however, he really was not. Perkins’ story is one that was sometimes repeated throughout the Great War when a county (or even more than one) claimed a fallen soldier as one of their own. Originally, Perkins was from Coleman in Isabella County from which he listed as his home when he joined the Army in 1909.

Perkins was one of seven children born to Joseph and Fannie Perkins. He was born April 11, 1886, in Rowland Township in Isabella County.  Clarence lost his father when he was ten years old. Fannie remained a widow for thirteen years until she married Peter Zimmerman and moved to North Star in Gratiot County.

Perkins’ military service had been a fairly long one before the Great War started. About the time his mother remarried in 1909, Clarence joined the Army in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  From there Clarence went to the Soo for two years, then to the Philippines for four years, and then he spent one year in Alaska. From Alaska, he went to training camp at Plattsburg, New York and then to Camp Green in North Carolina. In April 1918, Perkins left Camp Green for France.

On April 6, 1918, Clarence B. Perkins was killed in action, less than one week into what was called the Battle of Belleau Wood. He had served as a First Sergeant in the 30th Infantry, 3rd Division and he was buried in the Aisne-Marne Cemetery in Belleau, France, near where he fell. On his marker, he is listed as having come from California. How this relates to Perkins’ story is unclear. Possibly his service in the Philippines had some connection to once being stationed in California?

Since Perkins was not actually from Gratiot County, and because he had been in the Army in different locations for periods of time, both could be reasons why his death was not reported in Gratiot County until almost two months after he died. Possibly the Army also had a problem trying to find Perkins’ family. Because he had one surviving parent who resided in Gratiot County after his death, she later saw that his name was given to the American Legion for recognition as one of Gratiot’s men who died during the war.

Regardless, Clarence B. Perkins was recognized as the first man from Gratiot County to die in combat in France during the Great War. Clarence B. Perkins, who had served his country in several different places prior to going off to  war, was 32 years of age.

Copyright 2018 James M. Goodspeed

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