Thursday, January 28, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday - Letter From A Young Soldier To His Parents


James Bailey Hankins was the son of Lee and Samantha Hankins and the brother of my grandmother, Verda McCauley. (He had a hand in naming me but that's a story for another day.) When I was growing up it was an event when Uncle Jimmy came to Kentucky from California for a visit. He was handsome, charming, successful and the favorite uncle of my father and (I believe) his nine siblings. This newspaper clipping shows the somber side of a young soldier that I doubt any of them ever saw. It is letter that he wrote to his parents as he was being shipped to France after he had joined the US Army during World War I. I don't know (yet) the exact dates of his service or the date the letter was published in a local Hopkins County, Kentucky newspaper but he was only 17 years old when the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918 so he was definitely no older than that when he left for France.

James Hankins' Farewell Letter Before Sailing
The following letter was written by James Hankins, who is now with the American army in France, to his parents, Rev. and Mrs. Lee Hankins, of Earlington, on the eve of his departure for France:

Camp Merritt, N. J.
Mr. and Mrs. T. L. Hankins.
Dear Father and Mother: - I write you my farewell letter. I received your kind letters. I was so glad to hear from you all. Mother, you ask me why I had to go to France. They wanted some good men over there and I thought it was my duty to go. I didn't have to go. Just wanted to go, and when you are reading this letter I will be sailing across the briny deep. But don't grieve or worry about me. If I never get back you can say I died fighting for my country and nobody can say I was a slacker, and if I get back, like I feel I will, I can tell you something of this war. So do the best you can and have a good time. Don't grieve for me. I will be back some day if I live, and if we never meet here on earth any more we will meet some day where parting is no more and there are no more goodbyes, for there is a better land than this, and if we never meet here we will meet up there. So I will close [my] farewell letter in the good old U. [S. A.] Good-bye.
Your loving son,
James Hankins

I received this copy of the original clipping from my 2nd cousin, Sue Morgan London, several years ago after she found my genealogy website. Sue and I have never met but her mother, Helen Hankins Morgan, was my father's cousin and Jimmy's niece. The clipping was no doubt originally saved by Lee and Samantha and Helen must have saved it after Samantha's death. This is another example of a family treasure I would not have if I hadn't set up a website.  

Photo courtesy of Rick Thorpe, descendant of Lee Hankins' sister, Mollie Hankins Clements. 


  1. He sounds so mature for such a young age. Did he make it back?

  2. Linda,
    Thanks so much for posting this. The picture is absolutely stunning and the clipping truly is a treasure. I am blessed enough to have both a handwritten letter and a newspaper clipping about my grandfather's journey to France as well, so something like this is close to my heart. What a special man your great uncle was.
    Also, how wonderful it is that you obtained it in the manner in which you did. Meeting distant cousins is one of the best things that can happen online.

  3. What a beautiful letter. I'd say he made it back ok because you say he would visit you in California when you were a child. As a mother with a son having gone off to war I can really relate to the mom's feelings.

  4. It is a really good feeling when people locate you via an on-line tree, website, or blog posting and you can make a connection. Congrats!

  5. Thanks for all the comments. It's nice to know that people are reading. I guess I should have made it clearer that he did indeed make it back. Uncle Jimmy died in California in 1974.