Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day - Remembering Corporal Perry Hankins

There aren't many pictures of William Perry Hankins. The annotation on the back of this one, probably written by his mother, says it is Perry at age 15. As a carefree teenager riding his bicycle on a rural Hopkins County, Kentucky road, he could not have imagined his life would be so short. 
Perry died before his 24th birthday. He did not die in battle but his death was directly related to his military service. Tuberculosis (TB) was the cause. 

Perry enlisted in the U. S. Army on 3 Oct 1916 in Madisonville, Kentucky, served slightly less than four years and was discharged at Oteen, North Carolina on 5 Aug 1920. He spent part of the war in France, as did his brothers, Jimmy and Elvie.  
Perry (on right) with brothers Jimmy & Elvie in France 1918.

After the war, Perry was stationed at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri before being discharged in North Carolina. He is in the front row of the photo below taken there on 24 Sep 1919.
Perry - front row on right
It is impossible to say exactly when or where Perry contracted TB. The U. S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History explains that the disease was a serious problem in the French Army before the United States even entered World War I adding:
"Before the war was over, more than 2,000 men had died of tuberculosis in the Army, and thousands more had been hospitalized. The admission rate in Army hospitals averaged 19 per 1,000 strength per year. Throughout World War I, tuberculosis was the leading cause of discharge for disability, accounting for 13.5 percent of all discharges. At the end of the war, a huge and costly problem was left for the newly organized Veterans' Administration."
Perry & Margaret, 1921
Eight months after his discharge from the U. S. Army, Perry married Margaret Hill on 12 Apr 1921 in Hopkins County, Kentucky. Fourteen days later, he entered the Mountain Branch of the U. S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers near Johnson City, Tennessee for treatment of TB. He was a patient at Mountain Branch until 27 Jul 1921. 

It is unclear if Perry went home or to a different facility from there. Maybe he was at home when his son, William Perry, Jr. was born in January but before 23 Feb 1922 (when he wrote a letter to his young niece, Helen), Perry was a patient at the U. S. General Hospital #19 in Oteen, North Carolina - again for the treatment of TB. If he was at home for the birth of his son, he had precious few days with him.  

There is no indication in his letter to Helen as to when he arrived in Oteen but he was responding to a letter from her so he had been there at least long enough to receive mail. He described his view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and encouraged her and her brother to visit his infant son: 
"You and Jewell must go over and see Bill he likes to play with little girls and boys. He sure is some boy. When you see him you must write and tell me what you and little brother think about him. I think he is the stuff."  
After Oteen, Perry went to Denver, Colorado for continued treatment. The name of the facility and exact dates he was in Denver are unknown. He died there sometime between April and October in 1922. According to his obituary, he had been in Denver for seven weeks. His body was returned to Hopkins County for burial.    

Perry was the son of Thomas Leander "Lee" Hankins and Samantha Angeline Petty and the brother of my grandmother, Verda Waller Hankins. The photo of the three brothers is courtesy of Rick Thorpe. All other photos are courtesy of Sue Morgan London. 

To Do: (1) Review Hopkins County newspapers from 1922 to find the date Perry's obituary was published to narrow down his date of death. The clipping shared with me by Sue Morgan London was the original saved by Perry's mother. The date and name of the newspaper are not included with the clipping. (2) Order Perry's military records from NARA.


  1. Great post Linda!

    Prompted me to learn a bit more about TB as I've found a few of my ancestors died from it too. I had no idea it was so rife in parts of the world today. Also, interesting to read that the BCG vaccine which every child gets at school in Scotland has 'limitations'...

  2. Great post/photos! I hadn't really associated TB w/ WWI as I had always associated it w/the 1918 flu pandemic (which, ironically, may have saved my grandpa's life as it delayed his unit's deployment overseas). Like your use of "to do" list too; allows you to post not totally "complete" research ( is it ever? LOL) & points others to "next steps" for similar research. I'm going to borrow that!

    1. Thanks, Liz. I have to admit that adding the to dos just occurred to me as I was writing and started seeing holes.