Sunday, April 3, 2011

Col. Harry E. Wright, M.D.: From Chasing Bandits on the Border to Finding a New Cousin!

I received a very welcomed email several weeks back from a person who, while conducting a Google search, came upon my blog post of June 7, 2010 titled: “Harry E. Wright – Chasing Bandits on the Border!” The person indicated that we may be related and introduced himself as Dick Wright of Falls Church, Virginia. It turns out he is the last son of Harry E. Wright’s second marriage to Alice Irene Heidland (b. 13 Jul 1914 d. 6 Aug 2006), making him my first cousin once removed! What a pleasant surprise! Dick, on the other hand, knew very little about his father’s youth and first marriage. Needless to say, we have been helping each other fill in the missing pieces of the fascinating life of Col. Harry Elbert Wright, M.D.

I had suspected for many years that Harry Wright passed away somewhere in the Virginia area. Family stories passed down to me by my maternal grandmother formed the basis for this belief. About a year ago I discovered an entry at the Veterans Administration National Gravesite Locator web site of an Air Force Medical Corps Colonel by the name of Harry Elbert Wright buried at Arlington National Cemetery. I couldn’t prove the connection, but it seemed like the Harry I was looking for. However, since “Harry Wright” is a fairly common name, I didn’t want to risk propagating questionable information in my family tree without definitive proof. Fortunately, Dick was able to confirm that the VA entry does indeed refer to his father. Mystery solved.

Dick was very young at the time of his father’s death, and he grew up never really knowing him that well, or his father’s first family for that matter—something I can certainly associate with.

As Dick explained in an email:

Here's what I have been told about my father:

His father [Henry E. Wright, b. 8 Jan 1874 d. 1 Apr. 1908] died of diphtheria shortly after passing the Bar Exam and he was left with his maternal grandparents--at what age I don't know. That is the last I have ever heard of his mom, my paternal grandmother.

He ran away to join the Army at age 15, having lied about his age to do so. (His headstone in Arlington National Cemetery gives his birth year as 1895, but I have always been led to believe that he was born in 1900.)

He served in Texas and was in on the Mexican Punitive Expeditionary Force which searched for Pancho Villa and his bunch.

While in the service as an enlisted man, he came to have an interest in medicine, left the Army and ended up in Baylor Medical School which at the time was in Dallas, I believe. It’s in Houston now. There was a Baylor yearbook around the house growing up. My brother may have it now. Anyway, he apparently got his M.D. in 1937, rather late in life. My mother told me that he worked three jobs while at Baylor—as handyman at the house where he resided (in exchange for lodging), testing the city’s milk supply and one other job I really cannot recall.

The details of his Army service and his life between Army gigs escape me now, but he ended up back in the Army as an officer, served as the Medical C.O. of the (original) hospital ship Comfort in the Pacific. (It was at this time that the Comfort took a kamikaze down one of its stacks, blowing out an OR and killing all in there.)

When I was about 2-3 years old, we were stationed in Atlanta, GA for a year. I was born in August of 1946, so I guess this was about 1949 or so. While there, my dad was recalled to D.C. and returned with a new Oldsmobile and a different uniform. He had been laterally transferred to the then-new US Air Force. He made O-6 while we were stationed at Ft. McPherson.

We returned to the Falls Church house when my dad was assigned to the Medical Review Board at the Pentagon. On February 11, 1952, he suffered a myocardial infarction, was taken to the Bolling AFB hospital where he died that evening.
At least I was able to help Dick solve one mystery—when his father was born. According to family records and photos I have showing Harry’s birthday clearly written on them (presumably from his mother, Pearl), his date of birth was October 24, 1895. Additionally, Census records I have looked at show October of 1895 as well. That also tracks with the VA records associated with his burial at Arlington National Cemetery which documents the same date of birth in 1895.

Dick also generously sent a number of photos and document scans. The first one (at the beginning of this post) shows a young Sergeant Harry Wright somewhere in west Texas during his days chasing bandits along the border with Mexico. According to Dick, he was a mule inspector! That pose alone is worthy of a recruiting poster!

The two shots below show Harry on the deck of the U.S.S. Comfort. The back of the first photo has “1-20” written on it. If that stands for January 20, then it could be referring to January 20, 1945. Historical records indicate that the Comfort was commissioned in June of 1944, so that date (if it is a date) would be in line with Harry’s service on the ship.

The next scan highlights Col. Harry Wright’s pay card from 1949. That’s pretty decent pay for that time period, and certainly understandable for a senior Army physician! Notice it has his service serial number in the upper right hand corner. That’s the kind of information family history researchers dream about!

The next photo (below) shows Harry in what may be an early Air Force uniform, which in the early days for the Air Force was essentially an Army uniform.  A close examination of the photo shows what may be full colonel's insignias, indicating Harry was in the Air Force at the time, referencing Dick's comments above.  Since the blue uniform of the Air Force didn't come about until September 1, 1950, this photo was probably taken somewhere between April 1949 and September 1950.

Dick was even kind enough to provide an image of his father’s medical diploma from Baylor University in 1937 (below), which incidentally helped me learn of Harry’s middle given name—“Elbert”. All I had before was a middle initial.

The last shot below is of a very young Harry and his mother, Pearl (ca. 1896). While I have a number of photos of Pearl, this is a great one to add to the collection.

Thanks to my new found cousin, Dick Wright, I can lay to rest some of the more challenging mysteries about his father that I have tried to answer for years. Of course, now the urge to learn more is even greater than ever, I’m happy to announce. It’s an intense curiosity that family historians suffer from—one that even Dr. Harry E. Wright would struggle to cure!


  1. This gentleman is my grandfather! My mother was his daughter, Dorothy Eloise Wright. He was living in Falls Church, Virginia while serving at the Pentagon. When he died, we learned he had married another lady there. We learned of that when the Army was trying to locate next of kin. His wife in Texas was D'Anne Wright, a Registered Nurse working at Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas.

  2. This is my grandfather! He is my namesake!

  3. By the way, I am the anonymous posting above...Harry Lee Perkins.

  4. Harry - Thank you for the comments, and it's a pleasure to meet you. Yes, Harry E. Wright's first wife was Dorothy A. McComas. They were married September 30, 1917 in Las Cruces, NM. I do know they had a daughter Dorothy E. Wright. I even have a few family photos of her as well. I don't know too much about her after the family moved from Marfa, TX around 1920, however. I would be happy to help with any information you may need. Feel free to email me directly at if you like. Again, thank you for the post!

    1. The daughter,Dorothy E Wright, is my mother. She had a sister Katherine (the younger). My mother was born in Marfa, Texas. I know a lot about her, she's my mom! Thank you Andew.