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News Obituaries

James E.T. Hopkins, thoracic surgeon and World War II veteran

Dr. James Ellicott Tyson Hopkins, a retired thoracic surgeon and decorated World War II veteran who drew on his battlefield experience to advocate for the use of body armor, died of heart failure Monday at his home near Bel Air. He was 99.

He served during World War II with a fabled unit, Merrill's Marauders, behind enemy lines in Burma.

Born on his family's farm near Highland in Howard County, he was a descendant of Johns Hopkins, the Quaker philanthropist who founded the Baltimore hospital and university. He was the son of Samuel Harold Hopkins, a livestock commission merchant, and Roberta Chilton Smith Hopkins, a homemaker.

As a boy, he walked to a one-room school. He was a 1933 McDonogh School graduate and earned a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University. He then received a degree from the Hopkins School of Medicine.

He was a Hopkins surgical intern from 1941 to 1942, and then volunteered with the Army Medical Corps.

According to a family biography, he was assigned to the Fiji Islands and observed numerous Battle of Guadalcanal casualties arriving at his hospital.

"My uncle left his plush assignment and volunteered for duty with a forward combat unit in various Solomon Islands battles, where he served as battalion surgeon," said his nephew, Henry Hopkins, a Gibson Island resident.

He served with the 148th Regiment, Ohio National Guard. He was later awarded two Bronze Stars.

"When the call came from the president for experienced combat troops for a dangerous and hazardous mission, he volunteered again," said another nephew, Samuel B. Hopkins of Baltimore. "He went with the unit that would eventually be known as the Merrill's Marauders. He gained the highest respect from the men in his battalion during that entire campaign and marched step by step with the men. He ministered to their needs. Although unarmed, he repeatedly exposed himself [to enemy fire] to care for the wounded."

Dr. Hopkins kept medical records during the entire operation for seven months while he was behind enemy lines.

"Because of his personal interest in the value of body armor, he meticulously recorded the mechanism and method of injuries of each individual soldier as they occurred," said Henry Hopkins. "Lines of casualty evacuation required that the wounded and dead pass through his aid station, where he had personal contact with the patients. His records were unusually complete and, because of his interest and medical training, they were unusually accurate."

His nephews said Dr. Hopkins spoke with soldiers about their wounds. He later wrote a scientific paper, "Wound Ballistics," that appeared in an Army Medical Department publication. He also sought better ways to prevent infectious diseases among combat soldiers.

His nephews said that after World War II, Dr. Hopkins advocated for the use of combat body armor and lightweight combat vests. He worked with military officials and was instrumental in the improvement of the helmet to protect the head and neck.

After Dr. Hopkins completed his medical training at Hopkins in the 1940s, he established a surgical practice. He was on the staffs of Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Harbor Hospital.

"He always had a positive attitude," said his wife, Anne Howard Stick Hopkins, a former editor for the old News American. "He had charm and unassuming ways. He was also a voracious reader and always wanted to be current."

In 1999, he wrote "Spearhead: A Complete History of Merrill's Marauder Rangers." The work has been reprinted in paperback edition.

"He was an extraordinary man who was totally dedicated to honoring the service of his military colleagues in Burma and to his medical training at Hopkins," said a niece, Liza Bailey, who lives in New York City and is a Johns Hopkins Medicine and University trustee.

More than a decade ago, Dr. Hopkins began working on a plan to establish a Hopkins family trust at his medical school. A collaboration between his Clark and Hopkins cousins, all collateral descendants of Johns Hopkins, led to the establishment of a $2 million Johns Hopkins Family Professorship in Oncology Research.

A 2006 Baltimore Sun article detailed how he and others contacted 450 widely scattered descendants of the hospital and university founder. The effort took more than six years.

Dr. Hopkins lived for several decades on Lanvale Street in Bolton Hill and later on St. Johns Road in Roland Park. Since 2006, Dr. Hopkins had lived near Bel Air.

He was a member of and played golf at the Gibson Island Club. He was also a donor to the preservation of the Clifton Mansion in Clifton Park, which had been Johns Hopkins' summer residence.

Services are private.

In addition to his wife of eight years, niece and nephews, survivors include two other nephews, Frederick Hopkins and Robert Hopkins, both of Baltimore; another niece, Roberta Trautschold of Florida; two stepsons, John H. Clemson of Towson and Gordon Scott Clemson of Las Vegas; and a step-grandson. His first wife of 38 years, Alexandra Chalmers McNeill Hopkins, died in 1984. His second wife of 19 years, Mary Margaret Hopkins, died in 2003.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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