High School Wall of Honor
Inman Lawrence Perkins
Class of June, 1929
Died: June 17, 1944; Italy
Research done by Rick Nehrling, class of 1963 and Claradell Shedd, class
was born in Missouri, but moved to Des Moines when his mother
remarried. He and his brother, Paul, lived with their mother,
Rosa, and stepfather William Jones. Inman was a graduate of North
High's class of June, 1929. During high school, he was a member
of North's Aelioian Chapter of the National Honor Society.
The 1929 graduation class was the last class at North where the
"class" had been at North from 9th grade through 12th
grade, or for all four years. After 1929, all students entered
North at the 10th grade level by utilizing Warren Harding or Washington
Irving Junior High Schools for the 9th grade.
Inman finished his M.A. degree in 1938. In 1939, he became a science
teacher at Charles Sumner High School in St. Louis, Missouri.
While there, he met Olivia Merriwether, who was also a science
teacher at Sumner High School. The two teachers fell in love.
Since the 1930's married women were not allowed to be teachers,
Olivia Merriwether would have to hide any proposed marriage to
keep her job. This was not difficult, as Inman had been drafted
into the Army Air Corps. Inman's service number was 37386474.
When Inman returned home on leave, they were secretly married.
Even though she changed her name from Merriwether to Perkins,
the school administration did not catch on, and she was able to
In the Army Air Corps, Inman quickly advanced to the rank of Master
Sergeant because of his leadership skills. He served with the
449th Signal Construction Battalion, Aviation. His unit was segregated;
officers' commissions were limited to whites. Since Inman was
an African American, the rank of Master Sergeant was as far as
he could advance.
Master Sergeant Perkins and the 449th Signal Construction Battalion
were trained in Tucson, Arizona, Fort Bliss, Texas, and eventually
at the Dyersburg Army Air Base in Halls, Tennessee before being
shipped out to the Mediterranean where they spent the war doing
communications work in Italy. The landing at the Anzio, Italy
beachhead occurred on January 22, 1944 with 36,000 men and 3,200
vehicles. The Battalion arrived in Italy beginning February 20,
1944. On June 17, 1944, Inman and several other soldiers were
working on repairing some communication lines that the enemy had
knocked out when a bolt of lightning hit a nearby fuel depot and
exploded. Inman was killed in the explosion.
Information obtained from the American Battle Monument Commission
shows that Inman is buried at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery,
Nettuno, Italy. He is resting in Plot D, Row 3, Grave 18. His
service number was 37386474.
This was not the end of the story for either Inman or Olivia Merriwether
In the fall of 2002, Jeffrey S. Copeland*, Chair of the Department
of English at the University of Northern Iowa, purchased an old
suitcase full of letters at a flea market in Belleville, Illinois,
just across the river from his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
The letters were from a young African American WWII soldier to
his wife as well as letters from his wife to her soldier husband
overseas. There were nearly 150 letters written between the fall
of 1942 and the late spring of 1944. All of these letters were
written by Inman or Olivia Perkins.
Mr. Copeland discovered that Inman Perkins was a very talented
and gifted writer with an eye for detail. His letters provided
a chronicle of a story not told before, a personal account of
what life was like for the individual soldier in a segregated,
"Colored Battalion." His letters described and detailed everything
from life in a crowded army barracks to the particulars of what
he was taught in the "separate but equal" training classes given
to his battalion, and to the war efforts of the battalion in Italy.
The letters provided Jeffrey Copeland the opportunity to write
the book, "Inman's War: A Soldier's Story of Life in a Colored
Battalion in WWII." A great description of the book is through
the book's introduction by comedian and social activist Dick Gregory,
parts of which are as follows:
"Inman's War" is on one level
an ugly story about America and racism and prejudice and discrimination
and sexism. But it is also a human story, a story about real people,
a story of friendship and loyalty, a story of the human spirit
as it tries to overcome adversity."
On another level, it is also a tragedy, a story of soldiers in
a "Colored Battalion" who were serving for and willing, if necessary,
to die for their country, and who never felt equal to others until
they drove the few miles from where they were once stationed in
Texas across the border into a foreign country where they could
feel the freedom and equality they were fighting for."
"It is...a magnificent slice of (American) history."
||* Jeffrey S. Copeland
is currently Chair of the Department of English at the University
of Northern Iowa. He is the author/editor of over twenty
textbooks. Copeland was born and raised in St. Louis, living
in Overland, Normandy, and Creve Coeur and is a graduate
of Parkway Central High School. Of St. Louis, he says, No
matter where I live, St. Louis will always be my home.
Italy Beachhead; 01/44
Army Air Corps
Nettuno, Italy; Plot D, Row 3, Grave 18
uniform after promotion; Fort Bliss, TX.
of Perkins: Photo copyright permission granted by Dr. Jeffrey
Mr. Copeland has been offered the opportunity to turn "Inman's
War" into a movie.
After Inman's death, his wife Olivia continued to teach
science at Sumner High School in St. Louis, Missouri. During
Olivia's 40-year teaching career, she taught some remarkable
students, including Arthur Ashe, Tina Turner, Chuck Berry,
and Dick Gregory, who wrote the introduction to "Inman's
Olivia not only taught science at
Sumner High School, but she was also one of the individuals
at the center of the landmark 1948 Supreme Court decision,
"Shelley vs. Kraemer." This Supreme Court decision
was one of the most important legal battles of modern time,
since it struck down racially-based housing restrictions
and opened the door to fair housing regulations throughout
the United States.*
Olivia Merriwether Perkins died on July 6, 1995 in St. Louis.
above information was obtained from the following:
(1) The World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing Army and Army
Air Forces Personnel was created by the War Department, the Adjutant
General's Office, Administrative Services Division, Strength Accounting
Branch. The original records are held at the Modern Military records
LICON, Textural Services Division (NWCTM), National Archives at
College Park, Maryland. The records are available online at http://www.archives.gov/.
The documents contain the latest and most complete information
available of all Army and Army Air Force personnel who were killed
or died, or became and remained missing, between the President's
declaration of unlimited national emergency on May 27, 1941 and
the cut-off date of this report, January 31, 1946. This document
includes both battle and nonbattle dead and missing.
The type of casualty is indicated by the following:
* KIA - Killed in Action. This is an individual who was killed
in action at the front, by enemy action in the rear, or if a
prisoner of war.
* DOW - Died of Wounds. This is an individual was who wounded
and later died.
* DOI - This is an individual who suffered fatal battle injuries
and died in a line of duty status.
*DNB - Died Nonbattle. This is an individual who died in a line
of duty death, such as from sickness, homicide, suicide, or
accidents outside of combat areas (training).
*M - Missing. This is an individual who is reported as missing
and later was determined to be dead.
*FOD - Finding of Death. Findings of death fall within Public
Law 490 and its amendments and are made when there is either
conclusive proof that the person is dead or equally overwhelming
evidence that under the circumstances the person could not have
This document only contains the names of those individuals who
died in the line of duty status. Those individuals who were not
in the line of duty at the time of their death are not listed
in this document.
(2) The American Battle Monuments Commission was established in
1923 to commemorate the service, achievements, and sacrifice of
US Armed Forces. There are 24 overseas cemeteries that serve as
the final resting places for almost 125,000 American war dead.
The servicemen and women are listed on tablets of the missing
that memorialize these men and women. These records can be found
online at http://www.abmc.gov/home.php.
The gravesite photo above was obtained from the American Battle
Monuments Commission in Arlington, VA.
(3) The Alan Review has a review by William Broz of "Inman's
War." This review can be found online at http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v35n1/pdf/broz.pdf.
(4) The comprehensive list of names from North High's 1893-2021
graduation classes are from Claradell Shedd's North Des Moines
High School website. The names of all North High School graduates
can be found online at http://www.ndmhs.com/.
Inman Lawence Perkins's 1929 class page can be viewed at
June 17, 1944; Italy; Nonbattle
"You Raise Me Up"
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