Michigan WWII prisoner of war laid to rest on Friday

CLIMAX - A World War II ambassador for the soldiers who didn't come home was buried Friday.

Lawrence Jenkins, Sr., 93, died May 28 from pancreatic cancer and was buried in Roof Cemetery, north of Climax and not far from his home.

Following a funeral service, Jenkins received full military honors performed by the Honor Guard from the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, including a rifle volley and flyover by two World War II vintage fighter planes.

Jenkins was a B-17 pilot based in Italy when he and nine other members of the crew were shot down on July 16, 1944 over Vienna, Austria.

Jenkins suffered compound fractures between the knees and ankles of both legs before another crew member helped him drop through the bomb bay of the crippled plane and parachute toward the ground. He was shot in the arm on the way down.

"Five words sum up my prison time," he told the Enquirer in 2005. "Filth, stench, hunger, pain and neglect. And fear."

He was first treated by nuns in a Vienna hospital, afraid that he might die as American planes dropped bombs on the Germans.

"The most terrifying sound was a bomb coming down and you didn't know where it was going to hit," his son, Roger Jenkins of Climax, remembers his father telling him. "And he said he would never be cold again because it was the worst thing even though they put him through so much horror."

Jenkins spent 10 months in captivity before returning to civilian life and mostly didn't talk about the war, his son said this week in an interview.

That was typical, said Air National Guard 2nd Lt. Andrew Layton, who interviewed Jenkins and another former POW, Jack Curtis of Battle Creek, who died in 2009, for a book Layton wrote, "Eagles Wings: An Uncommon Story of World War II."

Jenkins and Curtis were friends in high school and then met again after both were wounded during the war. Jenkins tells the story of hearing Curtis' laugh even though he didn't recognize his badly wounded friend.

The two became like brothers with their war experiences, including their recoveries at Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, as the bond.

It was not until many years later while Jenkins was in therapy for what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that he began talking about the war.

"He saw himself as an ambassador," Layton said. "He realized that not everyone who fought got to tell their stories. It was therapy for himself."

But Layton said Jenkins felt it was important to speak for others who could not.

"He was there to represent the generation of guys who didn't get to tell their stories," Layton said. "It was important to tell how terrible war was, especially to kids."

Jenkins spent years as a volunteer at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo where he talked with children about the military and war and flying, Layton said.

And during the hundreds of hours talking with Jenkins, Layton said he believes his message was that "war is bad. War is a terrible thing but the relationships that come of that and what it makes you as a person can be a good thing."

Roger Jenkins said he began learning about his father's experience looking through journals his father wrote and then later by meeting other members of the bomber crew and their families.

"My dad was a rock," Roger Jenkins said. "He could get through everything. He was the bravest man I ever met and he never complained."

Larry Jenkins had hoped to be an airline pilot but because of his injuries couldn't fly commercially. Even though he nearly died in an airplane, he still loved to fly, his son said.

"He felt at home in the air. He couldn't wait to get in an airplane. He was a natural pilot."

Jenkins was eventually able to return to the air as a private pilot and often took his son with him.

"He loved to fly T-34s," Roger Jenkins said. "He wanted a stick. He liked trainers with a stick."

Jenkins was involved with the Civil Air Patrol and at the air zoo.

"He loved to give kids an exposure to aviation," Layton said.

For Roger Jenkins, 63, his father was more than a war hero; he was also dad to himself, his brother, Lawrence Jenkins and their late sister, Connie.

"Dad was always so dedicated to his family. He came from a broken home and he vowed he would never do that to his family. It was very important to take care of his family.

"He did everything for us," Roger Jenkins said, even throwing underhand spirals with a football because of his injuries.

In private life, Larry Jenkins was an electronics technician for RCA and had many hobbies including oil painting.

Roger Jenkins said his father always had faith in God, saying he believed when he was going to die in that B-17 he saw a bright light and "he felt God had touched him there. He always carried a picture of Christ in his wallet.

"He served his country, he served his family and he served his Lord. You just did the right thing and do what makes sense," he said about his father.

Roger Jenkins said he now wears the the military dog tags of his father and his father's cousin who died in the war and is buried in the Netherlands.

"I just want to keep them together," Jenkins said, "where they need to be, close to my heart."

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© 2017 Battle Creek Enquirer


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