He forgot how to read. It wasn’t until later that he connected the cause — the shock of his uncle Frank’s death by sniper fire during WWII.
Frank H. Jenkins was his favorite uncle, his dad’s twin brother and a Christian Lay Minister. When drafted, Frank had requested to serve in the Chaplains Corps. But lacking written credentials, he was placed as a half-track driver in the 8th Armored Division of General Simpson’s 9th Army.
Frank was wounded during heavy fighting east of the Rhine in March, 1945. But he survived and received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for “gallantry and heroic service in action against the enemy.” Specifically, though wounded from shrapnel, he refused treatment for 48 hours and continued to ferry wounded from the battlefront to medics for treatment.
Back at home in Kansas City, Kan., Frank’s family rejoiced in his survival. A few weeks later, on a Sunday in April, that joy disappeared when they learned of his death from sniper fire.
When the news came, Frank’s nephew, Hulen, remembers seeing his father cry for the first time. He remembers the still quiet that shrouded their home.
The loss of a loved one creates chasms of grief. Sadness. Shock. Hulen started 4th grade that fall and found he no longer knew how to read. A semester of tutoring by a committed teacher, Miss Mapes Davis, restored the skill. But the loss of his beloved uncle lingered.
That’s why it was imperative he visit his uncle’s grave when a Rhine river cruise brought him within driving distance of the U.S. cemetery in Margraten, The Netherlands.
The driver he hired understood. In fact, 70 years later the memory of WWII and the role played by American GI’s is still fresh for many residents in that area. Families in Margraten and nearby Maastricht are known for adopting and maintaining GI gravesites. And there are many graves to tend. Row upon row of headstones carved from white Carrara marble — 8,301 to be exact.
When Hulen arrived, the colonel on duty checked the location of his uncle’s grave and grabbed a bucket of sand. With a quick click, he started a golf cart and drove Hulen to Plot H, Row 16, Grave 1. The sand, it turns out, is from Omaha Beach and serves to reveal the carved inscription on the headstone.
Frank H. Jenkins
Technician Fifth Class, U.S. Army
49th Infantry Battalion, 8th Armored Division
Born September 4, 1910
Died April 8, 1945
Like the fellow soldiers buried near him, Frank had died just 10 days before the enemy surrendered the Ruhr industrial area in Germany. For Hulen Frank Jenkins, reading the epitaph took him back to that Sunday in April, 70 years ago. And it brought closure — a visit to Margraten to pay his respects to a gentle man, dearly beloved, who served his country with honor.