Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove have beene paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with Private First Class Don Jenkins of the 9th Infantry Division, whose unit came under attack by North Vietnamese forces on Jan. 6, 1969, in Kien Phong Province, South Vietnam.
Peter Collier sets the stage in Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty:
“Like most of the people in Quality, the small Kentucky community where he was born, Don Jenkins went to work in the coal mines after he left school. Having already worked a shift during his last two years of high school, he never expected to leave his job or his hometown. But in the spring of 1968, he received his draft notice and he reported to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for basic training. By October, he was in Vietnam as part of the 39th Infantry. Upon arriving, the first thing he noted was the slogan painted on the company headquarters: Killing Is Our Business and Business Is Good.
“On Jan. 5, 1969, Private First Class Jenkins drank some wine brought to camp by some local Vietnamese women. He became so ill that in the middle of the night a medic was forced to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The wine turned out to have been poisoned, and the next morning Jenkins was called into the office of his commanding officer, who threatened to bust him back to buck private. That afternoon, Jenkins and the men of his unit boarded helicopters and flew to a site in Kien Phong Province where intelligence had picked up vague reports of an enemy force. In fact, large numbers of North Vietnamese were dug into bunkers directly around the landing zone, and minutes after they were dropped off, the Americans were taking heavy fire.”
Don Jenkins’ Medal of Honor citation:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Staff Sgt. Jenkins (then PFC), Company A, distinguished himself while serving as a machine gunner on a reconnaissance mission.
“When his company came under heavy crossfire from an enemy complex, Staff Sgt. Jenkins unhesitatingly maneuvered forward to a perilously exposed position and began placing suppressive fire on the enemy. When his own machine gun jammed, he immediately obtained a rifle and continued to fire into the enemy bunkers until his machine gun was made operative by his assistant.
“He exposed himself to extremely heavy fire when he repeatedly both ran and crawled across open terrain to obtain resupplies of ammunition until he had exhausted all that was available for his machine gun. Displaying tremendous presence of mind, he then armed himself with two antitank weapons and, by himself, maneuvered through the hostile fusillade to within 20 meters of an enemy bunker to destroy that position.
“After moving back to the friendly defensive perimeter long enough to secure yet another weapon, a grenade launcher, Staff Sgt. Jenkins moved forward to a position providing no protection and resumed placing accurate fire on the enemy until his ammunition was again exhausted. During this time he was seriously wounded by shrapnel.
“Undaunted and displaying great courage, he moved forward 100 meters to aid a friendly element that was pinned down only a few meters from the enemy. This he did with complete disregard for his own wound and despite having been advised that several previous rescue attempts had failed at the cost of the life of one and the wounding of others.
“Ignoring the continuing intense fire and his painful wounds, and hindered by darkness, he made three trips to the beleaguered unit, each time pulling a wounded comrade back to safety. Staff Sgt. Jenkins’ extraordinary valor, dedication, and indomitable spirit inspired his fellow soldiers to repulse the determined enemy attack and ultimately to defeat the larger force.
“Staff Sgt. Jenkins’ risk of his life reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.”
“Don Jenkins came home late in 1969 and, after his discharge, went back to work in the coal mines. One afternoon in late February 1971, an Army officer arrived at his door to tell him that he needed to get a new suit and a haircut; he was going to Washington, D.C. There, on March 3, President Richard Nixon presented him with the Medal of Honor. After the ceremony, Jenkins returned to Kentucky and worked in the coal mines until 1999, when he was forced to retire because of a disability.”
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