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By Whitney Keith
In honor of Veterans Day, we are honoring a Douglas County family who has served our country faithfully for many years.
J.W. And Sharon Jenkins have a family that has served in our nation’s military for over 80 years total.
The tradition started with Sharon’s father, Sammy Cantrell.
Sammy was raised in the Manes area north of Mountain Grove. He worked in a Civilian Conservation Camp near Lynchburg, Mo., before being transferred to the CCC camp in Bradleyville.
“He would come into Ava on the weekends, and that’s how he met my mother,” Sharon said.
Sammy was drafted into the Army during World War II, and was killed in action in France in July of 1944. Sharon was 18 months old.
She said she recalls when his body was brought back from overseas in 1947 and his funeral service was held.
She later married J.W., who served 21 years in the Navy.
J.W. went into the Navy in 1957.
He was in aviation, and flew as a crew chief and then as an engineer on C-121 aircraft.
“I had over 24,000 hours of flight time when I retired,” J.W. said.
He went to boot camp near the Great Lakes, then was transferred to Norman, Okla. and Memphis, Tenn. in quick succession.
He later went to San Diego, Calif., where the C-121s received orders to go to Guam.
J.W. went along with the aircraft. He was based in Guam and traveled to the Philippine Islands and Vietnam (prior to the Vietnam War).
J.W. later went to Argentia, Newfoundland, where he flew out of Greenland and Iceland.
He then spent some time in Memphis, Hawaii and finally Jacksonville, Florida, where he served as a “hurricane hunter.”
“We would fly into the eye of the hurricane, fly around them and track them,” J.W. said. “Back then, they didn’t have the satellites to see where they were going and how big they were.”
He then went back to California, where he worked at a missile range and helped recover space capsules from some of the first space shots.
“I was working on the space shuttle before we knew what a space shuttle was,” he said. “We called them ‘space sleds’ then.”
He finished up his service in California, working for a makeshift taxi service for Navy personnel and visiting dignitaries.
He recalled picking up some astronauts and cosmonauts that did a tour of the United States together.
J.W. and Sharon’s eldest son, Greg, went into the Navy in August of 1982. He had graduated high school in May of that year.
He did his basic training in Orlando, Fl., before going to California where he was stationed on the USS Mars.
“We thought it was kind of funny that we had spent the last three years of J.W.’s service in that same time,” Sharon said. “Greg was about 12 years old at the time, so when he went there later he knew his way around.”
Greg spent his first “hitch” on the USS Mars before going into the active reserves.
He re-joined the Navy two years later and was sent to Pensacola, Fl. on shore duty, then took two tours aboard the USS Eisenhower.
J.W.’s brother, David Jenkins, also served on that ship at the same time.
The two Jenkins’ were on the USS Eisenhower for the Desert Shield and the Desert Storm conflict.
“They were coming out of the Red Sea after the Desert Shield conflict, and they had to turn right around and go back because Desert Storm had started,” J.W. said.
Greg had several other assignments in the United States before retiring from the service. His last station was Mayport, Fl.
Gary, who is six years younger than Greg, started his Navy career near the Great Lakes.
“He graduated boot camp 30 years to the day after I did,” J.W. said.
Gary attended schooling in Virginia before being transferred to Long Beach, Calif., where he was stationed on the USS Jouett.
He served overseas during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
“Greg was in the Red Sea during the conflict and Gary was in the Persian Gulf,” Sharon said. “It was definitely enough to make a mother worry.”
J.W. and Sharon noted that during that time, there wasn’t any e-mail or electronic communication with their sons.
“We got our first phone with an answering machine while they were over there, so if we missed their call we would at least know they were okay,” J.W. said.
The couple’s daughter, Melissa, also joined the Navy. She did her basic training in Orlando before being sent to Meridian, Miss., for her schooling.
She was then stationed in San Antonio, Tx., as a storekeeper.
Her husband, Will Eller, has been in the Army for 13 years.
Their son, Justin Eller, has been in the Army for two years and is currently serving in Afghanistan.
Reflections is a weekly column exploring the history of Douglas County. Current topics include local festivals, school history and Douglas County residents who have a special talent. If you have an idea for an article, please call 417-683-4181 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org