Defending America: They heeded the call

Published: Friday, July 4 2014 8:59 a.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, July 4 2014 8:59 a.m. MDT

Veterans are welcomed back to Salt Lake City after their trip to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, June 25, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Barrus Jenkins ripped the stripes from his Eisenhower jacket when he returned home from World War II so he could wear it to work.

His days as an Army battalion motor pool sergeant were over. He wanted to put the battles in North Africa and Italy behind him along with atrocities he saw while stationed in Germany seven miles from the Dachau concentration camp.

The 94-year-old Nephi man didn't see the need to share his experiences with anyone.

"I never talked about the war, and the people didn't want to know about the war. They was in the war. The Second World War, everybody was in it," he said.

Journalist Tom Brokaw aptly called those who fought in World War II the "Greatest Generation." But they also could be described as the "Stoic Generation."

Men and women like Jenkins were reticent about the sights and sounds, the tragedies and triumphs of the deadliest military conflict in history. They came home, found jobs, got married and reared children. They didn't seek praise or recognition.

"When I left the service, I kind of forgot it. There's a lot of it I can't even remember because I don't want to. I done my time, done it with pride. I just want to forget it and live my life," said 89-year-old Navy veteran Ray Hartung, of Centerfield.

But the stories they could tell are rapidly being lost. World War II vets are dying at a rate of 555 a day, according to the Veterans Administration. Of the 16 million American men and women who served, slightly more than 1 million survive, including about 8,000 in Utah.

Getting blown up saved Barrus Jenkins' life.

On the island of Sicily, a plane dropped a bomb on the beach near Jenkins. The blast knocked him out and "just scared the hell out of me."

Later in Italy, Jenkins and a buddy he knew only as Rimby were in a tent when a German plane dubbed "Bed Check Charlie" dropped a bomb that ejected smaller explosives designed to kill people and destroy vehicles.

"Jenkins, let's go see what happened," he recalls Rimby saying to him. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going.'"

Jenkins crawled into foxhole next to the tent. His buddy went to investigate.

"He went out and he didn't come back."

Ed Williams

Ed Williams said he had no trouble talking about his time on a Navy destroyer in Guadalcanal and Okinawa, but he doesn't know if anyone cares about what he has to say.

"Mainly, you wonder whether people are really, really interested or whether you're just an old guy talking about something that nobody else can relate to. I think that's a lot of the reluctance. You went through it, so what's the big deal," the 89-year-old St. George resident said.

Brig. Gen. Patrick Doherty, director of Air Force Services in Washington, D.C., described World War II veterans as having a "warrior ethos" — where they answered the call, didn't pat themselves on the back and returned to their normal lives.

"I understand why," he told 24 vets at a Utah Honor Flight banquet last week in Baltimore, adding that he hasn't told his family about his own combat experiences in the Middle East.

But Doherty challenged the veterans to share their stories, particularly with the younger generation.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, was among members of the state's congressional delegation to greet the veterans during that recent trip to the World War II Memorial.

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