For 74 years, Army Pfc. Willard “Bud” Jenkins was an unknown soldier buried in a cemetery more than 3,500 miles from his West Scranton home.
Thanks to DNA testing, his remains were laid to rest Wednesday less than seven miles from where he grew up.
At a service for the late veteran, whose remains were identified in July and returned to Scranton from the Netherlands this past Thursday, a folded American flag and an army uniform rested in a half-open casket flanked by red, white and blue bouquets. A second American flag draped the lower half of the casket. A third, folded in a triangle like the first, sat in a case below a large photo of Jenkins in uniform.
On Sept. 20, 1944, the 27-year-old Jenkins — a paratrooper with Company C, 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division — was hit twice by enemy fire while crossing the Waal River at the Dutch city of Nijmegen during the infamous Allied offensive Operation Market Garden. Jenkins fell from his flimsy canvas boat into the water. His body, which could not be identified, was buried as an “unknown” at the American cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands.
Inside the Edward J. Chomko Funeral Home on Wednesday, Edna Jenkins, 83, the last living member of the soldier’s immediate family, sat in the chair closest to her brother’s casket. On her left was a box of tissues. On her right sat Army Sgt. 1st Class Norman Green. Her DNA was used to identify her brother, and it was finally time to give him a proper burial.
“It was my twin sister and I that he fussed over all the time,” Jenkins said, recalling how Bud would carry her and her sister, Edna, on his shoulders when they were girls. “I didn’t know if we could hope about this because it’s 74 years already.”
During the service, the Rev. Ginger Daubenhauser recited the 23rd Psalm and read the World War I-era poem “In Flanders Fields.” Army Maj. Gen. Anthony Carrelli, Pennsylvania’s adjutant general, presented Edna Jenkins with the numerous medals and awards her brother earned but never received. The first medal presented was the Purple Heart, which she clutched in her clasped hands.
“No matter how long it takes, it’s amazing that in this country that we are still out there and we are still looking for every single service member that has fallen,” Carrelli said prior to the funeral service. “Today is to one celebrate his (Jenkins’) service and his sacrifice serving in that war. In World War II. But the other part is he’s finally coming home. Today he comes home.”
A team of soldiers from the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, Jenkins’ battalion, came from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to serve as pallbearers. On Bud’s behalf, they presented Edna Jenkins with an oar, which is a symbol of exceptional performance in the battalion, and a battalion blanket.
“Hopefully, this gives you a little bit of warmth and comfort,” battalion commander Lt. Col. Aaron Cox said.
As the soldiers carried the casket from the funeral home, U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Gene Gallagher, 91, stood at attention and gave a salute. Like Jenkins, Gallagher also served in World War II.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said.
As the funeral procession moved along Morgan Highway toward Abington Hills Cemetery, small groups of onlookers, many holding American flags, lined short stretches of the roadway. Taps played at the grave site immediately after members of the Pennsylvania National Guard performed a three-volley salute.
Escorted by Green and Lackawanna County Department of Veterans Affairs Director Dave Eisele, Edna Jenkins approached the casket, placed her hands upon it and bowed her head.
“It’s not only closure, but it’s gratification,” Jenkins’ great nephew Craig Kujawski said. “The principle is, they got him. That’s the point that needs to be stressed. They didn’t forget.”
© 2018 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)
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