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Three-war veteran, 103, cherishes family, service to country

The American flag. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)

World War II veteran George Jenkins, who just turned 103, looked at his daughter, Lyndell Schwartz, who was in Walla Walla to visit her father and was about to go back home to Colorado.

“You don’t know how good your trip has made me feel,” he quietly said.

Jenkins, who retired from the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant colonel, said the visit from the second oldest of his four children improved his mind and health.

Schwartz, 76, said she tries to get to Walla Walla to visit her dad a couple of times a year.

“It’s a thousand miles each way,” she said. “I try to get up twice a year, but I won’t drive on bad roads.”

Jenkins’ other three children — daughter Merri Neiwert, 78, and sons Mark Jenkins, 69 and David Jenkins, 67, live in Boise, Idaho, and visit more often, Schwartz said.

George Jenkins spent much of a Monday morning in June visiting with the Union-Bulletin and talking about his time in the military.

Triple war veteran

Jenkins’ room at Walla Walla Veterans Home has several pictures of planes on the wall that he has flown. He can look at a plane and explain everything about it and describe flying it so anyone listening feels as if they are in the cockpit with him.

Jenkins served in the U.S. Air Force when it was still a division of the U.S. Army.

He flew fighter planes made in the U.S. from Montana to Alaska, to deliver to the Soviet Union, America’s ally in World War II.

“We took a lot of B-25s.” he said. “We would take them out, get them all broken in, and take them to Alaska … They wanted them in good shape.”

He said he made about 13 delivers to Alaska during the course of a year.

While he flew a lot during WWII, he didn’t see combat himself.

“I didn’t fire a thing,” he said.

That changed during the Korean War.

At the end of WWII, he and many others were discharged from the military.

However, it wasn’t long before he wanted to fly again.

“He joined a reserve group because he loved to fly and that was the best way for him to be able to fly,” Schwartz said. “His reserve group was called up to active duty and sent to Korea. He flew combat in Korea.”

Jenkins also served in Vietnam, mostly training pilots, Schwartz said.

“He really does love to train pilots,” she said.

Family life

Jenkins was 21 when the U.S. entered WWII. His first daughter was born during the war. Schwartz was born between WWII and the Korean War, and his two sons were born between the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Schwartz said growing up in a military family was what one might expect, complete with a lot of moving and a lot of new starts at new schools.

However, while some might see this as a bad thing, Schwartz does not.

“The greatest value to having grown up in a military family is that I think we all really benefited from the change,” she said. “Dad always loved change. He loved going to a new assignment and a new job. And my mother also loved it.”

She said the love of change rubbed off on her and her siblings.

“We all grew up to think that change and moving is an exciting, fun thing,” she said. “It has allowed us lots of opportunities that we wouldn’t have had. People who have not ever moved, some of them find it difficult to follow opportunities in other places because they have no experience with that. And we had tons of experience with that. And it was all favorable … It allowed us to see change as a positive thing.”

While the children did not accompany their father to his overseas missions, they still saw lots of places.

“We did live in lots of different areas in the United States and did experience the very different subcultures from one part of the country to another,” she said. “I think that’s good. It’s broadening. It allows you to appreciate different people. People with very different backgrounds from your own. And to become friends with them and appreciate them and their culture.”

Adapting to change doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges.

“Because education is very locally controlled, sometimes when you move frequently from school to school, there are some gaps in your education,” Schwartz said. “I missed some basic grammar. As I had to do more writing, I had to struggle to catch up. But it wasn’t anything insurmountable.”

She also credits her mother — Jenkins’ first wife, Dorothy — with making the military-family lifestyle successful.

“My mother was an intelligent, independent woman,” she said. “Being married to her allowed him to follow his career and do lots of different things. She really didn’t mind being left in charge while he was gone. She didn’t feel terrible if her husband was away from home overnight … She allowed him, and us, the security of knowing that Mom would be there when Dad was following his military career.”

Dorothy passed away in 1996.

Jenkins’ later married his second wife, Jeanne, who has also passed. Schwartz said her father has maintained a relationship with his second wife’s children.

During Jenkins’ and Schwartz’s visit with the U-B, it was clear that his daughter’s visit meant a lot to Jenkins.

Schwartz said they have always been close.

“Even though we have always lived far apart, we are very close,” Schwartz said. “I always know if I need Dad, he will be there for me. I can depend on him … Even when we lived on opposite sides of the country, I knew we were close, and I knew I could depend on him. All of us feel that way.”

Schwartz said she and her siblings are grateful to have their father for yet another Father’s Day.

“He’s lived a long and exciting life and we love him very much.”


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