U.S. Navy, Seaman Warrant Officer
World War II (1940-1946)
Pearl Harbor Survivor
On December 7, 1941, an enormous force of Japanese ships and planes launched an attack on Pearl Harbor, determined to destroy the United States Navy base there. The Japanese had felt cheated by the United States for a long time, and they wanted to hold them back.
Pearl Harbor was a day of great loss for many people. Over 2,400 lost their lives and about 1,200 were injured as a result of the attack. Twenty one ships were destroyed. Pearl Harbor was the turning point in the war for the United States because the next day, Congress declared war on Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Though the United States had been involved in the war (through Lend-Lease, etc….), they had still technically remained neutral. Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into World War two.
Fran Jenkins joined the U.S. Navy on June 12th of 1940 and was discharged in July of 1946. Jenkins had previously been working as an apprentice blacksmith at a Maryland Navy yard, which he said was “hard work and no fun.” Jenkins had also just come out of a surgery that did not go very well, and he felt depressed and useless. So, Jenkins enlisted in the Navy, entering as a Seaman Apprentice and ended up leaving as a Warrant Officer at discharge, the highest enlisted rank in the Navy.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Jenkins had been visiting his sister (also a survivor), who was a resident at Pearl Harbor. As soon as he saw the Japanese planes dropping bombs and realized that Pearl Harbor was under attack, Jenkins immediately ran about a quarter of a mile as fast as she could to the Southeast Loch, where his assigned ship, the U.S.S. Bagley was anchored.
The U.S.S. Bagley was a destroyer, which meant that it was smaller than a battleship (it was 341 feet, 6 inches long). The U.S.S. Bagley also had steam turban engines that made it faster; a destroyer could go up to 40 knots, and it was very maneuverable, but it was a bumpy ride. Destroyers were equipped with many weapons, including 45 inch guns and 16 torpedoes. Jenkins was an engineer aboard the U.S.S. Bagley, and on a normal day he would be onboard for four hours, and off for eight hours. While onboard, Jenkins would go to his duty station and do things like read gauges and help with the throttle, and then he would make reports and log everything he did. But this was war. Pearl Harbor had been attacked entirely by surprise, so it took the crew of the U.S. S. Bagley a while to unveil the guns and prepare to fight for war.
Within a half an hour of the initial attack, the crew of the U.S.S. Bagley was engaged in combat against the Japanese. They knew they had to get out of the harbor as soon as possible, and they started up the destroyer and got out in about 45 minutes. Once the destroyer was out of Pearl Harbor, the U.S.S. Bagley had to patrol the entrance to prevent any more Japanese submarines from entering the harbor. In addition to patrolling, the U.S.S. Bagley’s crew fired at Japanese planes, shooting down five torpedo planes and one bomber.
Fran Jenkins indicated that there was a lot of heroism and acts of bravery that day. Like one of his shipmates, Charles Quigley, who disengaged the U.S.S. Bagley from the electrical outlet on the dock and got terrible 2nd degree burns on his hands and face. At the time, there were no Navy yard personnel around to turn the power off and Quigley was badly burned dealing with the live electricity, in order to disengage the destroyer.
A few days after the attack, the U.S.S. Bagley joined up with a partisan fleet that had three cruisers and a squadron of destroyers, but no battleships since they had been destroyed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The fleet set off for Wake Island to try and relieve the garrison there, but they were told that the situation was hopeless, and not to commit their forces to Wake Island. The fleet turned around and headed back to Pearl Harbor. Wake Island was one of the major battle sites of World War II in the Pacific and Jenkins narrowly missed it. On the way back from Wake Island, a torpedo hit the Saratoga, an aircraft carrier that was part of the fleet. The torpedo went right under the bridge of the U.S.S. Bagley, and the crew knew there was a torpedo there. According to Jenkins, the crew went to the captain and said, “Captain! Captain! Torpedo wake! Torpedo wake!” The U.S.S. Bagley had plenty of time to make a turn, but the skipper did not believe that it was a torpedo, so the crew just watched. Ninety seconds later the torpedo hit the Saratoga right in front of them, killing six men. The torpedo had gone too deep to hit the U.S.S. Bagley which was fortunate for Jenkins.
After that, within a few weeks, the U.S.S. Bagley joined a task force assigned to transport picket duties to Australia and the Southeast Indies. The job of the troops was to prevent the Japanese from taking Australia, or advancing in any more areas. Their mission was successful.
A little later in the war, Jenkins worked on a submarine tender called the U.S.S. Sperry. The tender was named after an American inventor who was interested in electrochemistry. Sperry developed a high-intensity arc lamp used by the Army and Navy, as well as various compasses and stabilizers that were used by the United States Navy in World Wars One and Two. A submarine tender would repair and equip submarines with fuel and supplies. Jenkins and his shipmates would fix any damages the submarines had, load them up, and then send them off to battle in the Pacific. Sometimes the submarines came back, or the crew would hear back from them. Others never returned or replied. Jenkins was on the U.S.S. Sperry for three years, traveling to different islands including Midway, Wake, and Guam.
After the war, Fran Jenkins was on the U.S.S. General H.W. Butner, transporting troops from where they had been fighting in the Pacific back to the United States. He picked up the troops from ports in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tsingtao, Yokohama, Taku, Okinawa, Nagoya, and Wakayama and dropped them off in Seattle and San Francisco. The U.S.S. General H.W. Butner transported over six thousand troops, and Fran Jenkins did not get home until approximately six months after the war had ended. According to Jenkins, the worst part about transporting the troops was the seasickness. Most of the soldiers had been on land the entire time, were not accustomed to the movement of the ship, and the soldiers were constantly vomiting over the side of the ship. When he finally arrived home, Jenkins went into the real estate business, married and had kids.
I think that above being a “plus” or a “minus’ in Jenkins life, wartime service was a learning experience, in which case it was both a plus and a minus. A “plus” because Fran Jenkins walked away, knowing much more, and having experienced a great deal. It was a “minus” because he and so many millions of people had to endure so many hardships in order to learn. Many people who had never been in combat, particularly in earlier times like around World War One and Two, often imagined war to be fun and exciting. According to Jenkins, however, once you actually have to experience it, war becomes a horrible and brutal thing. It is true that there is pride and honor in serving your country, but war is very difficult nonetheless. And yes, it is true that people form great friendships, but many, if not all, of those are taken away by the war. Especially when they are part of a major attack like Pearl Harbor. Fran Jenkins lost many of his friends that fatal day at Pearl Harbor.
Fran Jenkins wanted to get across the message that ”no one really wins in war. Sure, there are the people who claim they won, but that is just stupid because everyone loses so much. War is hell, and it should be avoided, if at all possible.” Another thing I think Jenkins learned from his war experience was the true meaning of a hero. According to Jenkins, a hero is “someone who does his job under fire, intense fire, dangerous fire. And who does it just to do his job.”
War is a time of difficulties, death, villains, heroes, and close calls. Fran Jenkins definitely got to experience that firsthand. He survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, and was an essential part of the American Forces in the Pacific. It must have been very difficult to know that every day might truly and easily be your last. But Fran Jenkins, and many other soldiers and people who were in the war, also know that they had to keep going, and they were out there “doing their jobs under intense fire.” Hopefully, the word will realize the messages coming from survivors of wars and learn to get along, so that it does not happen again. Over and out.
Interview by Stephany Gocobachi in June 2004.
St. Mark’s School 8th Grade World War II Oral History Project
Faculty Advisor: Mike Fargo