Fran Jenkins, born in Spokane Washington, grew up in Marin County. His mother was the principle of the Ross Grammar School, while his father worked as a mining engineer. Single at the time of his enlistment, he had no family members in the service besides his darling wife Julie who worked as a nurse. Serving a total of six years and two months, Jenkins went from an apprentice seaman to warrant officer, holding every rank in between. Enlisting in the Navy in June, 1940, Jenkins believes that he “was threatened with death into the Army. That was the motivation to join the Navy.”
His family viewed his enlistment as “rebellious”, yet Jenkins went on to boot camp with a smile. When asked of his commanding officer, he remembers fondly: “I had a chief petty officer who was my superior, his name was Ferguson, and he was as tough as nails. Old Fergie was tough, but he was fair.” On his first deployment, Jenkins was sent to Pearl Harbor in the Western Pacific, where he remained for most of the war. At the harbor on the fateful day of December 7, 1941, Jenkins remembers watching the disastrous effect of Pearl Harbor unfold: “I lost friends and it was scary. I saw the torpedoes as they were launched, and they were launched off the beam of the Bagley, I could see the wakes, and I could see the explosions against the ships. That was tough.”
Right after Pearl Harbor and out of immediate danger, Jenkins with the remaining members of his unit went underway to sea, where Jenkins tenderly recalls making many friends: “I made dozens of wonderful friends. All my shipmates were friends, and I even enjoyed my superiors.” Jenkins traveled from Pearl Harbor to Midway, Chopin, Australia, and the whole Western Pacific. “Join the Navy and see the world.”
Fran Jenkins, captivating and entertaining, “raised hell” after being released from service: “I drank a lot. In those days, I did. I haven’t had a drink in forty years.” Viewed as a modern day hero, Jenkins responds by laughing. “No. I don’t feel heroic. I just did my job. I didn’t think I was so brave.” When asked about his sacrifice, he laughs his charming laugh again, “I don’t really think I made a sacrifice. I was just one of the boys. I didn’t do anything heroic, but I didn’t get into any trouble either”. And finally, with advice for younger generations, Jenkins apprises us by saying, “do what you are told, have a good attitude, work hard, get ahead, and you’ll benefit from it.”
Interview by Kiersten Hosie on July 18, 2011.