Frank Jenkins may not have “seen action” in the traditional sense of the term when it comes to his military service, but he did get to see the world, at least a portion of it, and serve his country with distinction during the Korean War.
The 56-year resident of Lovell, now 85, grew up in Upton, Wyo., and moved to the Hardin, Mont., area when he was five when his parents bought a ranch. His father later worked for the City of Hardin and Holly Sugar before retiring.
The Korean War was raging when Jenkins graduated from Hardin High School in 1952, and he didn’t want to be drafted, so he joined the Air Force, enlisting on May 31, 1952, one week after graduation.
After basic training at Parks Air Force Base in Dublin, Calif., southeast of Oakland, he attended advanced individual training at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne for six months, receiving training in mechanics.
He was given a choice of deploying to Korea or Germany, so he chose Germany and sailed to Europe aboard the USS Darby troop ship, reporting to Riem Airport in Munich with the Second Air and Airways Communication Squadron, which established mobile aircraft control facilities and communications and radar systems as bases were being developed.
“They were building brand new bases, and we would go there and set up and furnish radar and communication systems until control towers could be built,” Jenkins said.
The first base he was assigned to was Sembach Air Base, and with no housing in place, he lived in Eisenberg just to the east. Jenkins worked furnishing portable power units to the mobile equipment. He hadn’t gone to school for that task, he noted, and had to learn on the job.
He later moved on to Dreux Air Base and Evreux Air Base in France, then an air base in Madrid, Spain, finishing up at Hahn Air Base in Germany, his final base in Europe. He flew back to the United States and was discharged in May of 1956 as an Airman 2nd Class after serving his country for four years.
Asked what meant the most to him during his four years of service, Jenkins said seeing the countries and the different people was interesting.
“Germany was a pretty country,” he said, even though many of the buildings were still bombed out from World War II, which ended less than a decade before.
“Hitler had bunkers at each end of the runways in Munich-Reim, but they were bombed out,” he said. “There were tunnels underneath the airport. We went down there and walked around, but they were all bricked up.”
People in Germany were very friendly, especially the younger people, Jenkins said, noting that he and two other servicemen lived off base with the German family in Eisenberg, a woman and her two daughters.
Spanish people were also friendly, but as for the French, Jenkins said “they were a little different.”
“I didn’t care much for France,” he added. “It wasn’t as clean as Germany. The countryside wasn’t maintained as nice. When you entered France you could immediately see the difference. We couldn’t speak French because we weren’t there long enough to learn it, and they couldn’t speak English. There wasn’t much communication.”
Jenkins did enjoy a visit to Normandy, calling the D Day Invasion beaches “quite a sight to see.
“There were still bunkers in place with machine guns in them, and the barricades were still in the bay,” he said. “The (American) graveyard was huge.”
After his return to Hardin, Jenkins was working for a seismograph crew when he heard from friends that Pacific Power was building a power line from Glenrock to then eventual site of the Yellowtail Dam in southern Montana. He got a job with a contractor, and that was his entry into the electric business.
In 1961 Jenkins was laying underground cable to an Atlas missile site near Cheyenne when a friend’s wife introduced him to her office partner, a young woman named Blossom. Frank and Blossom were married in Cheyenne just two months later.
One day in October of 1963 Jenkins was working for a contractor putting in a new line for Montana Power to Bear Creek for a new factory. Lovell Pacific Power manager Howard Lusch pulled up on the highway and asked if any of the guys were interested in a job with Pacific Power in Lovell.
He went home to Billings that evening and talked to Blossom about the opportunity. Since he and Blossom had no particular ties to Billings and son Steve was just a few months old, they decided that he would take the job.
The Jenkins moved to Lovell in October of ’63, and Jenkins has lived in Lovell ever since – 56 years. There was only one house for sale in Lovell when they moved, and Jenkins still lives in the home at 53 Wyoming Street.
Jenkins worked for Pacific Power for 35 years as a lineman, the last few years as foreman, until his retirement in 1998. Blossom died Feb. 7, 2014.
Son Steve lives in Casper and works for the Bureau of Reclamation. Son David lives in Longmont, Colo., and works for United Airlines as an airplane mechanic at Denver International Airport. Both served their country in the armed forces, Steve in the Wyoming National Guard for 21 years and David in the U.S. Army for three years including 18 months in Stuttgart, Germany, as a helicopter crew chief.
Grandson Seth recently joined the Marines and hopes to fly on C130s.
“Serving is something I think every young person should do, at least two years,” Jenkins said. “You get to see a lot.”
By David Peck