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DON JENKINS

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Like most of the people in Quality, the small Kentucky community where he was born, Don Jenkins went to work in the coal mines after he left school. Having already worked a shift during his last two years of high school, he never expected to leave his job or his hometown. But in the spring of 1968, he received his draft notice and he reported to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for basic training and then went on to advanced infantry training. By October, he was in Vietnam as part of the 39th Infantry. Upon arriving, the first thing he noted was the slogan painted on the company headquarters: killing is our business and business is good.  

On January 5, 1969, Private First Class Jenkins drank some wine brought to camp by some local Vietnamese women. He became so ill that in the middle of the night a medic was forced to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The wine turned out to have been poisoned, and the next morning Jenkins was called into the office of his commanding officer, who threatened to bust him back to buck private. That afternoon, Jenkins and the men of his unit boarded helicopters and flew to a site in Kien Phong Province where intelligence had picked up vague reports of an enemy force. In fact, large numbers of North Vietnamese were dug into bunkers directly around the landing zone, and minutes after they were dropped off, the Americans were taking heavy fire. 

Jenkins ran to an exposed position in front of his unit and, cradling his M-60 machine gun in his arms, opened fire on the North Vietnamese gathered around log bunkers. Several charged him; he killed them all. When his machine gun jammed, he grabbed a rifle and continued to fire on the enemy while another soldier fixed the machine gun. Then he repeatedly ran forward through heavy fire to get ammunition from dead GIs. When there was no more ammunition on the battlefield, he crawled to a fallen American with two antitank weapons, grabbed them, and ran forward, enemy shells kicking up the dirt all around him. When he got within twenty yards of the North Vietnamese bunkers he took out two of them with the antitank weapons.

Then Jenkins found an M-79 grenade launcher and began firing. He was struck in the stomach and legs with shrapnel, but when he heard one of his comrades call out for help, Jenkins crawled through the high jungle grass to get to him. The fallen soldier was a large man, and Jenkins, slightly built and weighing only 130 pounds, dragged him one hundred yards to safety. By this time, night had fallen. Three more wounded Americans called out for help, so Jenkins crawled out into the darkness and, one by one, brought them back to safety. When his unit was helicoptered out the next morning, Jenkins went to the hospital. 

Don Jenkins came home late in 1969 and, after his discharge, went back to work in the coal mines. One afternoon in late February 1971, an Army officer arrived at his door to tell him that he needed to get a new suit and a haircut; he was going to Washington, D.C. There, on March 3, President Richard Nixon presented him with the Medal of Honor. After the ceremony, Jenkins returned to Kentucky and worked in the coal mines until 1999, when he was forced to retire because of a disability.