South Carolina veteran honored for WWII service, 101st birthday
By SHELLIE MURDAUGH | Bluffton Today, S.C. | Published: July 9, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — One of the oldest surviving World War II veterans in South Carolina was recognized for his service and his recent 101st birthday at a Jasper County Council meeting July 1.
Beckett Jenkins of Garnett was presented a resolution from the S.C. Legislature by state Rep. Shedron Williams.
"This evening, we, the members of the House of Representatives and the Jasper County Legislative Delegation, would like to honor Brother Beckett Jenkins for his service and his continuing guidance to many members of his community and the state," Williams said. "It's your day."
Beckett was born March 10, 1918, in Garnett and is the youngest and last surviving of eight children. He was educated in Robertsville and Penn Normal Industrial and Agricultural School in Frogmore.
Beckett was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941 during World War II and began his military career at Camp Stewart, later being stationed at Fort Eustis and Camp Pendleton.
He completed his service as a corporal in the 994 Quartermasters Service, Pacific Theater, where he served under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II, in the retaking of the Philippines.
When Beckett returned home, he remained in Philadelphia before returning to the family homestead in Garnett where he farmed and operated a hauling business. He later met and married Mable Janet Browne and the two were married for 55 years.
The couple had three children, Vera, Harold and Oliver. Beckett and his wife were active members of Mount Zion A.M.E. Church and county and state agents for voter registration and civil rights.
Oliver said he remembered his father having significant memories of the war at one time in his life.
"At the time he served, the Army was still segregated, so he and other soldiers were stationed on a renovated cruise ship, which was made into a military ship but had no military weapons or equipment to protect it," Oliver said.
"When they were headed to the Philippines, they had to change course every six minutes to avoid being hit by torpedoes. It took them 23 days to cross the Pacific and seven days to get back."
Oliver said the rations were not equal to the length of the trip, so his father recalled many soldiers dying and being buried at sea along the way.
"He went to 25 different countries, including Japan, the Philippines and New Guinea, to name a few," Oliver said.
"One thing he told us when he got home was that he never wanted to go on a cruise ship or get on any more boats after he got back home. He said he felt like God got him back home and put his feet back on the ground and he was not going to go back on another ship."
Oliver said he recalls one time his father said disobeying orders saved his life.
"My dad and the others were in the middle of the jungle under blackout conditions and the rule was that soldiers were supposed to secure their tents on all sides," he said. "Well, dad did not want to do that, so he left the side untucked next to his foxhole, disobeying the order."
Later that night, someone at the camp decided to cook and the brightness of the fire caused them to be seen by enemies.
"He was awakened by bombs dropping, at first rolling to the attached side of the tent," Oliver said. "He realized that to survive, he needed to get to the side where he could crawl into his foxhole. He rolled into his foxhole, looked up and saw the flash of the bombs zipping across his head.
"Some of the others did not survive the bombing by following orders, so my dad's life was saved that night because of the one time that he did not follow orders."
Oliver said his father explained how the war was extremely difficult to discuss at times.
"He was in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and that was one of the battles that he said took a heavy toll on human life," he said. "He would talk about coming ashore and seeing body parts scattered around and having to just step forward and keep moving to survive. That was a tough time during his service."
Oliver said his father and mother were instrumental in helping establish what is known today as Beaufort Jasper Comprehensive Health Services.
"Both of my parents were extremely involved with Beaufort Jasper Comprehensive Health and helping to get it started and getting health care into the area," he said. "They also were very active with the voter registration office when the offices were in the Jasper County Courthouse and my mother, Mable, served as director. They both were very active in the community."
Harold said his father was humbled by the honor he received.
"He was very grateful and humbled that he was recognized," Harold said. "He said it was just like someone sending him flowers while he is still alive. He was thankful that his service was remembered."
Harold said his father received numerous good conduct medals, two bronze stars and other medals. His sister Vera was not able to attend the meeting, but she also wished to thank everyone for her father's honor, Harold said. He said the entire family was honored.
"We're just so happy and pleased Rep. Williams and the Jasper County Legislative Delegation even thought of him," he said. "There are probably others in the county that are to be recognized as well. It makes us proud to call Jasper County home."