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Remains of missing WWII paratrooper found in Europe

July 13, 2018

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Pfc. Willard “Bud” Jenkins was lost during one of World War II’s most famous battles.

And now, after nearly 74 years, Jenkins is finally coming home.

The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency recently announced that Jenkins’ remains were identified and that a future burial was being planned.

A spokeswoman for the agency said Jenkins’ family was notified of the discovery.

Jenkins, originally from Pennsylvania, was declared missing in action on Sept. 20, 1944, the same day as the famed Waal River Crossing during Operation Market Garden.

A paratrooper with Company C, 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, Jenkins was among the hundreds of soldiers who attempted to cross the river near Nijmegen, Netherlands, in a fleet of small boats, all while facing withering enemy fire.

According to historical reports, he operated a rudder of one of the boats and was wounded in the chest before falling overboard during one crossing.

“Because the area downstream of the river was controlled by enemy forces, a search could not be conducted,” officials said.

Recently, the soldiers on Fort Bragg praised the return of Jenkins’ remains.

“The entire 82nd Airborne Division celebrates the identification and return of one of the World War II paratroopers who liberated Europe,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino, a division spokesman. “Bringing Willard Jenkins home and properly honoring him is important to us.”

Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division commemorate the Waal River Crossing each year on Fort Bragg, with soldiers from the 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team hosting a friendly competition at McKellars Lake as a way to build esprit de corps while also honoring the heroics of past paratroopers.

With their fellow paratroopers cheering from the lake’s edge, teams from each of the battalion’s companies race across the water amid simulated artillery and machine gun fire.

Last year, the competition also included a two-mile run while carrying zodiac boats overhead and a wreath laying at a memorial to the Waal River crossing outside the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum on Ardennes Street.

The river crossing was depicted in the popular 1977 movie “A Bridge Too Far.” The crossing, also involving paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, came well into the third day of heavy fighting on the banks of the river as allied forces assaulted German lines in Netherlands and Germany.

The paratroopers were ordered to take a bridge over the river from Nazi forces in broad daylight. The first soldiers launched from the shore of the Waal just before 3 p.m. and were immediately sunk by enemy forces on the opposite bank.

Of 26 boats that would soon launch from the shore, 13 would return. Of them, only eight were able to make repeated trips across the deadly river.

Three engineers and 10 infantrymen traveled in each boat. And some engineers made repeated trips — up to five each — to ferry their fellow paratroopers to the German side of the river.

When the battle ended, the paratroopers were victorious, having laid claim to the bridge at the cost of nearly 50 soldiers lost, including Jenkins, who was buried as an “unknown” at an American cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands.

Officials with DPAA said the grave was meticulously cared for in the decades since the war’s end.

Jenkins is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery along with other missing soldiers from the war, officials said. A rosette will now be placed next to his name to indicate that he has been accounted for.

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Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, http://www.fayobserver.com

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