FAREWELL ... Final salute for Staff Sgt. Phillip Jenkins of Decatur. (Photo by J Swygart)
The stark realities of war hit home in September when Staff Sgt. Phillip Jenkins of Decatur became the first, and to date the only, Adams County serviceman to give his life in the ongoing American conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jenkins' death was voted by employees of the Decatur Daily Democrat to be the number one news story of 2010.
Jenkins was laid to rest during private ceremonies in Decatur Cemetery on Sept. 18. That burial came 11 days after he was killed in Iraq in the line of duty.
The Decatur community turned out en masse for the funeral of the Bellmont High School graduate, from nearly filling the theatre at Bellmont High School during a public ceremony to lining the length of Monroe Street — in many places shoulder-to-shoulder — to pay their final respects to the fallen soldier as the hearse carrying his body rolled past on its way to the cemetery. Many carried American flags and signs which read “Thank you, Sgt. Jenkins.”
Speaking at the funeral was Lt. General Curt Stein, commanding general of the U.S. Army’s tank and automotive division based in Warren, Mich.
Stein said he was pleased to be present “on behalf of the people of the United States of America to honor, recognize and remember Sgt. Phillip Jenkins, who gave his life for America.”
“Today, words are feeble,” said Stein. “Sgt. Jenkins will never be forgotten, and we mourn his loss. Sgt. Jenkins was a soldier’s soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice so that others could live in a country that is free.”
Stein said Jenkins “accepted the burden of defending freedom; he understood that freedoms are not free. It’s soldiers like Sgt. Jenkins who go into harm’s way for the betterment of others.”
To all those in attendance, Stein said, “It’s clear that Phillip cared deeply about his soldiers, his family, his community and his country. Phillip loved all of you.”
Following his remarks, Stein presented The Bronze Star Medal “for meritorious service” and the Purple Heart Award “for wounds received in action” to Jenkins’ widow, Melissa, on behalf of Secretary of the Army John McHugh.
Outside Bellmont High School, some 100 members of the Patriot Guard, a group comprised primarily of motorcycle-riding military veterans from northeast Indiana, lined the sidewalks holding large American flags in a sign of respect for Sgt. Jenkins. Members of the Patriot Guard then rode their motorcycles down Monroe Street, following the hearse on its way to the cemetery.