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  Texas : Feature : Columns : "They shoe horses, don't they?"

J. FRANK DOBIE AND COLONEL JACK JENKINS

Two Texans become friends in War-torn England


Photos, Text and Painting courtesy Mel Brown
Several years ago I did a painting to honor the ground crews of the 8th Air Force in WW II England titled "Texas Ranger & Friend." It shows a ground crewman finishing the nose art on a P-38 Lightning named Texas Ranger as it apeared early in 1944 at Nuthampstead, England. That Lightning was flown by Lt. Colonel Jack Jenkins, the commander of the 55th Fighter Group until he was shot down and captured later that April. Col. Jenkins was originally from DeLeon in Comanche County but had retired after thirty years in the Air Force and was living in San Antonio when I contacted him during the research phase for the painting. Jack was credited with the first 8th Air Force P-38 kill of the war, led the first American mission over Berlin and at the time of his capture had three aerial victories over Luftwaffe opponents.
P-38 Lightning  painting "Texas Ranger & Friend
“Texas Ranger & Friend.”
Painting by Mel Brown, photo courtesy Mel Brown
While Jack was fighting the air war over Europe, U T’s inveterately rebellious Professor J. Frank Dobie was at Cambridge University for a year as a guest lecturer in American history. In his spare time he traveled around England frequently and often spent weekends looking for fellow Texans at the dozens of American 8th Air Force bases dotting the East Anglia countryside near Cambridge. One Friday he found a fighter base commanded by an amiable Col. Jack Jenkins and spent the weekend as his guest at the 55th Fighter Group base at Nuthampstead just up the road from Cambridge. Jack loaned his personal quarters to the distinguished Professor that weekend and the two Texans hit it off grandly during a two day visit.
A few months later Col. Jenkins was shot down in France while leading a particularly dangerous, ground attack mission on a Nazi air base and spent the rest of the war as a POW in Germany. Following his return to Austin, J. Frank wrote the book that some Dobie scholars consider his best all around work, A Texan In England. This book is a chronicle of the year he spent speaking at Cambridge and contains many reflections on wartime Britain based on his travels there and the people he met. It is also part treatise on Anglo-American history, relations and shared heritage and their ongoing battle against Nazi Germany. It is also a taste of Prof. Dobie’s unbridled love affair with Great Britain. I recently read again my copy of the enjoyable book since it is firstly a wonderful work and because my particular copy is quite special so that just holding it moves me. And here's why.
While working on the Texas Ranger painting, Jack Jenkins and I became friends and I learned that he was truly an exceptional man and a true American hero. We had initial conversations at his home in San Antonio to discuss the art project, then later just visited as friends. During one of those visits in his office, Jack showed me the copy of A Texan In England which Professor Dobie had sent him after the war containing a personal dedication as shown here. Dobie had mentioned his stay with the colonel in the book although not by name due to security issues in wartime England.
Dedication
Dedication

Dear Jack Jenkins ~ Welcome back home! If this book, which I am sending you, brings back any memory to you from days in England half as pleasant as your hospitality to me over there comes back to me(see page 184), then it will be better than Spam. I've thought of you lots of times and hope that you come to see me in Austin.
Your Friend ---
Frank Dobie
In Texas
May, 1945
A few years later following Jack’s passing in 1999, his widow Julie Jenkins called me to ask that I come by the house on my next trip to San Antonio. On that visit Julie gave me Jack's precious copy of the Dobie book per his wish expressed to her shortly before he passed away. Naturally it is one of my most treasured keepsakes and now a family heirloom. Tucked inside the book’s dust jacket were a pair of photographs taken the weekend when Dobie visited the 55th fighter base in early 1944. The two images have never before been published or even seen outside of Jack Jenkins' family until now. About a year ago I visited with Austin’s much acclaimed author Bill Wittliff whose renowned Dobie collection is housed at Texas State University in San Marcos. I presented a framed copy of the images to Bill which he in turn donated to the Dobie Archives. As some TE readers may know, Dobie's old Stetson was almost a part of him since he rarely appeared without it and almost never took it off in public. The historic images of those two very special Texans together always make me smile as does reflecting momentarily on the men themselves and the good that each brought to the world during tumultuous times.
Prof. James Frank Dobie  & Colonel Jack Jenkins
Prof. James Frank Dobie  and Texas Ranger
 
I hope that this brief remembrance of my friend Jack Jenkins and his friend J. Frank Dobie will prompt others to seek out old friends and new ones because afterall, Texas means friends. Then go find a copy of A Texan in England and read it.

© Mel Brown January 1, 2008 Column
Please send comments to: melbjr@earthlink.net
Related Topics: WWII | People | Books |
A Texan in England book cover
 
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