Topic: "An Ugly American"(4)
Mr. Johnathan Smoot;
Congratulations on your selection as this years' recipient of the Sgt. John A. Jenkins Scholarship. Your academic and personal accomplishments at the College of the Shire merit both recognition and reward. Let me assure you that Alumni throughout Middle Earth take special note of your name, alongside that of someone so very special to all of us.
John Jenkins was the nicest boy I ever knew. He had three sisters, and he learned early on how important it was to respect, and to protect them. His parents taught him the value of hard work, and for John that was a crucial factor. For no matter how hard he worked, school work did not come easy for him. He was athletic, but he always seemed to be the guy who dropped the long pass, or threw the ball out-of-bounds. He was however, the guy you wanted in your corner if you had to fight your way out of a situation.
As he neared the end of his fifth year, he was notified that his student deferment was to thereupon expire, and he was to report to Basic Training. It was touch-and-go, right up until the day before graduation, and the strain was on his face and in his heart. Less than thirty days after he graduated, he was on his way to Fort Benning.
I saw him several months later at the Wedding of one of our Fraternity Brothers, and I walked with him to his car as the happy couple departed. I told him to be careful, and he said to me, "Frodo, I just hope I do a good job."
I learned, years later, that in September of 1968, near a little piss-ant of a place called Duc Lap, Republic of South Vietnam, his outfit was engaged by North Vietnamese Regulars in a conflict known as "The Ambushes." The enemy, according to official military records, threw itself directly upon Sgt. Jenkins position. Rallying his troops, and utilizing the weapon of a fallen comrade, he led a vicious battle and accounted for numerous enemy casualties. The battle continued until he ran out of ammunition.
I was a thousand miles away when they buried my friend at Arlington. I have visited him there, and have an etching from Plaque 47W, Line 12, of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. His Mother was presented with the Silver Star, awarded posthumously. I have held that Medal in my hands. It is the most expensive thing I have ever touched. His Mother told me that the only thing that he would have valued more than that Medal was the Diploma he earned at the College of the Shire.
Soon Johnathan, you will share that diploma with Sgt. John A. Jenkins. He thought so much of it, and I truly believe that he indeed felt that his sacrifice would be worthwhile if it gave you the opportunity to do better.
It is a great gift you have received. It came at great cost. I certainly hope that you, too, do a good job.
Frodo Baggins on Veterans Day, 2008.