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Profiles from the Archives: James W. Jenkins

Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

James William Jenkins was born on November 26, 1895, in the town of Gold Hill in Rowan County, N.C., to William Thomas Rufus and Margaret Ann Sparnell Jenkins. At the time of his draft registration for World War I, James Jenkins was living in Salisbury, N.C., with his family. At that time, Jenkins was a freshman college student studying engineering.

James Jenkins enlisted in the U.S. Army Enlisted Reserve Corps (ERC) on October 14, 1917, at Fort Myer, Virginia. As part of serving in the Reserve Corps, Jenkins was sent to Ground School at the School of Military Aeronautics in Atlanta, Georgia. On January 11, 1918, he was transferred to the Flying School at the School of Military Aeronautics at Austin, Texas, which was held on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. While there, he attended numerous classes on the principles of flight, mechanics of aircraft, Air Service regulations, French and English flying squadron formations, and other detailed instruction in early flight principles.

Jenkins was discharged on July 8, 1918, from the Reserve Corps with the rank of flying cadet, in order to accept a military officer’s commission in the regular Army Air Service. On July 9, 1918, James Jenkins was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Service, and sent to Call Field in Wichita Falls, Texas. Next, he was transferred to Camp Dick in Dallas, Texas.

From Camp Dick, Jenkins was transferred to the first U.S. Army flying field at Wilbur Wright Field in Fairfield, Ohio (present-day Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn, Ohio). Wright Field was founded and initially managed by Orville Wright, one of the famous Wright Brothers of Dayton, Ohio. Orville Wright operated a pilot training school on the site of Wright Field, prior to its establishment and expansion as an Army air field. Wright worked with the Army to train American military pilots, including Jenkins.

James Jenkins would be sent to three more military camps before joining the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe: Camp Albert L. Mills in the village of Garden City on Long Island, N.Y.; Camp Merritt in New Jersey; and Camp Sherman near Chillicothe, Ohio.

Jenkins would serve overseas in the U.S. Army Air Service with the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe from October 17, 1918, to March 8, 1919. After returning to the United States in March 1919, Jenkins was honorably discharged on March 20, 1919. After the war, James Jenkins married Sarah Elizabeth Lazenby on May 15, 1921, in Rowan County, N.C.

By 1930, the Jenkins family was living in the town of High Point in Guilford County, N.C., where James was working as a civil engineer for the North Carolina State Highway Commission. By 1940, the Jenkins family was living in the city of Graham in Alamance County, N.C., where James Jenkins was still working as a civil engineer. James W. Jenkins died of heart disease on May 3, 1965, in Graham, N.C., and was buried in Linwood Cemetery in the same city.

To learn more about James Jenkins’ WWI service, check out the James W. Jenkins Papers (WWI 39) in the WWI Papers of the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C.

This blog post is part of the State Archives of North Carolina’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ (NCDNCR) various social media platforms, in order to increase access to the items during the WWI centennial celebration by the state of North Carolina.

Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of North Carolina will be posting blog articles, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts, featuring WWI archival materials which are posted on the exact 100th anniversary of their creation during the war. Blog posts will feature interpretations of the content of WWI documents, photographs, diary entries, posters, and other records, including scans of the original archival materials, held by the State Archives of North Carolina, and will be featured in NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.