The following article is reprinted with permission of The Veterans Of Foreign Wars. It was originally printed in the November 1997 issue of the VFW Magazine.

Coming Full Circle, With Honor

One VFW member's determined mission to pay homage to a brother-in-arms becomes a community cause.


Last Veterans Day in a tiny Florida town, the gravesite of a fallen comrade with a huge heart was restored to dignity, righting years of oversite and neglect. But it would not have happened without the perseverance of the man whose life he saved, plus the intervention of some derermined teachers and schoolchildren.


Fred Ostrom, junior vice-commander-in-chief of Post 307 Rochester, NY., gave new meaning to the Marine motto "Semper Fidelis" (always faithful) during his two-year struggle to honor the memory of PFC. Robert H. Jenkins, Jr.


Both were members of C Company, 3rd Recon Battalion, during Operation Dewey Canyon when their position on Fire Suppert Base Argonne north of the A Shau Valley of South Vietnam was assaulted by an NVA platoon March 5, 1969.


A gernade landed near their machinegun emplacement, blowing off part of Ostrom's left hand and arm. Seconds later, Jenkins shoved Ostrom out of the way and sheilded him from another gernade that landed directly in the emplacement. Jenkins four months shy of his 21st birthday, was killed instantly and was posthumously awarded the Medal Of Honor.


During Ostrom's postwar years as an accountant, Jenkins was never far from his thoughts. He often planned to go to Florida to see Jenkin's family but "chickened out", according to Ostrom.


Eventually, through the Marine Corps Archive, Ostrom learned Jenkins' old school in Palatka, near his hometown of Interlachen, had been renamed in his honor. School Principal Janet Cavuoti provided the family's address and Ostrom wrote the letter he dreaded for years.


Ostrom began a regular letter exchange with Jenkins' family and Linda Sheppard's sixth-grade class at the school. "I wanted my children to have an appreciation of the people who fought for this country,"Sheppard said.


Hundreds of letters and get-well cards from the schoolchildren helped pull Ostrom out of a period of depression following a third heart attack. The connection was the catalyst that finally prompted his visit to Florida on March 7, 1995-"Fred Ostrom Day" at the school.


"They went bonkers" Ostrom said. I had no idea it would be such a big deal." His elation was short-lived, however, once he visited Jenkins' grave.


"I felt like I had been punched in the gut," he said. "I couldn't believe that the recipient of our nation's highest award for valor was buried in such a garbage dump."


Ostrom began a determined, months long campaign to right that wrong. He contacted fellow Marines and the VA. He also wrote a letter to the editor of the The Palatka Daily News to shame area veterans into picking up the torch.


A veteran friend put him in touch with U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) "All of a sudden things started to roll," Ostrom said. "Finally, we found the right button to push."


McCain got the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and Carlos Rainwater, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, on board, culminating in the re-dedication of the refurbished gravesite on Veterans Day 1996.


About 7000 pounds of debris were cleared from the cementery. A gold-inlaid Medal Of Honor headstone was provided by the VA. A footstone was the combined donation of the American Legion, VFW Posts 3349 in Palatka and 10164 in Interlachen, the County Veterans' Service Officers Association, DAV, AMVETS and The Marine Corps League.


A grave cover from an anonymous donor bears verse from the Gospel of St. John: "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."


"He not only saved me, but my entire family," Ostrom said. " There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about him and what and what he did for me.