following article is reprinted with permission of The Veterans Of Foreign
Wars. It was originally printed in the November 1997 issue of the VFW
Full Circle, With Honor
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
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
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
"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
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
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.