LAYTON, Utah — The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington D.C. displays the names of over 58,000 Americans killed in the line of duty.
What the wall doesn’t display, of course, are the stories behind each name.
While visiting an impressive replica of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Layton, Utah, Fox 13’s Todd Tanner wondered what information might be found online about any given casualty.
The name Joyful J. Jenkins caught his attention, and research eventually led to family members willing to share his incredible story.
Joyful grew up in Loxely, Alabama, one of ten children. By the age of eight, his mother Amelia had become a widow.
Amelia was intelligent, innovative, and determined to be successful. She eventually turned the family’s 40 acre turpentine farm into a sprawling operation of various crops on over 1,000 acres.
In the 1950’s, Ebony magazine featured the Jenkins’ as “Alabama’s Richest Farm Family.”
Alvin Jenkins, Joyful’s nephew, told Fox 13 News this foundation of education and principles enabled Joyful to “Walk with his head held high,” as he went on to college and into the military.
Inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen, Joyful entered the military after graduating college.
While stationed in Texas Joyful met the love of his life, Jimmie. Together they had one child, Cherys.
Chery’s Jenkins remembers her father fondly, and says he was all about responsibility, and “hitting those books”.
She and her mother were living in a military base in Kansas in September of 1969, when there was a knock at the door, and they received word of Joyful’s death.
The funeral was troubling for Cherys as a child. Her mother didn’t let her see Joyful’s body, a decision she now understands.
Adding to the emotional injury is the fact that Joyful was about to be promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel when he died.
More than 51 years after his death, Cherys still misses her father, and wishes her daughter and grandchildren could have met him. She knows Joyful would have been proud of them.
The home Joyful was raised in is still in the family, has been restored, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Watch the video to hear more from Cherys and Alvin about how the life and death of Joyful has impacted their family.
For more information about visiting the memorial in Layton, Utah click here.