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The REAL Leroy Jenkins


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World Of Warships

From Rural Mississippi to the Western Pacific

Leroy Jenkins was born in a small town in rural Mississippi in 1934. Throughout his teenage years, he was very active in sports, playing football at his high school and even playing baseball on several of the minor league all-black teams in Mississippi and Louisiana. Work opportunities later drew him to New Orleans, where he met his future wife Hazel.

Conscription into the U.S. military was still common in the early stages of the Cold War, and in November 1955, Jenkins received notice that he was being drafted into the Army. However, before boot camp could begin, he was approached with an alternative by a recruiter seeking volunteers for the Navy, with the caveat of having to leave for California immediately, but with the bonus of a two-year enlistment instead of three.

The social climate in the southern United States was not a pretty one for African Americans, so, he accepted the recruiter’s offer and boarded a bus to the U.S. Naval Training Center—San Diego, where he graduated in January 1956, and was assigned to a crash fire-fighting unit on-base.




In his 14 years manning KIDD’s quarterdeck, Leroy greeted tens of thousands of visitors from around the world. Perusing his photo albums, one can spot an endless array photographs that visitors begged to take “with a REAL KIDD crew member.”

When talking with individuals and school groups, he would often ask the kids who their heroes were. Answers involving professional sports stars and pop music sensations abounded. Leroy called them all “Bums!”—particularly the sports stars. He pointed out that he had played professional sports and that the most important thing he’d done in his life had been to serve in the military; that the guys aboard KIDD did more for the nation than any football, baseball, or basketball player had ever done, and for infinitely less money at that. And for those young people who took a particular interest in the KIDD, he had a special treat: an autographed two-dollar bill (he was reportedly always paid in two-dollar bills while aboard the ship).

Though he has opted to remain in retirement since Hazel passed away in 2015, he still visits his ship every few months as his health allows, and maintains contact with the museum staff. The COVID-19 pandemic quarantine has been the longest period that he has been separated from his ship since signing back aboard in 1999. He finally got to see her again on March 20, 2021, after a year-long absence.





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