Native Texan Lew Jenkins was many things during a life that spanned from 1916 to 1981 and in the aggregate, they don’t readily yield a label, description, or #hashtag. Most often they stand in sharp contrast.
He was one of boxing history’s hardest punchers and for a short period during the 1940s was the lightweight champion of the world. He also didn’t train properly, was a drunkard, a reckless daredevil, and a poor husband during his first marriage.
Overlay those descriptions with those of a soldier who served with distinction in World War II and was a decorated war hero during the Korean War. Then top it with images of a caring father and husband later in life who ultimately drew his greatest strength from the overwhelming desire to serve alongside common men in their direst moments.
Then you have some small glimpse into Jenkins.
It is likely no coincidence then that a biography of the fighter was left unwritten for decades, and it is a credit to author and boxing historian Gene Pantalone that he takes on the daunting task in his entertaining and even-handed “From Boxing Ring to Battlefield: The Life of War Hero Lew Jenkins.”
Pantalone is a first-rate researcher, enabling him to depict scenes that could not vary more wildly in content – from Jenkins’ early fights in backwater Texas venues to lethal battles in Korea’s Haean-Myon Valley near today’s Demilitarized Zone. He describes the emotion and technique of a 1940s New York City title match with the same skill as the even more challenging nuances of 1950s land-based warfare.
The book is concisely written, as Jenkins’ life undoubtedly provided more than ample material to lead an unskilled author into the narrative equivalent of a roadside ditch. In truth, it provided far more ditches than it did level road.
Pantalone unflinchingly stays the course and illuminates a life that is only to be believed in the reading. – TF