Wasta Rancher Witnessed European Horrors as WWII Red Cross Official

Rapid City authors Ray and Josephine Cowdery will present the World War II story of Leonel Jensen, son of a Danish immigrant, a western South Dakota homesteader and later a large-scale rancher at Wasta.  Jensen’s War is the Cowdery’s latest book about that war. Sponsored by the Black Hills Veterans Writing Group, this free family event will take place on Saturday, April 8, at Ellsworth Air Force Base’s South Dakota Air and Space Museum, starting at 9 am.

Jensen worked for President Calvin Coolidge at the Summer White House in Custer State Park in 1927, was a banker in Wall before there was a Wall Drug, and volunteered twice for service during World War II.   As the senior Red Cross official in the US 75th Infantry Division in Europe in 1944 and 1945 he witnessed combat campaigns in the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of the Colmar Pocket and across the Rhine into Germany.

Unlike typical American GIs, Jensen occupied a very special niche among American soldiers.  He was a uniformed civilian with an assimilated rank equivalent to that of an army captain and had both a jeep and a small truck at his disposal, so he was able to photograph and document his service on a daily basis while fulfilling his Red Cross duties, and inventing the concept of putting up Wall Drug signs throughout the war zone.  He kept a copious daily diary of his travels recording any interesting thing he saw or experienced along the way.  He took hundreds of photos of the things that interested him, probably without a thought about their eventual historical value, such as the accompanying “Wall Drug” photo of himself.Rapid City authors Ray and Josephine Cowdery will present the World War II story of Leonel Jensen, son of a Danish immigrant, a western South Dakota homesteader and later a large-scale rancher at Wasta.  Jensen’s War is the Cowderys latest book about that war. Sponsored by the Black Hills Veterans Writing Group, this free family event will take place onSaturday, April 8, at Ellsworth Air Force Base’s South Dakota Air and Space Museum, starting at 9 am.

Jensen worked for President Calvin Coolidge at the Summer White House in Custer State Park in 1927, was a banker in Wall before there was a Wall Drug, and volunteered twice for service during World War II.   As the senior Red Cross official in the US 75th Infantry Division in Europe in 1944 and 1945 he witnessed combat campaigns in the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of the Colmar Pocket and across the Rhine into Germany.

Unlike typical American GIs, Jensen occupied a very special niche among American soldiers.  He was a uniformed civilian with an assimilated rank equivalent to that of an army captain and had both a jeep and a small truck at his disposal, so he was able to photograph and document his service on a daily basis while fulfilling his Red Cross duties, and inventing the concept of putting up Wall Drug signs throughout the war zone.  He kept a copious daily diary of his travels recording any interesting thing he saw or experienced along the way.  He took hundreds of photos of the things that interested him, probably without a thought about their eventual historical value, such as the accompanying “Wall Drug” photo of himself.


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Woodrow Wilcox

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