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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Better late than never: SL veteran honored by France

Thursday, November 1, 2001

Earl Jorgensen of Storm Lake does not consider himself a hero - he was just doing his duty for the country.

In 1944 he entered the Army at the age of 18. He was one of thousands of troops to participate in D-Day and the liberation of France.

For that, Jorgensen and several hundred other Iowans were honored by the French government last week at a ceremony held at the Statehouse in Des Moines. French Consul General Dominique Decherf presented "special diplomas" to the Iowa veterans for their role in the liberation of France during World War II.

"The certificate is meant to express the gratitude of the French people to the soldiers who participated in the Normandy landing and liberation of France," Decherf said at the event.

Jorgensen is modest about the award; however, even 60 years later he feels it is a nice gesture.

"Most of us put some time in France during the war," he said. "We had to wait 60 years to get some recognition."

He downplays his involvement, and points out the hundreds of thousands of other Americans who had served.

"We felt a duty to serve then, especially after what happened at Pearl Harbor," Jorgensen said.

Jorgensen was not on the front lines fighting the battle, but instead served as a medic in the 149th Combat Engineer Battalion. That group was responsible for amphibious landings, setting up roadways, clearing mines and helping with supplies.

Jorgensen was shipped overseas on Jan. 1, 1944. Until D-Day, Jorgensen was stationed at several different towns along southern Britain near the English Channel.

"Naturally we were building up thousands of American troops in England for the invasion of Europe proper," he said.

Jorgensen was stationed in what was known as a medical aid station. "My life consisted of just caring for the troops," he said. "They get sick like anybody else, or they may have a banged up foot or whatever."

Then on June 6, 1944, the Allied army began its invasion of France along the northern coast. Jorgensen moved in 10 days later.

"I felt lucky I had been one of the last ones to get into the medics before going overseas," he said. "I felt later that was a real blessing, though it was not something I tried to do.

"A medical officer told me newer medics were not going in for a few days when the invasion started," he added. "At 19 I was not impressed either way, but I see now many years later it was probably one of my luckier days."

Jorgensen relieved medics who had been injured during the initial invasion. "After landing we set up an aid station at an old home 200 yards from the beach," he said.

For the next six months Jorgensen was stationed there, again treating Allied troops. But he also saw German soldiers.

"That's where I first saw prisoners. We started getting injured prisoners from holding places," he said.

For the most part, a sense of routine set in, like it had in England. That didn't last for long. The Germans made a final push into eastern France and Belgium in the winter. That would start the Battle of the Bulge. Jorgensen's unit again shipped out to provide support for the front lines.

"In a short time they sent us up in that direction to go in and help shore up the forces," he said.

"The only time I really saw the results of fighting was as we came up close to the Rhine River," Jorgensen said. "Crossing the Rhine River it got a little hot, and we saw a lot of injured."

German artillery shells regularly were flying overhead, as the Germans tried to destroy roads and other infrastructure to prevent the Allies from getting more supplies.

The flow of injured service men from combat began to pick up. Jorgensen could remember many coming in with combat wounds. "You could see the shrapnel pieces in them," he said.

"I remember this one pilot who came in. He had to eject and got hit by a piece of debris that broke his leg," he said. "He was happy because he would be going home and wouldn't be seeing any more action."

The Germans continued to get pushed back into Germany, and finally surrendered in May of 1945. Jorgensen said he was ready to get home.

"I put in my time like the other guys, but we were all hoping to get home eventually," he said. "I was only 18, 19 when I was over there and for me it seemed like a long time."

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