This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II with Nazi Germany’s surrender in May 1945 and the Japanese surrender in August 1945. Last year, during the 75th anniversary of the Allied landing in Normandy (D-Day), the Fergus Falls Veterans Home honored two of its residents who were present at Normandy that day: Roy Jorgenson and Earle Bombardier. Both veterans passed away this spring. As the number of WWII veterans begins to dwindle, with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reporting that about 245 WWII veterans are expected to be lost each day this year, this Memorial Day we remember Jorgenson and Bombardier.
Jorgenson was born in 1920 in Marshall County, the eldest of 10 boys. “Before he enlisted … he was down in the cities and he was working at a meat packing plant there, and the money he would earn he’d send home and bring home and buy his brothers Christmas presents, and his mom and his family,” said Ron Lindberg, Jorgenson’s son-in-law. “When he was in the war, the same thing, he would send money back or when he was able to come home on furlough, he’d bring gifts for the whole family. That’s just kind of the way he lived his life.”
He served in the Air Force from 1943 to 1945, flying 26 missions as a ball turret gunner. In addition to flying over the English Channel on D-Day (though he was unable to drop payload due to cloud cover, paratroopers and the sheer number of ships present), he also survived a crash landing off the coast of England and was wounded after being hit by shrapnel from flak, for which he received a Purple Heart. He wrote two books about his experiences, titled “The Lean Years” (2003) and “The War Years” (2005). “It took him quite a while (to open up about his experiences). I’ve known Roy for probably 55 or 60 years, and it was just the last 15 years or so he talked more about it. Before that, he didn’t really say much,” Lindberg says.
“He spent his entire life serving others,” Jorgenson’s granddaughter, Pauline Norgard, said. In addition to his military service, he was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, did nonprofit work at Inter County in Oklee and was known for giving away homemade dill pickles and garden produce.
Lindberg said, “He was such a gentleman and he loved to mentor younger people, mentored many of his nephews and nieces on the outdoors and just the way he handled life really set an example for others.”
Bombardier was born in 1922 in Crookston and joined the Army in 1942. He trained with the 101st Airborne Division to become a paratrooper and on D-Day his plane was hit by flak, forcing him to evacuate. On the ground, he was able to connect with a group of about 30 other soldiers trying to make their way back to the beach and the American line. “He had a concussion, some kind of explosive device went off, I don’t know if it was, what it was from, but when he woke up the German soldier was holding a gun to his head and he was taken prisoner,” Bombardier’s wife, Phyllis, said.
He was a prisoner of war for 343 days and was moved to two or three different POW camps, sometimes in crowded boxcars that forced everyone to stand and in which POWs often died. “He had different jobs at these different camps that he was housed in. Some were in a house that was used by the Germans for a hospital and his job was to carry these wounded German soldiers up to the third story in this house, that was the surgical ward where they amputated limbs,” Phyllia said. “So then Earl’s job was to carry out the amputated limbs and they had a great big huge stockpile of limbs, and that was probably one of the worst things he went through.”
Earle was liberated from the camp by American troops in May 1945 and received a Purple Heart. He returned to Minnesota and began working for Ottertail Power Company in 1948. “He wasn’t able to talk about it for a long time,” says Phyllis. “He worked at Ottertail Power and Myron Broschat, the historian for Ottertail Power, was interviewing all of the veterans that worked (there) and Earle, he did not want to talk to Myron about his experiences, and Myron kept after him and after him and after him and he finally relented. Once he talked about his experiences, then the floodgates opened.” In 2018, Earle received the Croix de Guerre medal which recognizes French and allied soldiers cited for valorous service.
“He was a true patriot overall, very kind, generous,” Phyllis said. She adds that he admired his positive attitude and that he wasn’t bitter toward the Germans despite his experiences. “There are those people that really hold a lot of grudges against the Germans and the Japanese … . Earle was never that way. Those soldiers were only there to do a job, just like the American soldiers were, so he never had grudges about those people.”
Both Jorgenson and Earle lived at the Veterans Home in Fergus Falls, Jorgenson for 13 years and Earle for three. Deanna Mounts, development and volunteer coordinator for the Veterans Home, says that, while it’s a great loss to not have these men with us today, she’s grateful that the home was able to thank and honor them last year for the 75th anniversary of D-Day ceremony.