Leonel Jensen was a rancher from Wasta, South Dakota when he was sent to Europe to fight in World War II. Not only did he serve his country, but he wrote everything down – a service to future generations studying the war.
Ray and Josephine Cowdery are authors from Rapid City who have written more than twelve books about WWII. They gave a talk about Jensen’s life and his collection of journals and photographs.
While most veterans discarded the mementos and souvenirs they acquired during the war, Jensen put his in a box, and they were still there 75 years later. Jensen also took hundreds of photographs, and he kept all of them, too.
In 1927, Jensen worked for President Calvin Coolidge in Custer State Park to raise money for college. He took care of a garden and farm animals, according to Cowdery. It was then that he began his habit of keeping a daily journal.
On June 11, 1927, he drew a floor plan of the Coolidge rooms in the State Game Lodge and wrote that he had driven a steam engine for the first time.
He went to South Dakota State University for two years and then moved to Wall where he got a job as a banker. He became friends with Ted and Dorothy Hustead who owned Wall Drug Store. The Husteads later gave credit to Jensen for having the idea of taking Wall Drug signs overseas.
Jensen served on the Eastern Pennington County draft board before volunteering for service. He was the senior American Red Cross official in the US 75th Infantry Division in Europe from 1944 to 1945. He was there for the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of the Colmar Pocket and over the Rhine into the Ruhr.
Along with his work for the Red Cross, Jensen took pictures, wrote in his journal, and put up signs advertising Wall Drug Store.
When he returned to South Dakota, he took over the ranch of his father near Wasta. He died in 2002 in Rapid City at the age of 98.
For seventeen years the Cowderys have given tours of Europe to WWII veterans. They have written many books about WWII. They also give advice to the Black Hills Veterans Writing Group.
Even with all of their experience with the history of the war and the veterans that served in it, Jensen’s story stands out to the Cowderys. They hope to use his collection to write a book about him, Rapid City Journal reported
Cowdery said that Jensen received the Bronze Star and, of all the veterans the Cowderys have met, Jensen is the only one who had his citation personally signed by Harry Truman. Cowdery says that Jensen was like no other soldier in the war.