- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - Melvin Jensrud left a promising career as a welder when he received a draft notice and answered the call of his country in 1943.

Fred Gruenberg was a young farmhand who never had a chance for a high school education but offered what he had to his country when he enlisted in December 1941.

The two veterans served in different arenas and followed different paths to Minot, where they are numbered among an estimated 2,200 World War II veterans living in North Dakota. Time has shrunk the ranks of the nearly 60,000 North Dakotans who served during World War II, and those remaining, like Jensrud and Gruenberg, typically are into their 90s.

There were 274 members of the Minot World War II Last Man’s Club when they organized in 1974, said Gruenberg, a former chairman. Today 19 members are left, he said. Gruenberg, 95, traveled a few times to a reunion of his unit in Nebraska until no one else was left.

Jensrud, 92, proudly wears a cap emblazoned with “World War II.” It was the cap he wore when his granddaughter’s husband took him to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial and Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery.

Jensrud is a native of the Esmond area, where he learned to speak Norwegian before he learned English. He married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy, when she was just 19 and he was 18. The pastor who married them in Reno, Nevada, first tried to talk them out of it because of their young ages and told them he didn’t think the bond would last. They had been married nearly 72 years when Dorothy died in 2014.

They began their married life in California, where Jensrud worked as a welder in a shipyard. When he received his draft notice, his employer offered to help get a deferment because he didn’t want to lose a good employee. However, Jensrud wanted to serve. Dorothy, who was pregnant, supported his decision.

“I went back to North Dakota and joined the Navy,” he told the Minot Daily News (https://bit.ly/1ZR7YYt ). “My brother was in the Navy. He told me if you can get into the Navy, do that, because there will be a place to sleep and a table to eat at. I was lucky enough to do it.”

He served in boot camp in Idaho, where the weather was bitter cold and he landed in the hospital with pneumonia. Once he recovered, he was sent to San Diego and eventually traveled by destroyer to Hawaii. There he was stationed on a PC-486, a small ship that carried a crew of about 50.

Jensrud was a sonarman 2nd Class. His job was to watch for ships to ensure the enemy didn’t approach U.S. land. He was trained on sonar and radar and also served at the helm.

“My eyes were the best of anybody there,” he said. “If a ship happened to come over the horizon, I would be the first one to see it.”

He enjoyed his job as sonarman.

“You could listen to the porpoises and you could hear the whales talk back and forth so it was kind of enjoyable,” he said. The sailors went fishing on one occasion. Jensrud recalls having his picture taken with their catch after they hooked a fish that he estimated was about 9 feet long.

Jensrud was fortunate to never spend a day seasick. He said he had a healthy appetite aboard ship so whenever another sailor was feeling a little green, he gladly helped himself to the untouched meal.

On the other hand, life at sea could be precarious.

“I’ve been scared a lot of times,” he said. One of those times came when a storm came up.

“You had to hang on to keep from sliding over the rail,” he said.

At one point, his ship was ordered to join the forces at Japan but due to troubles with the ship, they had to turn back.

Jensrud kept a diary and sent a daily letter to his wife and the daughter he had yet to meet. He had promised his daughter a doll when returned. Discharged from the Navy after a little over three years, he stepped off the train in New Rockford to see his daughter running toward the man she recognized from a picture he had sent his family. She immediately wanted to know if he had a dolly.

“I would have been in bad shape if I didn’t have one. I had a really pretty doll for her,” he said. His daughter kept that doll from Hawaii for many years.

The Jensruds raised two daughters, losing their two sons at young ages. Today Jensrud has four grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Gruenberg, 95, was among World War II veterans taking the 2009 Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to view the memorial. Five of his eight military medals, along with a distinguished service award, hang in a display in his home. Three medals were lost over the years.

Gruenberg is a Washburn native who left school after eighth grade to work on a farm. He was in line for the draft when he enlisted three days before Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Following training, he left with the Army Eighth Air Force in August 1942 to serve with the 303rd Bombardment “Hell’s Angels” Group at the Molesworth base in England. He started in supplies but advanced quickly, becoming a staff sergeant in charge of fuel. Eighty B-17s flew missions from the base.

“We were pushed pretty hard, and we flew every mission we could whenever we could,” he said. “It was pretty tough. We had rough going.”

He and his crew lived out of a building on the fuel line to stay on top of the steady work.

“There were times I would work 18 hours a day not unusual. Twice I worked 72 hours straight,” he said.

Working long hours doing strenuous work weakened his legs and led to the need for two surgeries, giving him the designation as a disabled veteran.

“But I don’t complain. I came back,” he said.

He spent the summer before his discharge in November 1945 serving in Air Transport Command in North Africa. Because of the risk of capture and torture by residents opposed to the Allies, military members seldom left the base. Opportunities to go off-base had been limited in England, too, but Gruenberg took them when he had them.

“You need some rest just to get away from the pressure,” he said. However, off-base excursions weren’t always stress-free. On one trip into London, he found himself in the middle of an air raid.

“The ground was just shaking,” he said of the bombing. As he ran for cover, a woman running behind him said to get to the Tube, the local name for the underground train. She never made it, but Gruenberg did.

Gruenberg’s air base escaped major bombing during war, although they occasionally would see German reconnaissance planes overhead and wondered if a bomb would follow.

“You think about it. At night you think, ‘Are they coming out to hit us tomorrow or tomorrow night?’ But they never did,” Gruenberg said.

The only exception was a rocket that came toward the end of the war and hit the side of a hangar, burning a couple of people.

“It was a vicious battle from one end to the other. It never let up,” Gruenberg said.

Gruenberg flew over Europe after the Germans surrendered.

“That was a horrible thing,” he said, recalling a landscape of trenches, wrecked airplanes and tanks.

“That was an eye opener,” he said. “You wonder how anybody got out of there alive.”

Upon returning from the war, Gruenberg dealt with post-traumatic stress, a condition not well recognized at the time, while also playing catch-up in his education. He obtained a general equivalency diploma and enrolled at Minot State University, graduating with honors and a degree in business education.

He married and adopted a son. After the death of his wife, he remarried Terry, who had two children. Now married for 44 years, they have six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Both Jensrud and Gruenberg went on to successful careers.

Gruenberg worked for a car dealership in Washburn and later in Minot, spending much of his career with Blessener-Olds. He retired in 1971.

Jensrud moved to Plaza to work for International Harvester and later for many years for the Farmers Union, first in Plaza and then for a short time in Lisbon and Devils Lake before returning to Plaza to manage the operation there. In later years, the Jensruds lived in an 18-foot camper as he traveled to do inventory for different Farmers Union operations across the region. He never went back to welding, although he used his skills to construct a bell tower for his church.

The Jensruds eventually retired to Edgewood Vista in Minot. Dorothy later moved to ManorCare, now Minot Health and Rehab, and Melvin followed several years ago. At the home, Jensrud maintains his daily Bible readings with assistance from staff, due to his failing eyesight, and makes a point to sing the birthday song whenever he encounters someone celebrating the special day.

“I don’t have a very pretty voice, but I sing it anyway,” Jensrud joked.

Jensrud was active in the American Legion post at Plaza, serving in different offices, and is a life member of the VFW. His service in World War II impressed upon him the value of patriotism, which was evident for many years by the flag flown outside his Plaza home.

Gruenberg joined the Washburn American Legion and has participated in Minot VFW activities. He attended the statewide veteran gathering in Bismarck in October in observance of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

He remains active, walking the mall and joining friends there for coffee four to five days a week.

“I have been blessed. I have a lot to be grateful for,” he said.


Information from: Minot Daily News, https://www.minotdailynews.com

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