© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Carl Jensen


Carl Jensen, better known as “Cliff,” was born in 1911 to a Danish immigrant who ran a creamery in Kimball, SD. After graduating from South Dakota State College in Brookings, Cliff worked for the ND Agriculture Department, living in Carrington, Devils Lake and Fargo.

Barbara Vanek, Jensen’s daughter, describes him as “brilliant, handsome and a born leader.” She doesn’t know the circumstances of Jensen joining the Army but believes he must have gone through ROTC, because when WWII flared up, he entered the military as an officer. Jensen was first deployed to Greenland to work on a secret project later documented in the book “War Below Zero”; he also served a 10-month tour of duty in Italy in 1944.

Jensen was stationed in Japan when the Korean War broke out June 25th, 1950. As a member of the 21st Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, the 39-year old Lieutenant Colonel was among the very first ground troops to come to the defense of South Korea the following week.

The U.S. was pitifully unprepared for war. Soldiers were not combat-ready, armored tanks were nearly non-existent, and weapons and ammunition – left over from WWII – were poor to useless. Making matters worse, rain kept planes grounded, so front line infantrymen had little support. The results were disastrous. In the first week of ground fighting, seven hundred and forty-four Americans – including high ranking officers – were either captured, missing in action or killed.

Colonel Jensen replaced the commander of the regiment’s under-strength 3rd battalion on July 10th. In desperate conditions, Jensen’s men recaptured a strategic ridge in Chonui, rescued 10 trapped soldiers and recovered most of the equipment lost earlier in battle. They also discovered the first known mass atrocity committed by North Koreans against captured American soldiers. Six men were found with their hands tied behind their backs and shot through the back of the head. The discovery enraged Jensen’s men, giving them the will to continue fighting.

The following morning, Jensen’s men could hear tanks approaching, but couldn’t see them because of heavy fog. The enemy had infiltrated their positions, allowing the North Koreans to execute one of the most perfectly coordinated assaults they ever launched against American troops. At 6:30 a.m. four enemy tanks loomed into the battalion area, just as enemy mortar fire struck the battalion command post, the ammunition supply point, and the communications center.

U.S. forward observers were unable to direct return fire, because their radios didn’t work.

Some 1,000 North Koreans soon had them surrounded. Jensen’s men fought for several hours, but enemy roadblocks prevented retreat, evacuation of the wounded, or efforts to get more ammunition. Less than half escaped with their lives. Sadly, Jensen was not among them. He was reported as missing in action on the 11th, and on this day in 1950, he was reported killed in action.

Lt. Col. Jensen received a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross, the Nation’s 2nd highest military award, for remaining behind to cover his men during their desperate attempt to withdraw.

by Merry Helm


Appleman, Roy E. South To The Naktong, North To The Yalu. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1961.

Blair, Clay. The Forgotten War: America in Korea 1950-1953. New York: Random House, 1988.

Correspondence between author and Barbara Vanek, 2007.