September 17, 2011

Henry Sorenson

Henry Sorenson
Roslyn, South Dakota
Day County
April 22, 1920 -- November 1, 1943
Died of Wounds in Italy

Awarded Silver Star for Heroism

Henry Sorenson

Henry Sorenson was born on April 22, 1920, in Roslyn, South Dakota, to Albert and Julia Sorenson.  He grew up in Roslyn with seven sisters:  Gladys, Clarice, Irene, Sadie, Ellen, Evelyn, and Joan.  He graduated from Roslyn High School in 1938.  Prior to entering college, he entered the South Dakota National Guard.  He attended college at Brookings until his junior year.

In 1941, during Henry’s third year of college, he was drafted into the army.  He was at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, until February of 1942 when he left for Fort Dix, New Jersey, en route for overseas duty with an engineering unit.  

He was stationed in North Africa.  He spent four months in Tunisia and most of the summer in Africa.  His first assignment was to the American 34th Division, the first to cross the Atlantic in this war and victor at vital Hill 609 in Tunisia. 

While in North Africa, Sgt. Sorenson sent home a letter to his sister, Mrs. Gladys Van Lissel.  The letter was published in a Chicago trade magazine.  Parts of the letter follow:
I was lucky to be about 200 miles back at special gunnery school when the boys were catching the worst at Fondouk.  I left the night before they got shelled and got back a couple days after they had been strafed.  I did sit in on some fairly close bombings, but I never had any close calls. 

Some of my hazardous moments were spent during blackout driving in the mountains.  It gives a fellow a funny feeling to be riding in the dark, knowing that if you get off theroad, it means a drop of several hundred feet.  The fact that you’re carrying a cargo of dynamite, antitank mines, high explosive shells and plenty of ammunition add to the excitement. . .  You’ll never be a war cripple if you’re an engineer—it’s none or all.

We spent a lot of time repairing and building roads, and when the roads were so wet,  it was really an important job.  The attacks, supply convoys, withdrawals and all must go through on schedule.  Many times we worked all night to make that possible. 
One night we were assigned to end of the road closest to the enemy for repair work to be sure our withdrawing division got out okeh.  We had just built the road and we had to stay up there until everyone was out and then drive miles to safer positions.  I was pretty tired that night and learned for the first time not to smoke when up so close.
From here we moved to a location where we helped clear the mines Jerry had planted so plentifully in the Kasserine Pass and valley near Sbeitla.  We did a lot of mine planting and mine removal work and it is one of the most ticklish jobs a man can hope for.  One mistake and you’re just a memory.  ‘Jerry’ is very clever and ingenious when it comes to mine work and planting of anti-personnel traps.  It’s a fast game of trying to outguess the enemy and hope that you’re right.
Work like that took place under all conditions—under fire, darkness, rain.  We did have a lot of fun during the campaign, though and no one thinks much of the dangers at the time.
Sergeant Henry Sorenson died of wounds during active battle in Italy on November 1, 1943.  He was commander of a half-track squad, and while engaged in action with enemy aircraft, he received wounds that resulted in his death.  In a letter sent home to his parents, Commanding Lt. Co., C.E. Robert E. Coffey spoke highly of Sgt. Sorenson.  “His courage and devotion to duty in the defense of his platoon has been an inspiration to all of us.  You will be proud to know that his weapon was still pointing at the target when I visited the scene a short time later.”

Sgt. Sorenson was buried at the U.S. military cemetery in Carano, Italy.  Five years later his remains were sent back to the United States and reburied at the Fron Lutheran Cemetery. 

This entry was respectfully submitted by Jennifer Peck, 10th Grade, Tiospa Zina Tribal School, Agency Village, SD, March 27, 2002, and by Anna Nietert, 11th Grade, Langford High School, Langford, SD, January 21, 2002.  Information for this profile was provided by Mrs. Ellen Kleven, Roslyn, SD, sister of Sgt. Sorenson.

Sgt. Henry Sorenson was a soldier full of courage and a sense of duty toward his country.  He will be forever memorialized for his service to his country.


During November 1943 Second Platoon of Company A was bombed and strafed by low flying German Fighter Planes. During this attack, Sgt Sorenson and Technician 5th Grade Wilford Weisse were firing at the planes with two 50 caliber machine guns mounted on a half track.  Henry Coopman was in the half track with Sorenson and Weise helping with the machine guns.

The half track had been hit and set on fire. Sorenson and Weisse disregarded this and continued firing until an exploding bomb threw Sorenson and Weise from the half track causing their deaths. Henry Coopman was also killed.

Henry Sorenson was posthumously awarded a Silver Star Medal for his devotion to duty in the face of such grave danger. 

Source Death Casualties Biographies - 109th Combat Engineer Battalion. (1942-1945)

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