Rest in Peace, Erlyn Jensen

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Erlyn Jensen didn’t know what to expect when she arrived at the annual reunion of the 8th Air Force Historical Society in Kansas City in October of 2004, and she was fearing the worst.

Erlyn’s brother, Donald William McCoy, was killed in action on Sept. 27, 1944. Erlyn’s mother and her only sister had passed away, and now that she was the only member of her generation left, she was curious to learn more about how her brother died.

One day she read in the paper that a B-24 Liberator and a B-29 Superfortress were going to be at the local airport in Bremerton, Washington, and she decided to go and see the kind of airplane — the B-24 — her brother flew.

While she was there, she got into a conversation with a fellow who was active in the 8th Air Force Historical Society. When she told him about her brother — who she always called by his middle name, Bill, whereas in the 445th Bomb Group he was known as Major Don McCoy — the man encouraged her to get involved with the historical society. He told her that a whole issue of the society’s journal was devoted to the mission on which her brother died.

What he didn’t tell her was that some survivors of the battle in which her brother was killed blamed him for the biggest one day loss for a single bomb group in 8th Air Force history.

She found that out when she read the issue devoted to the Kassel Mission, on which 35 B-24s were ambushed by as many as 150 German fighter planes, and 25 of the bombers were shot down. Major Don McCoy was the command pilot who made the decision to proceed to a secondary target after what is believed to have been a navigational error due to a faulty piece of equipment, sent his plane off course.

So you can imagine Erlyn’s trepidation when, unannounced, she quietly entered the 445th Bomb Group hospitality room at the 8th Air Force reunion in 2004.

The hospitality room was buzzing with activity. Off in a corner, Bill Dewey, one of the founders of the Kassel Mission Memorial Association, was sitting in the hospitality room with his daughter, Linda.

Erlyn Jensen, left, and Linda Dewey at the Thunder Over Michigan Air Show in 2010. Photo by Carol Holliday.

Erlyn Jensen, left, and Linda Dewey at the Thunder Over Michigan Air Show in 2010. Photo by Carol Holliday.

“I was sitting with my dad at the far end of the hospitality room when I saw a woman at the other end and she was standing in the door frame looking at everything,” Linda Dewey recalls. “I got up and walked across the room and asked, ‘Can I help you?’ And she replied, ‘I was told that someone here might be able to tell me what happened to my brother.’ And so I asked her, ‘Who is your brother?’ And that’s when she told me. And I said, ‘I think we’ll be able to help you.”

When Linda told her father, who was one of the pilots on the Kassel Mission, who Erlyn was, Bill Dewey stood up straight and announced: “Everybody stand up. This is Major McCoy’s sister.”

That opened the floodgates and Erlyn Jensen became a major part of the Kassel Mission Historical Society, which the KMMA morphed into after many of the actual survivors of the mission had passed away.

“Having Erlyn become part of this group made everyone re-examine their theories and look at the blame they had fixed on that lead plane. years later,” Linda Dewey says. “We have learned that the plane Major McCoy flew that day was brand-new, and a diary by his engineer tells us that the navigator reported he was having trouble with the ‘Mickey,’ the instrument. It was, however, Major McCoy who made the final decision not to  defer to the deputy lead ship, which was protocol when the lead could no longer lead the group.

Erlyn at her brother's grave. Sophie Haelbig, Eb's daughter, accompanies her in this photo. 

Erlyn at her brother's grave. Sophie Haelbig, Eb's daughter, accompanies her in this photo. 

“I remember in 2006, when Erlyn was with us at the rededication ceremony of the monument in Germany, She was sitting with my dad in the bus on the crash site tour, while he explained to her that after they dropped the bombs and were making that turn, where the formation got messy, that you couldn’t turn a group ‘on a dime.’ One of her concerns had been, why did everyone get so out of formation on that turn? I’m sure she wondered if that was her brother’s fault. She was that kind of woman.

“The story of the Kassel Mission would never be the same after we met Erlyn. Knowing her caused us to re-examine everything.”

Erlyn Jensen passed away peacefully at her home on Saturday, March 23. She was 85 years old.

Rest in Peace, Erlyn Jensen. (2019, March 30). Retrieved from https://www.aaronelson.com/2019/03/30/rest-in-peace-erlyn-jensen/

Original article by:

Aaron Elson