Jens A. Norgaard

Jens A. Norgaard had the distinction of being the pilot of the “Mary Jo,” the leading bomber of the group sent to soften up German defenses on the Normandy coast prior to the D-Day landing. All in all, June 1944 turned out to be a big month for Jens. Although he was unaware of it at the time, two days prior to leading the Ninth Air Force’s Silver Streak Marauders over Normandy, his wife Mary Jo had given birth to the couple’s first child, Anders Jensen Norgaard, and the day after his flight he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In July 1945 he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for “exceptional service of war rendered in the course of operations for the liberation of France.” He also received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with 10 Oak Leaf clusters. Born in 1916 on St. Croix, in what is now the Virgin Islands, Norgaard had lettered in football in high school and at the University of Iowa, where he was an end on the famed 1939 “Ironman” football team before receiving a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He joined the Air Force in 1941 following his graduation.
After his discharge from military service, Norgaard joined the American Oil Company, later part of Standard Oil and Amoco, as a design engineer. An innovative manager, he developed many new systems within the company, and patented some of his innovations. He earned an advanced degree from Harvard University before his retirement in 1981. Jens Norgaard died in 1989. Accounts of his Air Force exploits and subsequent career are on file in the FHGC.

Lt. Col. Jens A. Norgaard

This letter was written by my mother-in-law, Mary Jo Norgaard in July 2006 after reading some of them. Thank you again for all your time.

Dear Mabelle,

My son James Norgaard found your letter on this website. It was great to relive memories so many years later. He felt you might like to hear a little more of the story.

I am the Mary Jo, Lt. Col. Jens A. Norgaard named his plane after. His parents were both Danish, not Norwegian. He was born in Danish owned St. Croix. I am 91 years old and still have a mind and memories of your Jim (that’s what we called him).

Jens and I were married in March 1943, he died in September 1989. We lived in Lakeland, Florida where Jens was Commander of the 495th Squadron of the 344th bomb group of the 9th Air Force.

His group had been picked to train new B26 Crews after we lost so many of our B26 Crews to Hitler’s Rommel, “The Fox” in the African Desert in 1943.

When their group left for Europe in January 1944, Jens hand picked his crew. James Parish was the group’s best bombardier and Lou Offenberg was the most outstanding Navigator (We still keep in touch with him). The family met with him in Florida after Jens died and he told us all about D-Day` which we taped. Lou had special Celestial training.

Col. Witty said the D-Day Mission was miraculous. It was!

I dedicated Jens’ plane to the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph when he named it after me. A month before D-Day when they were practicing the D-Day formation, Lou Offenberg noticed a lake that wasn’t on his map. He asked Jens why. Jens told him it was in front of the palace and not marked to protect the palace from German aircrafts. Lou marked his map.

On D-Day the weather was so bad Col. Witty wanted to abort the mission. Jens insisted they could do it with his great crew.

When they had the formation together about 15 minutes before they were to drop their bombs, Jens asked Lou where they were. Lou answered, “I don’t have a ghost of an idea.” Just at that moment the clouds opened over the lake in front of the palace. They knew where they were and dropped their bombs on all their targets within 20 seconds of the target time.

They opened Utah Beach so our men were able to land safely, while the British 8th Air Force missed their target on Omaha Beach and dropped their bombs 3 miles inland, causing the deaths of so many of our men. I learned this in 2002 when I went to the Dedication of the Museum at the Arnhiem Bridge in Holland with my son Lt. Col. Anders J. Norgaard and his wife Geraldine. Jens and his crew with Jim and Lou had destroyed the important bridge after many other crews had failed.

On a mission sometime after D-day, Jens was flying one of his group’s planes, “Schiffoni’s” because the Mary Jo was being repaired. While your Jim was leaning over the bomb site a piece of shrapnel came through it and struck him in the forehead. Jens dropped his bombs and immediately turned the plane around to return to their base, as Jim was thought to be dead, but when Jim moved suddenly, Jens changed course to the nearest base to get help. But, Jim died there. Jim was the only one of Jens’ crew that he lost. No one ever died on the Mary Jo.

When we defeated Japan, Jens was released from the service in California in August of 1945. Where he had been sent to join the war against Japan, after returning from Europe. He and I went to visit Jim’s parents, after his discharge, to give them the details of his death and his life with the group, and to comfort them.

I forgot to tell you, our son Anders was born on June 4 1944, two days before D-Day. Jens didn’t know of his birth for 2 weeks, all communication was stopped as you know.

I have kept in touch with Lambert Austin who has been writing a newsletter every few months for years. I had also kept in touch with Carl Christ and his wife Edna, who were part of the 344th. Carl has gathered a great deal of information for the museum and the B26 groups. Carl died in 2005.

The success of the D-day mission would never have been so great, had it not been for James Parish’s expertise as a bombardier.

Mary Jo Norgaard

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