Chaplain's Hill Project

Telling the stories of almost 250 U.S. Military Chaplains who lost their lives in the service to the nation

Widen, Earl O.

Basic Biographical Details

Branch: U.S. Army
Conflict: World War II
Monument: Protestant
Born: 2/21/1911
Hometown: Sioux Falls
Home State: South Dakota
Last place of Worship: Central Baptist Church-Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Date of Death: 6/28/1944
Resting Place: American Military Cemetery-Cambridge, England
Military Honors:
POW (Y/N) No


Background

The following biography was respectfully submitted to the South Dakota Fallen Heroes Website by Landon Heil, American History Roosevelt High School, Sioux Falls, SD, May 12, 2002. Information for this profile provided by Jane Larson, daughter of Earl, and Jeanette Widen, wife of Earl.

 

Earl O Widen was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 21, 1911, to William and Amanda Widen. He had one brother and four sisters. Earl attended schools in south Minneapolis and graduated from South High School. He was athletic and especially enjoyed tennis; he earned many honors and trophies in this sport. Earl attended both Bethel and Macalester Colleges in St. Paul, and graduated from Macalester with a Bachelors degree.  In 1934, he graduated from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul with a Masters in Divinity degree. Earl and his wife, Jeanette, met at Bethel College where they were both students. They were married in Stromsburg, Nebraska, Jeanette’s childhood home, in 1935. At age 24, Earl became the Pastor of Elim Baptist Church in Isanti, Minnesota, and was there for two years. He then was called to serve as Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in St. Cloud, Minnesota, from 1936-1939. He was considered an excellent preacher of God’s word and a leader among the youth at the church. He also served as a Protestant Chaplain at the U.S. Veterans’ Administration Hospital in St. Cloud. He was much appreciated and well liked by both staff members and residents, over 2400 in all.

In 1939, Earl accepted the call from Central Baptist Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It was most difficult for him to decide to leave the ministry in St. Cloud, but a second call was extended to him from Central Baptist, and he trusted God to lead him. He became a popular Pastor in this growing congregation with good leadership and dedicated Christian people. He also became the Protestant Chaplain at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. In 1941, during his pastorate in Sioux Falls, his and Jeanette’s first child, Joy Jeanette, was born.

On December 7, 1941, the announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack came as a shock to everyone in the United States. Earl sensed the need for spiritual guidance with our military men and began to consider the U.S. Chaplaincy. Earl enlisted for service with the Army in 1942, at the age of 31, and was soon called to basic training and chaplain school at Indianapolis, Indiana. He was later assigned to the U.S. Air Force as a Protestant Chaplain as follows: Spokane, WA – Geiger Field; Blythe, CA; El Paso, TX – Biggs Field; Denver, CO – Lowry Field. Then in June of 1943, he went to England with the 389th Bomber Squadron. He was stationed at Hethel Field in Wymondham (pronounced Wyndham). Earl received his commission as First Lieutenant and was later commissioned as Captain with the U.S. Air Force, 389th Bomber Squadron, 312th Bomber Group. Earl’s second daughter, Jane Helen, was born in December of 1943. Earl never lived to see her, but he was longing for that day.

Earl was very busy going from soldier to soldier comforting and preparing them emotionally for the upcoming battles, the biggest being D-Day. Earl suffered a heart attack and died June 28, 1944. He is buried at Plot C, Row 4, Grave 35, American Military Cemetery in Cambridge, England. Jeanette and Earl’s two daughters, as well as several of his grandchildren, have had the opportunity to visit his grave in the beautiful cemetery in the lovely English countryside.

Earl is survived by his two daughters, Jane Larson and Joy Ivane, and his wife Jeanette, who is now 91 years old. They all live in St. Paul, Minnesota.  A scholarship was set up in Earl’s memory at Bethel College in St Paul. Called the Chaplain Earl Widen Memorial Scholarship, Jeanette Widen gives an annual scholarship of $500 to a second-year pre-seminary college student of good scholastic standing having definite plans for full-time Christian service. Earl will always be remembered as a devoted Christian, an athlete, and a very caring and passionate man. He was well liked and admired by almost every one he encountered, including the boys at the base in England. A physician he knew at Ethel Field had these kind words to say about Earl. “Earl believed what he preached, lived what he believed, wouldn’t condemn a man if he didn’t live up to his standard, rather he would stoop down to try to lift him up.”

 


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