Local Obituaries

Glenn Sorensen survived Pearl Harbor, flew bombing missions in South Pacific

Pearl Harbor veteran Glenn Sorensen reminisces about his experience during World War II at his home in Sacramento late last year.
Pearl Harbor veteran Glenn Sorensen reminisces about his experience during World War II at his home in Sacramento late last year. rbenton@sacbee.com

Glenn Sorensen was a 27-year-old pilot stationed with the U.S. Army Air Corps on Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

He survived the attack and went on to fly 84 bombing missions in the South Pacific as a member of the 42nd Bombardment Squadron. He died Monday of natural causes at his home in Sacramento County’s Wilhaggin area at age 101.

Mr. Sorensen recounted some of his wartime experiences in a Sacramento Bee story commemorating Pearl Harbor Day in 2014. Mr. Sorensen told a Bee reporter that he was wiping down his black 1937 Buick when the attack on Pearl Harbor began.

He climbed into his car and sped to the flight line and awaiting aircraft, only to find the planes and hangars destroyed.

Three rounds struck his Buick sedan, but missed him.

Mr. Sorensen’s son, Glenn Sorensen Jr., described his father as a modest man who didn’t push the limits, a character trait that served him well as a pilot. He liked to say that he made the same number of landings at airports as takeoffs.

There was one exception, his son said, when his plane was damaged by Japanese fire during a raid, forcing him to land on the beach of a South Pacific island. Mr. Sorensen’s mother was notified that her son was missing in action. She learned a few days later that he and his crew had repaired the plane and made it back to their base.

Mr. Sorensen flew sorties during 1942’s Battle of Midway, for which he was awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest military honor for valor. He also endured the jungles of Guadalcanal, where his squadron saw battle.

He returned stateside after contracting dengue fever. He eventually was sent to Ardmore, Okla., where he served as flight director for the base, training B-17 crews for the European theater.

Glenn Sorensen Jr. said his father, who left the military in 1945 with the rank of lieutenant colonel, never talked much about his war experiences. He joined a Pearl Harbor survivors organization and paid for a lifetime membership, but he attended only one meeting.

“He always looked forward, rather than backward,” his son said.

I remember him saying, ‘When you are commissioned as a second lieutenant, you are a gentleman by an act of Congress.’ People who knew him would say that fit.

Glenn Sorensen Jr., recalling his father

Mr. Sorensen was born Aug. 1, 1914. His parents, Ray and Lucy Sorensen, grew grapes on a 40-acre ranch outside Fowler in Fresno County. He and two younger sisters grew up working on the farm, but “he thought life on the farm was unbelievably dull,” his son said. “Sunday was the only day he got to go into town, to go to church.”

Mr. Sorensen attended Fresno State College for two years, majoring in psychology. But it was the Depression, and he decided he should pursue a field with better job prospects. He had a girlfriend at UCLA, his son said, so he enrolled at Woodbury Business School in Los Angeles and earned a degree in business administration. He went to work after graduating, but by early 1941 it appeared that the United States would soon enter the war. Mr. Sorensen decided to enlist in the military, rather than wait to be drafted.

Glenn Sorensen Jr. said his father had mechanical skills learned on the farm and flying appealed to him.

During a visit home in 1943, the War Department assigned Mr. Sorensen to speak to community groups. After speaking at a Baptist church in Fowler, he was introduced to Vernice DeVoe Hines, who was home from Stanford University.

“About 14 to 16 dates later,” his son said. “they were married.” The couple celebrated 68 years together before Vernice Sorensen died in 2011.

After the war, Mr. Sorensen went to work for West Sacramento-based California Liquid Gas Corp. The company’s owner and founder, Morris Rowles, was a mentor to Mr. Sorensen, who became the firm’s vice president. He helped establish and oversaw 500 retail dealers in 11 Western states, often piloting his Beechcraft TravelAir to visit the various locations.

When Rowles died unexpectedly, his widow asked Mr. Sorensen to lead the company, but he declined. He preferred getting out in the field and working with dealers, his son said.

Mr. Sorensen was a member of the Downtown Sacramento Rotary Club and the Del Paso Country Club.

In the early 1960s, during the height of the Cold War, he was one of several Sacramento-area businessmen who traveled to the Soviet Union to meet with business leaders there.

The family lived for many years in South Land Park, but after Mr. Sorensen retired at age 65, he and his wife, an interior designer, built a home on an acre in the Wilhaggin area. They had about 20 fruit trees, and Mr. Sorensen cultivated a large garden.

“When he was no longer required to farm, he seemed to enjoy doing that,” his son said.

Glenn Sorensen Jr. described his father as “someone who was dignified, but also very humble and understated, a gentleman. I remember him saying, ‘When you are commissioned as a second lieutenant, you are a gentleman by an act of Congress.’ People who knew him would say that fit.”

His son, Mr. Sorensen’s only surviving family member, said a celebration of his father’s life will be held at 4 p.m. Oct. 28 at Del Paso Country Club, 3333 Marconi Ave. In lieu of flowers, donations in Mr. Sorensen’s memory may be made to the Sacramento Downtown Rotary Club.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy