Barbara Jensen’s father, a U.S. Army codebreaker during World War II, never really talked about his wartime service. Yet today, she has heard thousands of his comrades’ stories. Jensen is the leader of a state organization that honors the “greatest generation” — and her 97-year- old British war bride mother is its honorary face.
“After my dad died on Oct. 14, 1995, and my mother published her memoirs in April 28, 2012 (on what would have been their 67th wedding anniversary), I felt called to honor his legacy,” Jensen said. “As I learned more about what he did to curtail the war and hearing the stories from [the] World War II generation, I was even more compelled to honor those who sacrificed for our freedom.”
Those efforts culminated in 2015 in the creation of Oregon Spirit of ’45, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The group has collected hundreds of photos of Oregonian service members, marched in parades, taken a statewide tour with Oregon’s National Guard band, and held special events on war anniversaries.
Joy Alicia Beaver-Beebe, Jensen’s mother, served as an ambassador of sorts for the group. She has been featured in “The Washington Post,” “Wall Street Journal,” “BBC” and even in Times Square with her wartime wedding photo. She is the author of “Snapshots of a War Bride’s Life,” a memoir detailing life in London during the war.
Joy lived in Keizer, a small city near Salem, Oregon, from 1945 until her recent passing on Oct. 30, 2022. The couple met at a London dance hall. Joy’s future husband Carl was stationed in the U.K. as part of Bletchley Park, the famous British cryptological establishment.
“On June 5, 1944, my mother was sent to the English Channel to dig potatoes with the Army Land girls,” Jensen said. “She doesn’t remember digging any potatoes … yet she remembers clearly witnessing thousands of troops singing and marching towards the beaches to cross to Normandy.”
For years after the war, Joy ran the “Accent Club,” a social group for war brides near Salem. In an interview with Military Families Magazine just weeks before she herself died, Joy said that almost every member has passed away. But she is proud of being the link between local women like her.
“I want to be remembered as the one who kept us all together,” Joy said. “If we hadn’t had a meeting for a while, I’d make sure they all came to the house and remembered that we were part of the war brides.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 167,000 World War II veterans are still alive as of 2022, with significant numbers dying daily — meaning that people like Joy are becoming rarer with each hour.
“Over 50% of the U.S. male population served in 1941 to ’45,” Jensen said. “I want our future generations to remember and be inspired by the World War II generation who loved this country more than themselves and their families, served without expectation, left behind lasting legacies … and felt compelled to serve — just something they had to do and would have done all over again if asked.”
In that vein, Jensen expects Oregon Spirit of ’45 to “sunset” within the next year or two, as so few from that era are left. But she plans to keep the website active so that people will still be able to share stories and photos of their grandpas, grandmas and other loved ones who served.
Joy, meanwhile, chuckles when asked if she considers herself a celebrity of sorts and what her late husband would think of her Oregon Spirit of ’45 service.
“He’d probably say, ‘She has to do something with her time!’” Joy said.