Norway’s shame

Photo: Olaf T. Engvig The bow of the guard vessel POL III, which was among the first casualties of the Nazi invasion of WWII, should be erected as a monument, not allowed to rust in a field.

Photo: Olaf T. Engvig
The bow of the guard vessel POL III, which was among the first casualties of the Nazi invasion of WWII, should be erected as a monument, not allowed to rust in a field.

Tormod B. Engvig
Burbank, Calif.

Mona B. Engvig
Harbor City, Calif.

The bow of the guard vessel POL III was saved from scrapping several years ago, and ownership was transferred to the municipality of Rissa. Since then it has been left lying in the bushes at the Hysnes Coastal Fortress that protected the entrance to the mighty Trondheimsfjord instead of being raised as a World War II memorial.

The Norwegian governing bodies’ neglect of the bow of the guard vessel POL III is shameful. The bow of this historically significant ship was given to the public with the clear understanding that it was to be integral in a granite monument dedicated to Norway’s heroic, if flawed (thanks to the government), resistance to the Nazi invasion on April 9, 1940. Nations that do not take care and heed the sacrifices and mistakes of the past are at grave risk of repeating them. We live in an uncertain time with a self-aggrandizing Russia on our borders and a Europe in the midst of a terror and refugee crisis. It is important to anchor our identity as Norwegians in the seminal events that transpired in our nation’s past, which make us what we are today, while also appreciating the value that the armed forces have for our nation.

These national events, good or bad, heroic or not, give us an identity, and also serve as a warning in this era of naïveté and disarmament, an era frighteningly similar to that which demilitarized Norway in the 1930s and left us open to Nazi aggression. The government’s pacifist policy forced the nation to rely on outdated equipment such as little POL III with her single, ancient gun, when war finally did come in 1940. Her captain Leif Welding-Olsen’s heroic sacrifice, and the sacrifice of untold Norwegians over the next five years of bitter world war must be enshrined and remembered, so it will not be repeated. April 9 was a day when little Norway stood up, despite its weaknesses, to overwhelming military power and declared that she would resist, that she would not go the way of Czechoslovakia or Denmark. That she would, if worse came to worst, go down with her honor, courage, self-respect, and identity intact. POL III made this resistance possible by managing to sound the alarm before being overwhelmed by the German naval forces in a one-sided engagement at the mouth of the Oslofjord. But Captain Welding-Olsen’s brave actions enabled the king, his government, and the Storting to escape Oslo and form some semblance of resistance, late though it was.

Millions of kroner have been used to enshrine the victims of the Utøya killer. While this is certainly proper, it is also important to recall that over 12,000 Norwegians died in World War II between 1940 and 1945. Thus the raising of the POL III monument to honor thousands who gave their lives in the war is at least as important. To neglect this piece of Norwegian history, lying and rusting away in the bushes near Hysnes in Hasselvika, is disgraceful to the memory of Norway’s “greatest generation.” It is as if the Americans decided to remove a piece of the battleship USS Arizona, which today lies enshrined as a war memorial at Pearl Harbor where she sank, and carelessly toss it on shore to leave it rusting away. It is high time that we raise objection to the neglect of this issue, so vital to our history and to our identity as Norwegians. Our war dead must never be forgotten; they must be honored in the same way as the victims of more recent attacks are being honored. To not do so brings shame on their memory and on the entire nation and people of Norway.

This article originally appeared in the June 17, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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