Crown Prince Haakon honors war sailor

Krigsseiler Karl Aksel Andresen presented with medal in NYC

Photo: Lori Ann Reinhall
On Dec. 6, Karl Aksel Andresen (left) was awarded the Norwegian Defense Medal 1940 – 1945 for his service as a war sailor during World War II. Crown Prince Haakon (right) was present for the ceremony.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

It was truly moving to attend the award ceremony for Karl Aksel Andresen on Dec. 6, at the Royal Norwegian Consulate Genearl in New York. This event pivoted around Andresen receiving the Deltagermedaljen (Norwegian Defense Medal 1940 – 1945). Accompanying the man of honor was his life partner, Sylvia Kristiansen. 

This medal is “rewarded to those military and civilian personnel who participated in the fight against the German invasion and occupation of Norway between 1940 and 1945.” The medal reads, Deltager I Kampen – “Participant in the Struggle.” Beautifully designed in bronze, this medal includes the Norwegian coat of arms, encircled with the dates of Norway’s occupation and liberation.  

It is not a prerequisite to be Norwegian to receive this honor.  In fact, on Jan. 13, 2020, American Eugene Polinsky was bestowed this medal for his work with the Carpetbaggers, who were part of an “operation to provide aerial supply of weapons and other material to resistance fighters.”

Andresen is being recognized for his service as a krigsseiler, a Norwegain War Sailor. He sailed for all five years of the war, serving as a cook. Some photos from Andresen’s war time efforts, including a photo of one of the ships he had sailed on, the M/S Skjelbred, included in the program. 

In a private interview, Andresen shared some of his experiences:

“In 1938, I was sailing on the Sjelbred. I was on this boat when the Germans took Norway. They wanted to keep me on as a steward, which was a good job, but I wanted time off. The boat was sunk in the Pacific in 1943. Luckily, I was not on it.  

“I had nine lives. Another time we were the buffer between a convoy and ammunition ships. Two of those ammunition ships were torpedoed and went down.  

“Later, I was on a boat carrying fuel oil for airplanes, on the Norsol. We laid in the Azores [in the mid-Atlantic] with jet fuel and then headed to Casablanca and Algers [in Africa], waiting to get into Normandy. The invasion had begun, and all the German soldiers were kicked out of Africa. They were standing on the dock waiting to be taken to prison, 

“When the war ended, I was in Bari, Italy. Just before we got in there, they had blown up the town. To celebrate [the end of the war], we went to the officer’s club. It felt like thousands of planes were flying overhead.”

It was especially poignant that Crown Prince Haakon of Norway was part of the ceremony, not only because he is part of the royal family but also because he has served in the Royal Norwegian Navy and holds the rank of admiral. When he arrived, Andresen asked him in his unassuming manner, “Er du prinsen?” (Are you the prince)?  He went on to tell the Crown Prince how much he appreciated his father.  

The ceremony began with a lovely rendition of Ole Bull’s “Sæterjentens søndag” by Norwegian cellist Sandra Lied Haga, who is currently studying at Yale University. Heidi Olufsen, recently appointed Norwegian Consul General of New York, followed. Olufsen spoke about the importance of the kriegsseiler, the Norwegian merchant marine, during World War II, with no combat training and in constant danger of being torpedoed by German submarines. 

Gen. Maj. Odd-Harald Hagen presented the medal to Andresen and there were quiet words exchanged between the two men. Andresen and other krigsseiler from all over the world have been feted by the Norwegian government for the last several years. Andresen has even traveled as a guest of the government to Norway several times, most recently this past autumn.

Andresen also served as the president of the Krigsseiler Club in Brooklyn, N.Y., for over a decade. These clubs were formed wherever the sailors had settled, after they had finally won their appeal to the government to receive back wages that had been held in a fund for sailors.. The club’s primary purpose was to navigate the newly created bureaucracy that was formed to provide these men with their long overdue benefits. As Brooklyn was a draw for many of these sailors, due to its maritime opportunities and existing Norwegian community many remained here, including Andresen. Brooklyn had one of the largest clubs in the world.  

Because of their shared war experience, strong bonds connected these men, and the club provided a safe space to meet, advocate, and party. They are renowned for the latter, but their persistence in advocating for their fellow sailors deserves kudos. Andresen is the last surviving member of the club. 

The formal part of the ceremony ended with J.S. Bach’s “Sarabande from Suite No. 2,” played by Haga. A delicious luncheon with smørbrød, cake, and coffee followed. All in attendance had the opportunity to chat in cozy clusters, as COVID-19 is still with us.  

The event concluded with Haga playing Edvard Grieg’s “Våren.”  Shortly thereafter, the guests begin to filter out but not before congratulating the man of honor. Andresen was all charm and smiles. 

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 17, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.