Honoring Kaare Nevdal
Commemorating a Norwegian-American war hero
Americans hold those who serve their country in the armed forces so dear that we have two national holidays to honor and remember them.
The first, Memorial Day, began as Decoration Day. It emerged in the wake of the Civil War and is believed to have originated in Charleston, S.C., when Black residents chose to create a resting place fitting for the remains of 257 Union soldiers who had been hastily buried in unmarked graves. Their first memorial ceremony was held in May. Yet it was not until nearly a century later, in 1967, that Memorial Day was named and noted as an official holiday.
The second, Armistice Day, as it was originally known, became a national holiday in 1938. Like Memorial Day, it was created in response to the end of the horrific and bloody conflict of World War I. In 1954, both the name and focus of the holiday changed. It became known as Veterans Day, and its purpose changed from celebrating peace to honoring all U.S. veterans. However, the date of Nov. 11—the date the armistice was signed—stuck.
This year, 2020, is an especially important year, as it also marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Unfortunately, the pandemic has put a damper on many of the commemorations and ceremonies that had been planned. Still, it is only fitting to honor one of our Norwegian-American war heroes, Kaare Nevdal.
Nevdal was born in Norway, near Bergen, shortly after the end of World War I. His life was disrupted when Norway was thrust into the Second World War, with the Nazi occupation. He was only 19 but was already looking for a way to fight the occupiers because, as he recounted in an interview, “I couldn’t stand to not be free.” In 1941, he escaped on a fishing boat to England—his second attempt—where he joined the Royal Navy Air Force of the Norwegian government in exile.
The young Norwegian was sent to Toronto in Canada to train at “Little Norway.” As Norway was occupied, the legitimate government had to train their military personnel on Allied soil outside of war-torn Europe. Nevdal trained there as an air gunner and radio operator and eventually became a quartermaster. But not all was war in Toronto. There was also romance, for it was here he met his wife-to-be, Muriel Jones.
After his training was complete, he was stationed in Iceland, flying North Sea missions and later serving in Scotland. In May 1944, when he and his crew were trying to contain a German sub from the air, the airmen dropped depth charges from 50 feet onto the sub, while the Germans retaliated with gunfire. Although the mission succeeded in sinking the sub and all 50 of its crewmembers, it was bittersweet: the Norwegian nose gunner lost his life in the battle.
On a more humorous note, while in Scotland, where many products were war-rationed, Nevdal had access to goods in Sweden that were hard to obtain elsewhere. He got a request from a female relative—not for perfume or silk stockings. Not even for brandy. Rather, it was for a girdle. “I had to smuggle it out by wearing it under my uniform,” Nevdal recalled in “Witness to War,” in the 2007 issue of Illinois’ Northwest Quarterly. “It was very uncomfortable. I gained lots of sympathy for ladies who wore them.”
After the war ended, he and his wife lived in Norway but only stayed for a few years. They decided to immigrate to the United States. In 1948, they settled in Rockford, Ill., where he lives to this day. Nevdal’s story has been documented as an oral history in the Midway Village Museum in Rockford.
On Oct. 9, 2020, Nevdal turned 100. So what does a Norwegian-American war hero do for his 100th birthday? He plays a round of his favorite game, golf, with one of his favorite people, his son. Appropriately, Nevdal learned the game of golf during the war, at the famous course where the game originated: St. Andrews in Scotland.
The city of Rockford honored him with a socially distanced tribute, a drive-by parade. Local groups from fellow veterans to Kiwanis to fire and police departments participated. Nevdal’s joy was captured in an interview by a local television station. “I think it is overwhelming,” he said. “It is hard to stay humble. This is fantastic. But am not surprised because I live in such a wonderful country.”
As we have just celebrated another Veterans Day, remember that one of the main reasons we live in such a country of freedom and opportunities is because of brave and selfless people like Kaare Nevdal.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 13, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.