Honoring WW II veteran Arthur Hansen
Looking back on the life of a Norwegian American of the Greatest Generation
JENS INGE EGELAND
Today, May 8, 2020, is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Norway, a day to remember all those who served their countries in the name of freedom.
In 2015, I started a private initiative to locate and establish contact with Norwegian American World War II veterans. I have also had the distinct honor and privilege to nominate these great veterans for Norwegian commemorative medals for their service and sacrifice to restore freedom to our lands.
I was astonished to find that there were so many forgotten heroes out there, all with amazing stories just waiting to be told.
One of the great Norwegian-American veterans I have had the privilege of locating and establishing contact with is 91-year-old Arthur Hansen who now is retired and enjoying life and his family in New Jersey, where he lives with his son Keith and his family.
Arthur Hansen was born in New Jersey on May 8, 1928. In the early 1930s, he and his family moved back to Kristiansand, Norway, where they lived during the occupation of Norway. Arthur was almost 12 years old when the Germans invaded Norway on April 9, 1940.
To this day, Hansen remembers vividly when he and his older brother Morgan were awakened by artillery shells crashing into the town, one of which hit a neighbor’s house. He recalled the lower floor was completely destroyed and the house erupted in flames.
There was also a German twin-engine bomber that flew over the scene and started shooting at the fire crew, resulting in some injuries. Shells also landed at the local school and the steeple of the Kristiansand Cathedral.
Later it was found that the German cruiser Karlsruhe was in a gun battle with the Norwegian Land Battery at the Fortress at Odderøya. Arthur and his family had to be evacuated and ended up living on their family boat until it was safe to return to their house in town.
The German occupants would eventually build barracks directly across the street from the house where Arthur lived; this was the beginning of five long years of occupation. Because Arthur was an American citizen, the family had to hide his birth certificate from the Germans, so that he would not be arrested.
On May 8, 1941, his older brother Morgan made a daring escape to neutral Sweden with a friend. They had both been trained under the local resistance leader Maj. Arne Laudal, who had been fighting the Germans during the Norway Campaign and was now the leader of the resistance group in southern Norway. Maj. Laudal and his group were betrayed to the German secret police, and he and his 16-year-old son were arrested and subsequently interrogated and tortured by the Germans. Despite being severely tortured, they did not reveal anything. Maj. Laudal was later sent to Grini prison camp in Oslo and sentenced to death and was executed by the Germans in the Trandum Forest.
After Morgan safely arrived in Sweden, he would take many trips between Sweden and Norway to guide other refugees to safety. For doing this, he learned from Swedish authorities that he would be arrested and deported from Sweden. The British sent a plane to fly him out of Stockholm. Eventually, in the safety of England, he signed up to be a sailor in the Norwegian merchant fleet and took part in the important Allied convoys to supply the Allied War effort.
Late in the war, food was scarce, especially for a family of six. Arthur was always hungry due to the lack of food in their house. He read an advertisement that promised daily food rations and asked his parents if he could take a job on the motorized Dutch Barge MW-82 that was docked in Kristiansand harbor.
His parents agreed, believing that this would hide his true citizenship in plain sight. Unbeknown to him, he discovered that the barge had left the docks during the night. He was told that they were going to sail up to Bergen for a load of mines.
Later that evening, the barge docked at the harbor in the town of Farsund. Arthur went up on deck, where he heard a familiar sound of hymns, so he went ashore and found his way to a church building, where an evening service was being held.
After the service, Arthur was approached by some men, who asked him where he was from and what he was doing. They turned out to be part of the local resistance, and Arthur shared with them they were on their way to Bergen to pick up a load of sea mines to bring north. They told Arthur “do not sail on the barge, we’ll take care of you, speak to no one.”
The men arranged for him to be picked up by a bus the next morning and brought to the mountains, where locals, also part of the resistance, took care of him until April 1945. The barge departed without him. It was later revealed that the barge was bombed and sank by the British Airforce Coastal Command, and none of the crewmembers had survived.
During the occupation years, Arthur lost two uncles. One of them, Hylje Emmanuel Lorentzen, made the ultimate sacrifice when he served as a war sailor in the allied convoys. He was serving aboard an allied ship and died when a German submarine torpedoed it. He was posthumously awarded an American medal for his bravery.
In 1941, the Germans confiscated radios, which were illegal for Norwegians to own. Arthur’s mother Lovise surrendered the family’s radio but secretly kept her son Morgan’s receiver. It was later found out that she would illegally listen to the BBC and report the news to the local doctor named Benestad.
The parents kept the presence of the radio secret from Arthur and his siblings until liberation day, May 8, 1945. That same day she opened the windows to the house and defiantly pointed the radio toward the German barracks across the street and turned the volume as loud as possible to broadcast King Haakon’s address to a free Norway.
After the liberation of Norway, Arthur answered an advertisement for the Royal Norwegian Navy in the local paper Fædrelandsvennen. He signed up for the Royal Norwegian Navy and was stationed aboard the former German tug Arngast. During the war, it was built to tow the German battleships Bismarck and Tirpitz. He was told that they were going to be sent to Scotland to receive Commando training and join the fight against the Japanese, who by that time still had not surrendered—but this never came to fruition.
After his service in the Royal Norwegian Navy at age 17, he sailed on the Norwegian ship Rapid II to Gdynia, Poland. While in Poland, he met a Norwegian captain of an American tanker who offered to sign him on as a crewmember because he had an American birth certificate. The captain gave him money to travel to the U.S embassy in Warsaw to arrange clearance to sail in five days.
Upon arriving at the U.S. embassy, he was held due to his American birth certificate and Norwegian passport. He was declared to be in the country illegally, and the American ship left, stranding him in Poland.
While in Warsaw, he took a tram ride and was almost shot by a Russian agent who mistook him for a German POW. Luckily, he was saved by a Polish man on the same tram. who was a member of the Polish attaché of the U.S. embassy. After that day, Arthur ended up wearing an American uniform as an employee of the U.S. Naval Attaché. He was given a pistol and training. He was tasked with guarding German POWs, together with Polish soldiers.
In July 1946, he signed onto the U.S. Merchant Marine and sailed on several voyages to many ports. In 1946, his ship U.S.S. Crow Wing, a T2-SE-A1 tanker, was docked in Chelsea, Mass. This is where he would finally be reunited with his older brother Morgan. The two had been apart five long years because of the war—what a reunion that must have been!
In February 1947, Arthur received his Coast Guard discharge from the U.S. Merchant Marine. Within a day, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Because of his fluent German, he was sent to the U.S. Army Intelligence School in Oberammergau and served with the 323rd and 7854 Military Intelligence detachment as an interrogator and interpreter in Germany, first in Bremen and later in Berlin. He also sat in on the trial of the notorious S.S. officer Otto Skorzeny at Dachau.
In 1950, after his service in Germany, Arthur was assigned to the 519th military intelligence platoon, Fort Riley in Kansas. In 1951, Arthur was sent to Korea, assigned to the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, where he was an aerial observer, flying long-range reconnaissance flights into North Korean territory in an unarmed airplane. His rank was staff sergeant.
Arthur Hansen and his family are one of many great Norwegian Americans who served in different branches of the armed forces to restore freedom to our lands, and it is because of these men and women of the Greatest Generation that we now on May 8, 2020, can celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Norway and freedom from tyranny.
We Norwegians also thank our American Allies and the American people for their friendship and hospitality to Norwegians during World War II. You gave us a safe port in our fight for freedom and peace.
This article originally appeared in the May 8, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.