War sailor Karl Aksel Andresen honored as a hero

A big 100th birthday bash in Norway

Photo: Inger Grete Lia Stålesen
Norwegian war hero Karl Aksel Andresen was presented with an honorary bronze medal as a Norwegian Veteran of International Operations.

Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American

There are numerous movies about Norwegian resistance and heroism during World War II. Now, there’s a blockbuster and Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, Krigsseileren (War Sailor). The storyline on imdb.com reads: “When World War II breaks out, Alfred and his childhood friend are at work on a merchant ship in the middle of the Atlantic. Suddenly they find themselves on the front lines, fighting in civilian clothes, without weapons, as their ship is targeted by German submarines. We also follow Alfred’s wife and children’s wartime everyday lives back in Bergen …”

The heroism has become a footnote to history, but 1,100 Norwegian ships transported supplies between the United States and sites of the war. In all, 30,000 sailors and naval gunners staffed the ships. One sailor was Karl Aksel Andresen, who turned 100 on Oct. 10. His hometown of Kristiansand wanted to recognize the surviving war sailor. He had lived in the United States for a long time. 

Enter Victor Samuelsen, a Farsund, Norway, native, who’s lived in the United States for 50 years.

Photo: Odd Ridse Bentsen
Karl Aksel Andresen was surrounded by family, friends, and fans at the celebration of his 100th birthday. Norwegian flags were in abundance.

“I was asked if I could assist in any way to get him to Norway, because that was his wish, to travel to Norway to celebrate his 100th birthday,” said Samuelsen by phone from Greenwich, Conn. “I said, yes, I could. I reached out to the airline and got free round-trip tickets for him and his girlfriend, Sylvia. I also reached out to several friends and asked for little donations. We raised about $2,300 in cash for him, which helped him pay for some of the expenses. I believe that in Oslo, SAS took him to Kristiansand for free.” 

It wasn’t the first time Samuelsen had provided this act of kindness. Around 30 years ago, he assisted legendary cross-county skier and ski jumper Ole Hegge (1898 – 1994) to return to Norway. 

“I feel very good about doing this,” said Samuelsen, who is a retired executive, formerly owning a helicopter sightseeing business and a marine supply company. “When they get up into the ages of 90 and 100 years old, they can just end up being forgotten.”

Andresen was welcomed at the Kristiansand airport by water cannons, a military guard of honor from the Air Force School Center in Kjevik and Fullrigger Sørlandets Shantykor (shanty choir), officials, and family. 

“You are absolutely fantastic,” said Andresen. He joked with people, who greeted him at the airport. “I’m so happy to come back home again. Thank you very much for coming, it’s just too bad it would start to rain.”

Andresen was a crew member on several ships, which sometimes came under enemy fire.

Photo: Inger Grete Lia Stålesen
Upon arrival at Kristiansand’s airport, Karl Aksel Andresen (right) was met by local dignitaries.

In 1980, Andresen received a war medal. The first ship he served on (as a chef), Hestmann, is now a museum in Kristiansand.

After World War II, Andresen settled in New York.

There was also some envy among the audience.

“It is with humility, respect and recognition that I meet Andresen today,” said Ove Andreas Austrud, leader of Norway’s Veterans Association for International Operations, to N247. “Even though I myself have been out in the service and have a certain understanding of what the war sailors have experienced, I feel humble and maybe I also get a little star-struck. There was not a battle or battle site that did not have supplies transported without the help of Norwegian sailors. Without their efforts, I don’t know where we would have been today.” 

Inger Greta Lia Stålesen, Andresen’s niece, and other relatives were responsible for having Andresen’s milestone birthday at home. County Mayor Arne Thomassen and Kristiansand Mayor Jan Oddvar Skisland both felt that honoring the war sailors was a long time coming.

“These were the heroes who have been forgotten and it is also part of the reason for me and Skisland being here today,” said Thomassen. “I want to apologize on behalf of society that it has been so many years before the war sailors were appreciated.”

“It was great to be able to appreciate the effort the war sailors put in,” said Skisland. “Not only the efforts of Andresen but also all the other war sailors. It is now important to show gratitude for those like you again.”

It is with great sadness that we report that Andresen’s companion, Sylvia Kristiansen, died of sudden illness while in Norway. Andresen is staying with his relatives there over the holidays.

This article originally appeared in the November 4, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of NorCham Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.