Linking us together

Paperclip takes on new meaning for networking and building relationships among veterans

By Larrie Wanberg

Norwegian American Weekly

A collegiate Veterans Project, called the “Golden Paperclip,” has its symbolic roots in Norway with the 500+ students with military service who are attending the University of North Dakota (UND), while preparing for new civilian careers.

The “roots” of the initiative to promote jobs for veterans originated in Norway over 100 years ago and became a symbolic way for Norwegians to express their patriotism in non-verbal ways during a challenging time.

The “paperclip” story of patriotism dates back to 1899, when the first patent registered in Norway was the paperclip, which quickly became a universal business “connector” to hold important papers together. During the oppressive occupation of Norway by the Nazis during World War II, the Norwegians organized themselves to wear a paperclip on their lapel or clothing as a silent statement of their patriotism to their country.

Today’s student proposal is to hand out two-inch golden paperclips to student veterans or service members and spouses who are seeking employment, and ask employers in support of hiring veterans to wear a three-inch golden paperclip on their business attire, cap brim or lapel, so the two can recognize each other in the coffee shops, on the street, or in community meetings. Entrepreneurial veterans can wear the larger paperclip to let colleagues know that they are planning a veteran-owned business. The symbol of the paperclip can likewise be displayed in a store window, in advertising, on a business card, or on a web page.

In Grand Forks, N.D. the project intends to test a grassroots, face-to-face way to connect veterans to job opportunities in the community through welcoming ways that invite acknowledgement and dialogue, which could lead to jobs. Many returnees are National Guard and Reservists who have been deployed from area hometowns. Veterans have a significantly higher unemployment rate nationally than the general population – vets since 2001 have an unemployment rate at 12.1 percent compared to 8.1 percent for non-veterans. Veterans from Gulf Wars have service-connected disabilities at 26 percent, compared to 14 percent to all veterans.

“Veterans are 45 percent more likely to begin an entrepreneurial business than those without military experience,” reported an SBA study from 2011. Such start-ups grow new jobs.

To get the message out, a student film crew of veterans will be trained to assist other veteran families in preparing one- to three-minute visual, narrated “resumes” that tell an engaging story of their acquired skills and experience on a dedicated website. What’s new about this is the application of new media tools, like a smart phone or iPad, that are used to capture, edit and distribute the personal story within a traditional “hands-on” educational method known as “service learning.”

The proposal applies the service learning concept to document community stories in short films to “bring to life” names highlighted in memorial parks from area or hometown communities in a “virtual parade” visible via Web streaming on Veterans Day in November and Memorial Day in May. College-age mentors can guide a regional high school “film crew” to sustain documenting local Veteran stories in an online network.

“Warriors of the North,” a web portal, is planned to coordinate job information and Veteran stories of entrepreneurial e-commerce (.com), networking among groups (.net), and historical stories of missileers (.org). The web portal will be organized and managed by Dakota Heritage Institute, a registered non-profit association since 2010.

Funding comes from multiple local sources. Organizations in communities help build the infrastructures, such as local American Legion Posts, museums with artifacts, historical societies for documents, and heritage groups for cultural stories. To cover training costs amounting to slightly more than one credit hour of graduate tuition, local banks, credit unions, and corporate groups are asked to sponsor a youth or Veteran in a volunteer “internship” of digital training in documenting film stories with smart phones.

Student organizations, such as the Military Association of College Volunteers (MACV), are a natural source for hearing firsthand the stories of recent returnees in their transition to career jobs. Their knowledge gained can be distributed via digital networks or communities of learners online, especially to groups in high school or adult education programs.

On a broader scale, Dakota Heritage Institute is partnering with a specialized global reach organization that creates new ways to listen to the voices of veterans, using methods of creating first-person stories and sharing them in effective, grassroots dialogues with communities at home and online.

The Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) has collaborated with Dakota Heritage Institute (DHI), together with the UND Center for Community Engagement, in advancing community story building with students and volunteers that developed a project called “Story Mapping Dakota.” The project captures digital stories of patriots and pioneers. On Sept. 10, CDS announced the concept of “StoryLab” in five pilot programs that will be launched nationwide. DHI is planning a network of StoryLab sites in North Dakota this year.

Joe Lambert, founder and director of CDS, caps the importance of veterans’ stories, “Last year I was with a group of veterans, talking about surviving while serving their country in some distant land—but much more about surviving now in their hometowns, as homeless, as unemployed, as emotionally and physically scarred, but also hopeful and resilient human beings. When the process of our story work was over, one of them said to me, ‘I know it’s just a few stories, but it makes me feel like someone is listening. And that I am not alone. We are not alone. That makes a huge difference to me.’ When I start to wonder what could possibly solve the world’s most intractable problems, I remember this veteran.” (To view a short film on Story Labs, see

The Golden Paperclip project in North Dakota reflects a Norwegian way of visually expressing one’s patriotism, when citizens are challenged to level the playing field in creating jobs for veterans.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Wanberg, COL (ret) USAR Medical Service Corps, is a retired professor with 27 years of active military service and 50+ years as a college teacher. He received the Legion of Merit medal for meritorious service with POWs and MIA families during Operation Homecoming during the Viet Nam era. Recently, he received the UND “Public Scholar 2010” award for work with the Center for Community Engagement. He volunteers as curator of the Dakota Heritage Institute, a N.D. nonprofit organization since 2010. View samples at or

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 21, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.