Remembering May 8, 1945

Norwegian war memorial event canceled, but New Yorkers will not forget their heroes

Norwegian war memorial

Photo: Henning Klokkeråsen / Wikimedia Commons
The Norwegian Veterans Monument in New York City’s Battery Park.

The Norwegian American

As the Norwegian national holiday on May 17 approaches, the date of today’s edition of The Norwegian American, May 8, marks another equally important day in Norwegian history: the day of Norway’s liberation from the Nazi Occupation in 1945 and the end of World War II.

For the past decade, each year on May 8, the Scandinavian East Coast Museum (SECM) and the Norwegian Consulate in New York have partnered to organize a commemoration ceremony to honor the Norwegian krigsseiler, the merchant marine war veterans. It takes place at the Norwegian Veterans Monument in Battery Park, colloquially known as “The Stone.” 

The monument was created by the sailors and Norwegian Navy and reads: “Dedicated in the year 1982, to the people of the United States of America, by War Veterans of the Norwegian-American Merchant Marine and the Royal Norwegian Navy, in memory of help and hospitality shown during our mutual struggle for freedom and peace in World War II.”

Years later, It was Jenny Nilssen, whose husband Harry Nilssen ran the Norwegian Seamen’s Home in Brooklyn, had a second tablet made in honor of the men who served.

It reads: “In World War II, 1,100 Norwegian ships served the Allied cause by hauling supplies between U.S. Ports and the War Theaters abroad. A sizable part of the Allied forces were supplied by ships flying the Norwegian flag. More than 30,000 sailors and Naval Gunners manned the ships. Many of them looked to New York, the principal port of call, as their Home Port during the war. The losses were heavy, 570 ships and 4,000 sailors.” 

The coordinators put plans in motion together with Sons of Norway Færder Lodge 3-109 in Brooklyn, which has been involved for many years. The Norwegian United Nations Mission and Norwegian veteran David Wold were also taking active roles to create a special event for the 75th anniversary year–then COVID-19 hit, and the event had to be canceled.

But the SECM and its members cannot be stopped, as they continue to work toward fulfilling proposed projects that share the story of the Norwegian War Sailors and their heroic contributions to World War II, projects that will have a permanent impact on a larger audience beyond the Norwegian community. 

The first goal is to ensure that the monument in Battery Park remains accessible. Located on public parks land that has been undergoing reconfiguration and maintenance for several years, the monument, like many others, has been cut off from visitors by fencing to accommodate the incredibly long lines of tourists visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.   

According to David Wold, who has taken part in U.N. peacekeeping missions in Lebanon, said, “There is irony in the fencing in of my nation’s monument, which lies only a few miles from the U.N.” Authorities told Wold over a year ago that this situation was temporary, but the SECM is still waiting as its members advocate to “FREE THE STONE!”

The second goal of the SECM is to create an informational brochure to explain the monument’s history and an attractive, protective vessel. This will allow the thousands of passers-by to understand its significance, providing a context to an important chapter in Norwegian and American history. This effort involves a few layers of bureaucracy, including approval from the Parks Department and the NYC Public Design Commission. And then there is the pesky matter of funding.  

Lastly, the third goal to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II is to compile a collection of essays for publication. The booklet will focus on the relationship between Norway and New York during this critical period of history and the contributions of Norwegian-American New Yorkers toward the war effort.

To date, the essay collection is organized by the following topics: battling the seas with a focus on the Norwegian war sailors; the soldiers of the 99th Battalion (the majority of which came from the New York area); advocacy and resistance; and aftermath and remembrance of the war.

For the members of the SECM, to have to cancel the annual commemoration ceremony, especially on this important 75th Anniversary, was devastating. It is tentatively rescheduled  for October, depending on what transpires with COVID-19. But one thing is for sure: the valiant men who served as sailors during World War II will not be forgotten.

This article originally appeared in the May 8, 2020, 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.