“Gen. Toftoy Day” at Illinois’ Norsk Museum
Celebrate World War II Army rocket scientist of Norwegian descent on Sept. 5
“General Toftoy Day” will be celebrated from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, at the Norsk Museum on Rt. 71 in Norway, Ill. The museum will unveil a permanent exhibit profiling the late Major Gen. Holger Nelson Toftoy.
Toftoy was born of Norwegian parents on Oct. 31, 1902, in Lasalle County’s Miller Township, north of Marseilles.
After leading efforts to adapt Nazi Germany’s missile research to U.S. military efforts, Toftoy became known as “Mr. Missile.”
Dave Johnson, president of the Norsk Museum board, said, “Toftoy was a pioneer, visionary, leader, and soldier. His foresight, persuasiveness, and persistence led our country to win the space race.
“Without Holger Toftoy, our world be very different; we probably wouldn’t have computers, cell phones, and the internet.”
Toftoy graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1926. After discovering that pilot flight training wasn’t his forte, he transferred to Coast Artillery where he served three years in Hawaii as a battery commander. Then he returned to West Point as an instructor for five years.
In the 1930s he commanded the mine defenses of the Pacific approach to the Panama Canal. During six years at the Submarine Mine Depot at Ft. Monroe, he directed the design and development of a new controlled submarine mine system that was widely used in World War II.
After the war, Toftoy was assigned to develop Army guided missiles. Using captured German scientists and technology, Toftoy set up shop at Ft. Bliss, Texas.
By the end of 1950, Toftoy outgrew the facility at Fort Bliss and transferred everything to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Within six years, he had 1,800 civilian employees, German V-2 rocket scientists, and 120 military personnel.
Redstone Arsenal, under Gen. Toftoy’s command, was responsible for the research and development, procurement and production, storage, maintenance, and issue of the entire family of Army missiles and rockets.
They included the Jupiter, Redstone, Pershing, Sergeant, Corporal, LaCrosse, Honest John, Little John, Nike–Ajax, Nike-Hercules, Nike Zeus, Hawk, Plato, Jupiter-C, Explorer I, and the Pioneer.
When General Toftoy left, people of Huntsville erected a monument and named a road for him. Additionally, Toftoy Hall was built at the U.S. Army Missile and Munitions Center and School at Redstone Arsenal.
Toftoy retired in 1960 to Treasure Island, Fla. He died on April 19, 1969, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
His awards included Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Ribbon with Metal Pendant, French Croix de Guerre with Palm, and Distinguished Service Medal.
Norsk Museum hours are 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. weekends from June through September. Admission is free but donations are accepted. The museum is also available to groups by appointment. Founded in 1978, the museum is a non-profit 501(c)(3) and non-tax supported, operating through fundraising events and donations. Call (815) 343-5070, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Facebook/Norsk Museum for more information.
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 28, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.