Norway and Allies honor WWII hero Eugene Polinsky
An impressive group gathered at the residence of Norwegian Ambassador Mona Juul on Jan. 13 to honor veteran Eugene Polinksy. This was the perfect location to honor a WWII hero, with lofty views of the New York skyline, yet an intimate feel.
Those present included military representatives from the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, France, and Poland, decked out in striking regalia. There were also government and embassy officials from these countries. And, of course, a respectable contingent of Polinsky’s proud family were present.
The very distinguished Col. Kåre Emil Brændeland, counselor/military adviser to the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations, gave a brief welcome. Members of the Norwegian Defense Band played a piece by Grieg to signal the start of the official ceremony, a fitting prelude to Ambassador Juul’s speech.
Juul spoke about the man being recognized, the operation he was involved in, and the symbolism and words on the medal. Polinsky was being awarded the Deltagermedaljen 1940-1945, the Norwegian Defense Medal, which acknowledges both Norwegians and non-Norwegian military or civilian personnel who served during WWII. Its purpose is to remember those who assisted Norway in its battle against the German invasion and during the occupation from 1940 to 1945. Juul added that Polinsky would also receive a certificate signed by Norwegian King Harald V.
Then U.S. Brig. Gen. Thomas R. Bouchard spoke about the importance of maintaining the cooperation and work between countries, with a focus on the efforts of the United Nations, as this organization has prevented many military conflicts. A haunting rendition of the already moving “Oh Shenandoah,” followed, played by the U.S. West Point Band.
The medal was then pinned on Polinsky by Ambassador Juul. We then heard the Norwegian and American national anthems played respectively by each country’s military band.
Polinsky, a tall elegant man radiating warmth, spoke about how he was overwhelmed and speechless. This surprised him, because he has been involved in theater for much of his life. Polinsky went on to say how over 70 years ago, he never would have imagined this and how he was so honored that Ambassador Juul was involved, the woman who facilitated the Oslo Accords [along with her husband, Terje Rød-Larsen]. The gracious Polinsky accepted the medal on behalf of all the men from his crew, which generated understanding nods from the audience. Enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation for the man of honor was the response to Polinsky’s words and deeds.
What had Polinsky done to receive such a prestigious honor? He had been involved in a mission, identified as the Carpetbaggers, aka the 801st Bombardment Group, which was created by the 8th Air Force to carry out espionage exercises. It was directed under the auspices of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), now known as the CIA, using reimagined B-24 bomber planes and worked out of Harrington, England.
The goal was to support resistance efforts on the ground in Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. These pilots were fitted with planes that substituted spies and supplies to be dropped instead of bombs. To conceal operations, their planes were painted black, so they would not be seen at night when missions occurred and their engines were muffled, so they could not be heard. Operations began in January 1944, and the group disbanded after the war had ended in July 1945. (To learn more about the Carpetbaggers, visit www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/195994/operation-carpetbagger).
The medal ceremony ended with a musical piece that synthesized both bands. Ambassador Juul commented: “The wonderful musicians set the right tone… and went on to use their harmonizing as a way for our nations to continue to work together in the future.” Juul’s character shone through with these words; the perfect pitch of one who has spent their career in diplomat endeavors seeking peaceful solutions. Following this, everyone was invited to a lovely luncheon.
I asked Ianneke B. Karlsen, counselor and deputy military adviser to the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations, how the idea for awarding this medal came about. She explained that they began being awarded right after the war by His Majesty King Haakon VII. The Carpetbaggers story, as other secret missions, was classified for 50 years. When the records were declassified, the search began for the men who had fought on behalf of Norway, by sifting through archives and working with Allied Military of Defense Departments.
This was how they found Polinsky, as well as many other members of the Carpetbaggers. Others from this mission who have received NDM include: Dana Anderson (Charleston, S.C.), Orrin Brown Jr. (Atlanta), Hewitt Gomez (New Orleans), Russel Hastler (Chicago), Stanley E. Worl (Tulsa, Oka.), and John K. Lancaster (Atlanta).
Pensively, Karlsen remarked, “This may be the last Norwegian Defense Medal that will be given out, as they are not given out posthumously.” The weight of her words still move me. What an honor to be present to witness this auspicious occasion honoring one of our living WWII heroes.
This article originally appeared in the February 7, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.