A Coat Dyed Black
Northwest author releases book on Norwegian resistance
DON PUGNETTI JR.
Gig Harbor, Wash.
A 44-year desire to write a book about the Norwegian resistance during World War II has been realized. On Feb. 1, Don Pugnetti Jr. published his historical novel, A Coat Dyed Black, which transforms a young farmer into a courageous resistance fighter during Nazi Germany’s five-year occupation of Norway and details a brutal, oppressive tyranny. Pugnetti shares his story.
Having someone with an Italian surname write a book about Norway may seem odd, but there is an explanation. My wife, Wendy, lost her father to cancer when she was young, and her mother married a Norwegian immigrant in Seattle. He became a wonderful second dad to her and brought a large family mostly in Norway into her life.
I became interested in Norway’s war years when my father-in-law first told me a few stories about his resistance activities. At the time, I was in the early stage of my newspaper career at The Tacoma, WA, News Tribune.
Viewing these stories through my journalistic lens, I concluded that they should be told. I knew virtually nothing about what happened in Norway in World War II, and I became determined to find out.
It spawned years of research. I first taped an interview with my father-in-law on March 5, 1978. Many interviews followed, not only of my father-in-law, but also other family members involved in the resistance, and others outside the family. I also read more than 30 books related to the Nazi occupation, took several trips to Norway, and learned the Norwegian language. Men nå jeg har glemt så mye; I’ve retained so little of what I learned.
My original intent was to write a nonfiction book, but I faced obstacles. The most notable was a steadfast desire by family members that they not be named. They did not want to stand out, believing their activities were no more important than others who worked to overturn Nazi rule.
I understood their conditions and agreed to them, but that and other things put to halt to my work. So, boxes of material from my research sat in the attic and basement for literally decades.”
Following my retirement after a 42-year-career in journalism and public affairs, I picked up the project again, this time approaching it through the genre of historical fiction. In that way, I could create a compelling story based on true events and real experiences and honor my pledge to not name the family. The book follows history with the intent that readers learn something about an often-overlooked part of World War II as they are being entertained.
The result was a story about courage, sacrifice, and confronting a choice between duty and betrayal. The fictional character is Bjørn Erliksen, who initially believes that soldiers fight wars, not farmers. But when Nazi Germany invaded Norway on April 9, 1940, and Norway’s ill-equipped military collapsed in less than two months, it falls to him and other ordinary citizens to fight back.
Bjørn flees to England, trains in Scotland with a Norwegian special forces unit and sneaks back into his homeland as a commando. He must elude the Gestapo and wrestle with his own conscience in carrying out dangerous missions and committing unspeakable acts.
This book has brought me personal satisfaction and joy. If I hadn’t captured stories of these brave Norwegians before they passed on, their eyewitness accounts and experiences might never have been told.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 18, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.