Wilton veteran receives WWII recognition from Russia

WILTON — It’s not every American who receives a commendation from Russian President Vladimir Putin, but WWII veteran Trygve Hansen is on that list.

For Veterans Day, Hansen received the Russian Federation Medal of Ushakov for his service on board the Norwegian Navy ship “Stord,” which took part in the Allied convoys escorting cargo ships to the Russian port of Murmansk during World War II. The award commemorates the 75th anniversary of the end of the war.

“In Russia, we pay special attention and respect to all those who contributed to the fight against Nazism,” according to a letter from Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the United States. Recognizing Hansen’s “personal valor and courage,” the letter continued, “Your heroic feat is an inspiring convincing example for the next generation and should never be forgotten.”

Hansen, who is a native of Norway, was working aboard a Norwegian whaling ship when his homeland was occupied by Hitler’s army in 1940. For the next five years, he served in the exiled Royal Norwegian Navy.

He saw plenty of action during those years, including being part of a crew that sank a German battleship. Stationed in England, he served on a Norwegian destroyer that raided German convoys on the French side of the English Channel. One of those missions ended with his ship being torpedoed and he and his shipmates floating in the north Atlantic until they were rescued.

In 1942, Hansen took part in the American invasion of North Africa and then served escorting American ships from the Strait of Gibraltar to Algiers.

Eventually, he returned to England and it was there he was assigned to the Stord, escorting cargo ships that brought humanitarian as well as military supplies to Russia. It was a dangerous assignment.

“We were going to and from Murmansk, and at times we were attacked by planes, surface vessels, and U-ships,” Hansen said just before Memorial Day in 2014. “It was no picnic — those attacks could last for hours.”

Still, there were bright spots, such as the time Canadians in the convoy set up an ice hockey game with the Russians, in which some Norwegians took part.

“The Russian soldiers were standing all around the outside area with their rifles and what have you, and after the game they brought vodka, but it was home-brewed and there were paper stoppers in the bottles. We furnished cigarettes and they furnished vodka. The camaraderie was absolutely beautiful. I think a lot of time it’s the politicians that make something out of nothing, like a good writer makes something out of nothing,” he said.

If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, Hansen would have been invited to the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C. to receive his medal. Instead, it was given to him at his home in Wilton on Nov. 10 by his friend and fellow Norwegian Navy veteran, David Wold. of Greenwich.

“It touched him,” Wold said of Hansen’s reaction to the Russians reaching out to him. “It hit him very hard to be recognized 75 years later.”

Wold said Hansen participated in seven of the convoys — which numbered 30 to 60 ships — some of which departed from Iceland and some from Scotland, all in the winter of 1945.

“In this very reduced year of WWII remembrance, it’s a little reminder to people that we were allied with the Russians, and that’s how we won the war. They liberated half our country,” Wold said, referring to Norway.

Completing the commemoration, Hansen was interviewed by the Russian TV station ZVEZDA via Zoom on Nov. 16 at American Legion Post 86, where he is a member.