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On June 6, Trygve Hansen will be in Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Hansen, who at 97 is Wilton’s oldest living veteran, served in the Royal Norwegian Navy in World War II and will travel to France for the four-day commemoration. Just a few weeks ago he returned from London where he attended a commemoration of V-E Day aboard the HMS Belfast on May 8.
D-Day, which led to the liberation of Europe and the end of World War II, involved nearly 160,000 Allied troops landing along a 50-mile stretch of coast in Normandy to fight the Germans..
Hansen is the last remaining Norwegian soldier who participated in day one of the invasion of Normandy. Joining the Norwegian Navy in 1940, he sailed on the HNoMS Newport and the HNoMS Eskdale. For D-Day, he sailed on the S-Class destroyer HNoMS Stord. The 362-feet long battleship was outfitted with numerous weapons and garnered the nickname “the lucky G26” as her service progressed. The ship made it through many battles without serious damage, Hansen said.
Hansen recalled the day before D-Day and what it felt like.
“On the day before we were outside the waters of Portsmouth, England,” he said. “There were hundreds of ships out there and it made you wonder what was going on.”
That was when soldiers received a letter from General Dwight D. Eisenhower to depart to France. Hansen still has an original copy and it is a prized possession of his.
“I still keep it framed,” he said.
Hansen said on the day of the battle, the ship directly in front of his was hit by a torpedo. Men on the torpedoed ship were left in the water as Hansen and his crew continued forward, but there were other vessels to attend to them. Hansen said his ship had orders to not pick anyone up.
“We went right through them. We weren’t even allowed to pick them up. All we could do was throw them a lifesaver as we passed,” he said. “Even today, I wonder if some of them were caught in our propeller.”
Hansen said his ship’s duty was to escort the British battleship Warspite onto the beach. Warspite was rammed up on the beach at high tide to be used as a fort.
“It was very hectic, the first days for everybody,” he said. “We all had our jobs to do.”
Despite the hectic day, Stord did not get hit and her crew made it through the battle without any serious damages. Hansen said talking about the historic moment was important so that it would never be forgotten.
“On our ship nobody got hurt,” he said. “That makes it a little bit easier to talk about.”
During the more than 70 years since his service in the war, Hansen has been awarded honors numerous times and in 2015 received the French Legion of Honor medal. He will join veterans from all over the world in Normandy.
Hansen said he previously traveled to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004. At the 60th reunion, his roommate was one of the survivors of the torpedoed ship HNoMS Svenner that Hansen and his crew had to push past.
Hansen recalled his roommate drinking a glass of scotch and recounting to him the historic first day of invasion when his ship was torpedoed and was floating in the water.
“He said, ‘Trygve, you didn’t even stop to pick me up.’ For four days, I slept with one eye open,” Hansen joked. “It’s stories like that which has developed from Normandy.”
While traveling back for the 75th anniversary will bring back memories, good and bad, Hansen said he takes the trip to be important because this history should never be forgotten.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to Normandy,” he said. “It’s going to bring back many memories of the war in general.”