Second Wiltonian awarded Légion d'Honneur
Wiltonian and World War II veteran Trygve Hansen will be awarded one of France’s highest medals, the Croix de Chevalier dans l'Ordre de la Légion d'Honneur, during a ceremony at the Lycée Français de New York in New York City on Friday, Nov. 6.
Hansen served in the Norwegian Navy as a sailor on two destroyers during the war — on the Eskdale, which was sunk by two German U-boats in 1943, and then on the Stord, which bombarded the German positions prior to the landing of the troops on June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day.
Because the Légion d'Honneur is typically bestowed on “eligible U.S. veterans of WWII who contributed significantly to the liberation of France from 1944 to 1945,” Wiltonian Jean-Pierre Lavielle, who applied for the award on Hansen’s behalf, said, getting Hansen the medal was “complicated from a legal point of view” because he was a Norwegian citizen at the time of World War II.
“He became a U.S. citizen in 1957, so in theory, he didn’t qualify as a U.S. veteran,” said Lavielle, “and he didn’t qualify as a Norwegian veteran either because when a Norwegian citizen becomes a citizen of another country, he or she relinquishes his or her Norwegian citizenship.”
After “considerable time spent on the phone,” Lavielle said, he “convinced the French authority that Mr. Hansen should be considered as a U.S. veteran.”
At the 1940 outbreak of World War II in Norway, Hansen found himself aboard a whaling vessel and unable to return to his Norwegian home, which was quickly occupied by Hitler’s army.
Hansen spent the next five years — the majority of time he spent in the war — aboard the HNoMS Stord, serving in the exiled Royal Norwegian Navy.
On Dec. 26, 1943, Hansen and others on the Stord were involved in the Battle of the North Cape, considered by many naval historians to be the last major naval battle of the Atlantic and one of the most famous naval victories of World War II.
In June 1944, Hansen’s ship took part in the D-Day landing at Sword Beach.
After “three or four days” of bombarding the coast, the Stord was called to help the Allies trap a division of Germans on Cherbourg Peninsula, in France.
“We caught the Germans on Cherbourg Peninsula by bombarding them from the sea,” Hansen told The Bulletin when he served as grand marshal of Wilton’s Memorial Day parade last year. “Then we went back to England for repairs after a mine had hit the rear of the ship.”
Hansen also served on the HNoMS Eskdale, during which time he and his crew raided many German convoys — often sent out to bring supplies to German U-boats — on the French side of the English Channel.
“We did quite a bit of damage, and we sank a few ships, but they knew how to fire back as well,” Hansen told The Bulletin. “We lost 12 during those operations.”
The Eskdale’s last operation began in April 1943. As the ship was escorting a convoy on the English side of the channel, Hansen said, “the Germans got the best of us with some torpedo ships.”
After two torpedoes hit the Eskdale, Hansen and his fellow sailors abandoned the ship. A third torpedo was then fired.
Hansen and his fellow soldiers floated in the cold North Atlantic water for 30 minutes. Twenty-six sailors from the Eskdale were lost during the attack.
By 1945, Hansen was a veteran of numerous Atlantic-theater naval battles. In February of that year, he married Muriel Talbot.
After the war, Hansen finished technical college, became a certified plumber and played a small role on Charlton Athletic, an English Premier League contender, while living in Britain.
Hansen and his wife moved to his hometown of Sandefjord, Norway, where their oldest daughter, Karin, was born. They then moved back to London, where they had their second child, Ovidia.
In 1952, the Hansens immigrated to the United States and settled in Georgetown, where their youngest child, Karl-Trygve, was born.
It is important for Hansen and other World War II veterans to be acknowledged because “we owe them our freedom,” said Lavielle, who began looking for surviving veterans in Fairfield County after learning about the French government’s Légion d’Honneur program. In his search, Lavielle found 17 and filed six applications for the award.
One of those applications was for Hansen and another was for Wiltonian Charles M. Baffo, who was awarded the Légion d’Honneur on the 70th anniversary of D-Day earlier this year, two months after his death.
Hansen has invited his son Karl, American Legion Post 86 Commander Don Hazzard and Wiltonian USMC veteran Raymond Tobiassen to the Legion d'Honneur ceremony, where the French general consul will deliver a speech and pin the medals on recipients’ chests, including Hansen’s, said Lavielle.
Lavielle asks that anyone who knows a World War II veteran who might qualify for the Légion d’Honneur contact him at 203-762-7373, 203-635-3117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.