War hero Haugland passes away quietly
December 30, 2009
The death of Knut Haugland, one of the so-called “Heroes of Telemark” and the last surviving member of Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki crew, received wide coverage in major newspapers all over the world this week but not in Norway. The lack of immediate attention was in keeping, perhaps, with the highly decorated resistance fighter’s preference for a low profile.
Norwegian newspapers had run few if any stories about Haugland (at left in photo, with the rest of the Kon-Tiki crew) as of Wednesday, nearly a week after his death on Christmas Day at the age of 92. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) ran only a short item on the national news and a four-paragraph story on its website.
There is no tradition for prominent obituaries in Norway, but the lack of coverage seemed strange given Haugland’s heroic actions during the height of World War II.
He was active in the resistance movement, a member of the famed Kompani Linge resistance unit, and served as the radioman during the daring sabotage action at Vemork in Telemark, his home territory. That job prevented Adolph Hitler from making an atomic bomb and later inspired a Hollywood movie starring Kirk Douglas.
Haugland reportedly didn’t like the movie, however, and later released his own version of events called “The Real Heroes of Telemark.” He kept a much lower profile than other resistance heroes like Gunnar Sønsteby and Max Manus. Just last year came the book Operatøren , written by Svein Sæter, which finally offered a biography of Haugland’s life.
It was an adventurous life indeed. His wartime exploits were among the most daring of Norway’s resistance fighters, and he won many military decorations for them in Norway, Great Britain and France. After the war he was asked by Thor Heyerdahl to take part in the famed Kon-Tiki expedition and he did, putting his radio skills to work once again.
Haugland is also credited with saving the life of Herman Watzinger, another Kon-Tiki crew member who fell overboard during the voyage. According to Ragnar Kvam’s book on Thor Heyerdahl, Haugland resolutely jumped into the sea after him, armed with a life vest and secured by a rope to the raft that he hoped would hold. He got hold of Watzinger, and both were towed back to the raft even though neither Heyerdahl nor the others had managed to lower the sail.
Haugland and Heyerdahl went on to found the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, where Haugland served as manager for more than 40 years. Thor Heyerdahl Jr claims it was Haugland who saw the value of preserving and exhibiting the Kon-Tiki raft, as a source of inspiration and means of raising funds for more ocean research and expeditions.
“Knut built up one of Norway’s most-visited museums which attracts around a quarter of a million people every year,” Heyerdahl Jr wrote in an obituary on the museum’s own website late Wednesday. “It became an independent and self-financed foundation with its own research department and the world’s largest private Pacific library. Grants are given to researchers from many countries, as a basis for scientific projects that otherwise never would have been realized. The Kon-Tiki Museum today is central in Pacific research from the other side of the globe.”
Haugland also helped found the Norwegian Resistance Museum at the Akershus Fortress in Oslo, and served as its manager as well.
Heyerdahl Jr wrote that Haugland challenged his destiny more than most, and was known not only “for thinking well, but thinking fast.” His funeral was scheduled for Wednesday January 6 at the Haslum Chapel in suburban Bærum, followed by burial at the Steinsskogen Cemetery. He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Ingeborg, three grown children and several grandchildren.