Military installations and communities all over Norway celebrated Liberation Day on May 8 a bit differently this year. The government is making a concerted effort to use the day to celebrate Norwegian veterans of military service, with defense officials doling out three more of its highest wartime decorations.
Since 1945, May 8 has been listed on Norwegian calendars as Frigjøringsdag, literally “Liberation Day.” It’s not an official public holiday, but it is a flag day, meant to commemorate the day when Norway was liberated from German occupation during World War II.
This year it was being called “Veterandagen,” or Veterans’ Day, and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg took part in the ceremonies held in Oslo, where the Krigskorset med sverd (War Cross with Sword) was awarded to three officers, one of whom was killed on duty in Afghanistan.
Colonel Eirik Johan Kristoffersen, Captain Jørg Lian and Naval Commander Trond André Bolle were all awarded the War Cross, following in the footsteps of World War II resistance heroes such as Gunnar Sønsteby. In Bolle’s case, the award was made posthumously, since he was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan last summer. Bolle’s 10-year-old son Håkon Gjestvang Bolle accepted the decoration on his late father’s behalf.
It was the first time the prestigious War Cross was awarded for service other than in World War II. As the country’s highest decoration, it can be awarded to both Norwegian and foreign military personnel or civilians, who under war or armed conflict have distinguished themselves in an exceptional way.
The new Veterans’ Day also gave the military a chance to show off some of their hardware, and thousands of spectators flocked to the historic Akershus Fortress and Castle in Oslo to inspect tanks, weapons, a helicopter and even a naval frigate on display. It was the first chance for many to see the equipment Norway’s military is using in Afghanistan, for example, while others lined up to go on board the frigate named after legendary Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl.
There’s been a boom in both support for and interest in the military in Norway of late, with recruitment reaching new highs and strong public approval of the country’s involvement in Libya, for example. The most important reason for the public displays, though, and the military honors bestowed was to honor Norwegian veterans.
“There are unfortunately many who haven’t received the support or attention they should have had,” a former commander, Jan Larsen, told forsvaret.no. “That’s why it’s good that a day like this has been launched.”
The new Veterans’ Day celebrations included a special church service in the Oslo Cathedral, a military procession through the capital, speeches, the laying down of wreaths at war monuments and concerts with military orchestras and bands. The canons atop Akershus were fired as well.
Among the observers in Oslo was Kristian Marstrander, whose grandfather was a major when World War II broke out and who was taken prisoner by the Germans. Marstrander’s father joined the resistance while Marstrander himself refused to serve in the military and opted for civilian service. He said his own son was offered service in Afghanistan and chose not to travel, but told Aftenposten he’s proud of Norway’s participation in international military cooperation.
Defense Minister Grete Faremo of the Labour Party said the government was establishing Veterans’ Day “because we see that there are many who have never received the recognition they should have had. But we will never forget what Norwegian veterans have done and shall do.”