Updated: Jul 26, 2021
In 2010, a fabulous artist, Tryggvi Thorlief Larum, came to Fargo-Moorhead for the Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival.
In 2012, I met him again along with another Icelandic artist, Jón Adólf Steinólfsson, at the Norsk Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota.
In this photo, they are presenting the artwork of Tryggvi Thorlief Larum and Jón Adólf Steinófsson (they wanted me in the photo because of the Icelandic National Costume).
Icelanders presenting the artwork of Jon Adolf and Tryggvi Thorlief
Tryggvi has written a story about his life serving in the US Army Airborne Infantry unit and he wants me to share it with you. Congratulations to Tryggvi for his award of the National Infantry Association CIVIS
Trggva's Saga By Tryggvi Thorlief Larum:
It is part of the Icelandic historical record of its Viking age of its native sons traveling abroad to leave the protection of its home shores, to travel to a new land to serve in harm’s way as part of a foreign Army under the leadership of its also foreign lords to them.
Modern examples of these isolated rare individual stories of these native born sons of Iceland doing this or choosing this path are far more extremely rare today, as they were of Iceland's mists of time Viking warrior age but one story may share elements of its example, and this may be that of what might be called today as Tryggva's saga. Given the ancient Icelandic and Norwegian names both of Tryggvi Thorlief Larum at birth in 1956 Hafnarfjordur, Iceland, by his native Icelandic mother and Norwegian-American father, Tryggvi was born a citizen of Iceland, and also became a naturalized U.S. citizen emigrant to the U.S. in 1957. Raised on the stories of the Icelandic sagas by his beloved Icelandic mother and a reverence for his American WWII U.S. Army European campaign veteran father, who had once played a part in freeing Europe from Nazi tyranny, Tryggvi proudly followed in his father’s footsteps, at age 18 to Europe to the keep peace and freedom there from the threat of Soviet aggression.
In 1975 he become a required triple volunteer, first to serve in the U.S. Army next on hazardous duty status then to also serve oversees joining the only forward deployed elite U.S. Army Airborne Infantry unit in the world at that time, of America's only Cold War airborne unit then based in Europe. This journey lead him first from the safety of his then home in the mountains of Northern California and then into the sweltering hot waist deep forbidding swamps of Louisiana at night, and then later onto the forbidding frozen slopes of the European Italian/Swiss Alps in training. While also performing multiple day and night low altitude parachute jumps throughout what was then free Western Europe, often with up to 200 pounds of combat equipment strapped to him while also earning and being personally awarded the presentation their of the elite military badges of three separate NATO nations of both the U.S. Great Britain and France. As both the only known Icelander to ever serve in the history of this unit which was originally formed in 1942.
Tryggvi later managed even more firsts by years later being elected the Vice President of the American 509th Parachute Infantry Association (PIA). This Association represents the most legendary unit of America's very small select elite U.S. Airborne community and in 2013 he was nomination to the American National Infantry Association. Tryggvi became the first known man born in Iceland to be inducted as the 6003rd recipient since the 1900's into the prestigious CIVIS Order of Saint Maurice. Other recipients of this elite U.S. infantry order have included Colin Powell.
In the 1980's following his military service Tryggvi sought to reclaim and embrace his birthright of Icelandic heritage by traveling back to Iceland to work and live in his native homeland for a year. He found employment as a deck hand on Iceland's fishing trawler fleet spending 85 days at sea, learning the inherent hazards of this profession on the beautiful yet still cold and unforgiving gray waste of Iceland's arctic North Sea. Learning to admire the brave precarious journeys his ancestors the pioneering settlers of Iceland had made in close to the waterline fully exposed open wooden boats from Norway to Iceland and from Iceland to North America, in the mists of the Viking age, which would later become the catalyst spark of his later lifetime study of his Viking age ancestry.
Tryggvi's later journey into the manifestation of a story teller began many years ago with his personal art in becoming a self-taught wood sculptor, who chose to celebrate his Icelandic Viking heritage through his rare Viking age woodcarving styles. With this journey of art exploration leading to becoming an invited guest lecturer on his work and its exhibits at the University of North Dakota. Along with exhibits of his art and lectures on it receiving support from the North Dakota Council of the Arts, the California Council of traditional Arts and the American National Endowment of the Arts. With numerous American art awards and media attention upon his work in three nations individual examples of his work, are now on permanent pubic display in museums art centers of the U.S. Canada and Iceland. Where this donated sculpture by him to the Icelandic people was personally formally installed at the Hofsos Immigration museum in Iceland, by the then Prime Minister of Iceland and Tryggvi has also been asked to speak briefly about his art, at the 2012 INL conference Banquet night in Seattle WA. However, a story teller’s journey can also often take many varying paths in life's experiences.
In July 2013 Tryggvi was asked to return to Iceland as a volunteer to help establish, Iceland's historic first ever Viking festival in its capital city of Reykjavik and lend his woodcarving talents to its festivals presentation. Along with that of another native Icelander local resident of renown sculpting ability during the festival itself Tryggvi was surprised to learn that Jon Adolf Steinolfsson and himself were to be the only individuals interviewed by Icelandic TV during the festival, and that a large part of the nation would be later watching and hearing both Jon's and Tryggvi's words over their dinners that night, on television about this first of its kind festival and its art. In July 2014 Tryggvi again traveled to attend the 2nd annual 2014 Viking Festival of Reykjavik with his wife this time as a guest and then embarked, later with her to travel the entire length Iceland's southern coastline by car. From the Western capital coastal city of Reykjavik traveling East to the isolated remote Icelandic east coast's coastal mountain rising out of the sea called Mt. Reydarfjall. Between Faskrudsfjordur and Reydarfjall as part of his quest to stand upon its mountainside where the Icelandic book of settlement says, the first Norsemen first discovered and set foot on Icelandic soil climbing this mountainside to look for signs of habitation in 850 AD., so that Tryggvi could now physically trace the line of his ancient forefathers from Ericksfarm on the west coast to Mt. Reydarfjall on the East coast of Iceland.
This year Tryggvi also was asked to travel to Southern France by the 509th PIA organization to represent the 509th Association for their WWII's unit’s part of the French 70th Anniversary of their liberation. The 509th unit’s few remaining WWII era 509th veterans who fought there could no longer physically make this trip. However, Tryggvi carried both their story and their spirits with him to the Aug 14th-16th French 70th Anniversary of operation Dragoon. This celebration is in the French Southern Coastal towns and the 2014 celebrations and remembrance of the 1944 Allied invasion and liberation, of Southern France by sea and air landings of allied forces of which the then 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion (PIB) was part of in a nighttime airborne parachute assault. In France Tryggvi was tasked with being an official officer representative of his 509th unit veterans association, and to attend formal commemorative ceremonies there along with meeting with many French officials. Officials included the town mayor of the large costal France city of San Tropez. There was a bit of a language barrier but everyone made an effort through understanding, when questioned by a French citizen about his unique non-American name Tryggvi joked that elite American Army units like to have at least one token Icelander of Viking heritage with them if they can find them, but when he explained that he had not fought in France in 1944 but was only there to humbly represent the proud brave men of his ASSN's WWII era members who had fought there while thanking the French for not forgetting them and their sacrifices and with this the French reply to him was, “We French have a long memory”, and then surprised Tryggvi by thanking him for his own part and its later sacrifices to them and Europe in its precarious Cold War.
Tryggvi's travels in Southern France took him first to the 1944 Coastal mountain parachute drop zones (DZ's) of the lead elements, of the only hand full of seven 509th PIB parachute pathfinders who were parachuted in first. Their aircraft flying at night in heavy coastal fog with German anti-aircraft fire directed at it, till they were to bail out of it and land setting up communications and night-time ground lights. For the following also small number main battalion force that was to follow, coming from Italy too only hours later following its battalions battles there to also parachute into S France. Tryggvi later visited this main force DZ area along with traveling to also visit were the 509th PIB battalion had to fight up impossible cliff faces to reach and capture the hilltop medieval French coastal castle that was the headquarters of the German Army and Navy in the region. Tryggvi then attended a memorial at the beautiful American Rhone cemetery where 28 members of the 509th PIB BN are buried, their family's choosing to have them forever interned with their brothers in arms rather than return them home. Of all of the airborne forces of this little known campaign made up of a thrown together Free French British, and American 517th and 509th airborne or paratrooper units the 509th unit suffered the worst airborne unit casualties.
As the actual son of a WWII U.S. Army veteran himself, whose father survived the war in Europe, but now belonged to the ages, this ceremony was what Tryggvi found to be most difficult emotionally and was able to find some later comfort there. Part of the formal duties in the 70th Anniversary celebration was to be privileged to present one of his ASSN's formal medallion coins to one of the 517th units surviving veterans thanking him for his service there knowing he was one of the last of the many American airborne vets who fought there and came back to France later for this anniversary ceremony. Every five years for the last 70 years the French, English and Americans to include all of his own 509th ASSN 509th PIB veterans, that could no longer even so sadly come anymore come back to remember. As the only actual 509th unit veteran in France for these ceremony's Tryggvi was also asked, to perform the ceremonies of presenting his 509th ASSN's medallion coins to each individual in gratitude to every member of the standing at attention in tight parade formation gathered, 40 man all French all volunteer living history WWII American 509th PIB unit reenactment team. As a thank you from the 509th PIA for keeping the memory alive of its WWII unit members that once fought in France, yearly to both the French people and their fellow Europeans.
This proud group of young Frenchmen many of whom are actually too also serving in the French Army, go to great personal expense and training to reenact the 509th PIB in France. All while wearing and packing strictly only WWII era 509th PIB reproduction field uniforms weapons and equipment, to insure that these their nations WWII liberators that so bravely once came from the night sky are never forgotten.
Later at yet another location and commemorative ceremony this time in the coastal French town of Saint Tropez, Tryggvi performed a wreath laying ceremony, as the only 509th veteran in France at the base of the city's monument to the 17 American 509th PIA unit members from one aircraft alone of the many. Carrying the main force 509th unit from Italy to S France at night in the fog and under heavy German fire from the ground, had its single aircraft in the formation parachutists earlier decide not to wear there may west life preservers. Because they would be jumping inland from the French beaches only to have its off course aircraft's pilot, in the night fog and enemy fire mistakenly drop them all in to the Mediterranean Sea were they all perished at sea. Member representatives of the French media the U.S. Army historical dept. and the city Mayor were also in attendance at this solemn ceremony, and as the week progressed Tryggvi visited many of the isolated French coastal mountain towns which celebrate their own anniversary this time of year of their towns liberation by allied forces, sometimes only a day or two apart, making Tryggvi both utterly surprised and amazed at what he saw in their town squares.
In complete wonderment Tryggvi saw that they were completely occupied town squares, in what appeared to be like a movie production set of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan but instead, of multitudes of differing young French U.S. and British WWII Army's reenactment groups milling in these squares with lots of lovingly restored U.S. Army era trucks, jeeps and even Harley Davidson, U.S. Army WWII messenger bikes with dozens of Frenchmen and boys also dressed as WWII French resistance fighters. With young French women dressed and girls dressed in 1940's dresses’ and hairstyles and American and British WWII reenactment group members everywhere, and with the American soldier being celebrated like this in a foreign nation, Tryggvi thought more Americans at home should certainly see and experience this.
Tryggvi was most recently contacted again by the President of his 509th ASSN with a request that he attend the upcoming formal yearly unit ball of the actively serving U.S. Army's arctic 3/509th airborne infantry battalion based in Anchorage, Alaska. Again as a representative invited guest to the ball of the 509th PIA he agreed and was surprised to later learn that this battalion upon hearing of his upcoming attendance were now also contacted him requesting of him to be its ball's special guest speaker. So despite Tryggvi's apprehensions of speaking on their ballroom stage to over 700 of America's most highly trained elite soldiers many of which had in recent years distinguished themselves as 509th unit soldiers, fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan plus all of their assembled wife's in formal ball gowns Tryggvi accepted this invitation as one last gift to an old warrior to share his humble words to the now younger lions as he to once was, in 509th unit service oversees and so with a VIP greeting that almost overwhelmed him on stage by all these young warriors later in Alaska. Tryggvi introduced himself to them as he always does no matter the audience, as a rare in America proud native-born son of Iceland, along with also telling this assembled audience of his coincidental birthday that has now also became American National Airborne Day by act of congress a few years ago. And so while he spoke to these men that represent the best of all of us as Americans, in telling them of the creed of their units founding fathers like them that came up so long before them, and of a shared unit history's and heritage. Of service sacrifice loyalty blood and glory that they now share with them as elite warriors of this unit to only one another. To yells of pride coming from all of these warrior tables of Tryggvi's words to them, Tryggvi then told them next of his recent trip to France and of its rediscovery's of the shared units men that fought their so long ago. A 90-year-old 509th PIB member that is one of his dear personal friends today, who was the first of a string 509th PIB pathfinders to once land on top of a mountain in 1944 so hard it broke the sites on his Tommy gun, as the remaining six landed down the mountain side alone in the fog and dark night and into rocks and trees that were spears. Along with finding that once they found one another in the dark night with one of them, already seriously wounded by a tree so deep behind enemy lines that a check of their maps found them accidentally dropped 25 miles from their intended drop zone, and that their thoughts never turned to their own rescue but instead to get their wounded man’s care, and have the rest of them find a way to back into the fight. Tryggvi then told them of the later main units desperate fight at the cliffs where it cost the unit eight of their men.
All the while his own thoughts on stage that night reflected to a son of an Iceland immigrant brought to a new nation as a baby looking for the promises of the American dream while growing up with brave tales of heritage of Iceland's saga heroes, and wonder at the long journey that had brought him here to this stage that night to be the first known Icelander born upon its native soil ever to perhaps be asked and so honored to address the assembled finest warriors of this, his other nation, and marvel at the coincidence of it being Oct 8th the very eve of Oct 9th's Leif Eriksson day on the America's calendar.
Thank you, Tryggvi for your service and for the passion for your Viking Heritage. It is an honor to know you.
To read the newspaper article click HERE.