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Honoring Those Who Served

By Kathy Thorlakson


On June 12, 2022, a dedication service was held at the Vidalin Lutheran Church in Hensel, North Dakota, for several items created by local artists to enhance the story of Vidalin’s history. One such work was a new wood case to protect and display a flag presented to the church in 1945 to honor those men from the church’s congregation who had served during WWII and, in some cases, made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.


 The Roll of Honor lists the 75 men and women from the Vidalin Congregation who served in the military during World War II
The Roll of Honor lists the 75 men and women from the Vidalin Congregation who served in the military during World War II

Following is an excerpt from a compilation of journals by Sigtryggur(Tryggvi) Olafson, printed by his family in 1992. The writings cover events in the Icelandic community of Akra and the surrounding area from 1939-1945.


July 15, 1945

“At 11 A.M. there was a memorial service conducted by Rev. H. Sigmar in the Vidalin’s Church in memory of the service boys from the community. A flag, a present of Mrs. Ed Bernhoft in memory of her son Leonard, who was killed in action on the island of Leyte, was carried into the church by John Samson and Roy Morrison. On the flag were five gold stars, representing those who had been killed in action or died from wounds and also sixty- two blue stars representing boys of this community who are now or have been in the armed forces of the U.S.A. The flag will remain in the church and stars will be added to it if more of our boys are called into service. This dedication service was very impressive and heart-touching.”


By the end of WWII, there were 75 stars, including three additional gold stars that had been added for a total of eight men from this congregation who had lost their lives during WWII.



The Gold Star Veterans


2nd Lieutenant Marvin Hjalmarson
2nd Lieutenant Marvin Hjalmarson


2nd Lieutenant Marvin Hjalmarson was born at Akra ND. He joined the US Army and served in the European Theater. Killed in action in Holland November 8, 1944. He received a Bronze medal. He was son of Mr. and Mrs. Bjorn Hjalmarson of Akra.














Sergeant Einar Nelson entered the US Army Air Force in October of 1942. He served as a Radar Operator on B-29 with 873rd Bomber Squadron 498th Bomber. Reported missing January 1945. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Air Medal. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Nelson of Akra, ND.










Private First Class William Nelson entered service in February of 1942. Served Asiatic Theater and was killed in action on Luzon in the Philippines in February, 1945. He was awarded the Purple Heart. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Nelson of Akra, ND.













Captain Albert O. Thorwaldson served as a civilian and military flight instructor. Joined China National Aviation Corp. He was killed in a plane crash in Burma, on Jan. 14, 1945. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Bjorn Thorwaldson of Akra, ND.










Pte 1st Class A Leonard Bernhoft
Pte 1st Class A Leonard Bernhoft


Private First Class A. Leonard Bernhoft enlisted In April 1941 and was assigned to the 164th Infantry Regiment (ND National Guard). He saw action in Guadalcanal, Fiji, Bougainville, and the Philippines. He lost his life on February 28, 1945, during heavy action at Leyte. He was awarded the Combat Badge, Good Conduct Medal, Pacific Asiatic Theatre Ribbon with three “battle” stars, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, and the Navy Presidential Unit Citation. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ed Bernhoft, Cavalier, ND.






Private Stephen Olason enlisted in the US Army and was part of an airborne crew dropping supplies over Burma. He had completed 32 missions and was killed in action on December 14, 1944. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Olason of Hensel ND.










Staff Sgt Arni Gudjonson
Staff Sgt Arni Gudjonson


Staff Sergeant Arni Gudjonson enlisted in the US Army Air Force in June 1942. He became a prisoner of war and was released in June 1945. He was killed in an accident in July of 1945. He was the son of Arni and Sigrun Gudjonson of Hensel ND.










Technical Sergeant  H. Elswood Halldorson
Technical Sergeant H. Elswood Halldorson


Technical Sergeant H. Elswood Halldorson was born in Saskatchewan but moved to North Dakota and lived with an aunt. While here he joined the United States Army Air Force in 1941 and was top gunner with 677th Bomber Squadron in the Asiatic Theater. He was reported missing over Tokyo and died in a POW camp in June of 1945. He was decorated posthumously.







New Display For The Vidalin Congregation Service Flag


Allen Anderson with the new display case that will house the service flag displayed on the table
Allen Anderson with the new display case that will house the service flag displayed on the table

The beautiful new service flag display case was built by Allen Anderson and his son Taylor Anderson. Their family has a long history with the Vidalin church. The case is made of solid oak and finished with a clear coat of polyurethane varnish. It features a glass front to protect the aging flag from dust, sun, and insect damage to protect the aging WWII Vidalin Congregation Service Flag.


The flag has sustained damage due to age and is being preserved or restored separately. When complete, it will be hung on a rod made by Tom Beard, whose Erlendson family also has a long involvement with the Vidalin Church. He used polished steel and turned the ends to create a decorative finial to complete the display.


Allen researched Icelandic symbols called Rune Staves and included four on the case's sides. On the top left is the Valknut, the Knot of the Slain, which represents the fallen veterans. On the bottom left is the Vegvisir which is the Icelandic compass to help them find their way. On the top right is the Ægishjalmur, the Helm of Awe, which is a shield to protect their journey. On the bottom right is the Triquetra, the Celtic Knot, representing the Trinity which completes their journey. In this photo, Allen points to the Celtic Knot Rune that decorate the display case he and his son Taylor built.


Allen Anderson points to the Celtic Knot Rune that decorate the display case he and his son Taylor built

Gold Star Veterans photos: Photo of Arni Gudjonson provided by Connie Trenbeath. All other photos from Veterans of Icelandic Descent WWII Jon Sigurdsson Chapter IOD.

Vidalin Lutheran Church photos by Shirley J. Olgeirson


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