Norway Decorates WWII Hero With Top Military Honor

Norway on Friday awarded its highest military decoration for the first time in 60 years, posthumously honoring a soldier who was killed while helping the wartime government flee the country as German troops invaded in 1940.

Capt. Eiliv Austlid was awarded the War Cross with Sword, a medal that was recently reinstated after having been suspended since 1949.

Austlid fell to Nazi bullets as he led a small Norwegian unit in an attack on a German detachment in Dovre, central Norway, on April 15, 1940, the Defense Ministry said. The assault held up the Germans long enough to allow key members of the Norwegian government to escape.

The government officials eventually made it to England where they governed in exile throughout the war.

"Today's award honors a man who showed personal valor and made a significant contribution on the battlefield with strategic import," Defense Minister Anne-Grete Stroem-Erichsen said.

The decoration comes after Austlid's role in the attack was revised.

Postwar reports suggested that he had acted recklessly, getting himself killed while doing little to protect his charges. But historians, relying partly on interviews with Austlid's fellow soldiers, later found he had acted valiantly.

Recent media interest in Austlid's story helped bring him to the attention of the Defense Ministry.

"The stories say he was a fool," Defense Ministry adviser Asgeir Spange Brekke told The Associated Press. "But history shows that he in fact was a hero."

The decoration, established in 1941 by King Haakon VII, was suspended in 1949 because it was seen as exclusive to World War II.

The government reinstated the award in June, after much deliberation about how best to honor the extraordinary achievements of Norwegian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and other war zones.

Spange Brekke noted that the reinstatement also allows for retroactive conference.

"We are opening for old cases from World War II and the Korean War and every other conflict that Norwegian troops have been included in up to today," he said.

The Defense Ministry has yet to decide on a date for the award ceremony. It's also not clear which of Austlid's family members will be presented with the medal.

There are two other cases currently under consideration for the War Cross, Spange Brekke said. He said both cases involve Norwegian troops in Afghanistan, but declined to give details because they involve sensitive special forces operations.

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