Norwegian, U.S. military remember ship in ceremony


When the Norwegian Army's King's Guard was on the Boardwalk in 2009, temperatures soared into the 90s, and they became hot under their tunics.

There was no danger of overheating when the guards were back April 21 at the annual ceremony to commemorate the 1891 wreck of the Dictator. A cold wind whipped off the sea and temperatures remained in the 50s.

The King's Guard is assigned to provide security to the Norwegian Royal Family during time of war and is made up of conscripts who serve for just a year, said retired Navy Rear Adm. Hal Bernsen, who is chairman of the Norwegian Lady Plaza Foundation and oversaw the commemoration at the memorial.

The 120 guards were also in town to perform at the Virginia International Tattoo in Norfolk.

Amid the warm show of solidarity between Norway and the United States at the Norwegian Lady statue on 25th Street, there was a cold echo of the past as the many lives lost off the shores of Virginia were remembered.

The Dictator from Moss in Norway was carrying a cargo of lumber on March 27, 1891. The ship

was en route from Pensacola, Fla., to England when it hit a heavy storm off the Bahamas. The captain steered the bark to Virginia, but it ran aground on a sandbar just off 40th Street.

Eight died, including the captain's wife and his young son. Capt. Jorgen Jorgensen made it to shore by hanging onto a piece of the wreckage. After his wife's and son's bodies were recovered, they were buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Norfolk.

A day after the wreck, the ship's figurehead was seen floating near the shore. Bernsen said the original Norwegian Lady was placed on the Boardwalk on 16th Street as a "visible reminder of the tragedy and the dangers of life at sea."

It remained there until 1953, by which time it was deteriorating. Two Norwegian Lady statues were made in the 1960s by the Norwegian sculptor Ornulf Bast. The statue was erected in 1962 in Virginia Beach facing east while another identical statue faces west from Moss in Norway.

Capt. Yngve Skoglund of the Norwegian Navy, the guest speaker at the ceremony, said it was also the anniversary of the loss of two Norwegian merchant ships in the Atlantic. The Anita and the Norse Variant were lost in the same storm in March 1973.

"At this yearly event we also remember all seamen lost at sea," said Skoglund, a former submarine commander who is the national liaison representative at NATO, Allied Command Transformation in Hampton Roads.

Inger B. Pincus, a Norwegian from Norfolk, has been attending the ceremony for about 45 years.

"For me it's of interest because the ship that went down was owned by my grandmother's family," she said. Pincus found out about the family connection in the 1950s, the 84-year-old said.

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