Seattleite being honored with highest French medal for WWII service
Almost 70 years after his battalion took part in the liberation of France, Seattle resident Harry Nyhus is set to be awarded the highest French honorary decoration: the Legion of Honor Medal.
Seattle Times staff reporter
When you ask Harry Nyhus what he remembers most from World War II, he pauses for a moment and thinks back to his days in the 99th infantry battalion, an elite unit composed entirely of Norwegian Americans.
His eyes well up with tears and he says only one word: "Combat."
"It wasn't easy," Nyhus, 92, recalled on a recent afternoon in his Magnolia home. "But you didn't know any better."
Nyhus said he saw the worst war had to offer when he served as a medic in the battalion as they took part in the liberation of France and the Battle of the Bulge.
Now, nearly 70 years later, Nyhus will be awarded the highest French honorary decoration: the Legion of Honor Medal.
French officials will visit Nyhus' home Monday to present him with the medal, which has been awarded to many veterans who saw combat on French soil during the war.
"I am so proud of my father," said his daughter Tamera Nyhus, who contacted the consulate to seek recognition for her father's service.
Born in Norway, Nyhus and his family immigrated to Washington when he was 10. He grew up on his family's Port Angeles farm and spent his days clearing large tree trunks with dynamite so the plot could be farmed.
He joined the 99th battalion in 1942 after the War Department ordered its creation to aid in the potential liberation of Nazi-occupied Norway. The unit was composed almost entirely of Norwegians and Americans of direct Norwegian descent who knew the language and could ski, said Bill Hoffland, president of a nonprofit educational foundation that works to spread the story of the battalion.
They trained in the Colorado mountains for months to prepare for the invasion, lugging equipment and heavy wooden skis at 10,000 feet elevation, said Nyhus.
"If you complained, you would get kicked in the ass," he said.
The battalion first saw combat in France but eventually made it to Norway after the war ended, where its members served as the honorary guard when the King of Norway returned from exile.
Last year, Nyhus and other surviving members of the battalion were awarded with the Norwegian Defense Medal.
Tamera Nyhus and her sister Stacey made the trek to Washington, D.C., to accept that honor on their father's behalf. Nyhus suffers from lung cancer and isn't healthy enough to travel, Tamera Nyhus said.
After the war, Nyhus completed dental school at the University of Oregon and opened two practices in Seattle. He retired about 20 years ago but continued to operate an 18-unit apartment building in Queen Anne for another 10 years, Tamera Nyhus said.
Hoffland, whose father served in the battalion, isn't sure if other members of the troop have received the French medal, but he said news of the honor would help spread the story of the "forgotten 99th."
"They were real proud of themselves," he said. "They knew they were an outstanding unit. But being old Norwegians, they never really talked about it."
Javier Panzar: 206-464-2253 or email@example.com. On Twitter @jpanzar.