ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) – The Vikings, a Minnesota-based infantry battalion that fought the Nazis during World War II, will be honored next weekend at Fort Snelling.
According to those who know the unit well, the state’s strong Norwegian heritage played a large role in the troop’s ability to defeat its enemy.
For many in the 99th Infantry Battalion, their story started at Fort Snelling. “They wanted to liberate their home country,” said Roger Magnuson. “They hung onto their Norwegian heritage.”
Norway’s roots and a Viking warrior spirit ran deep in Magnuson’s father, John Magnuson.“He landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy,” Magnuson said.
Private First Class John Magnuson earned his Bronze Star in Europe fighting with the U.S. Army’s 99th Infantry Battalion Separate.
“The stipulation to get into this thing is you had to be Norwegian descent, you had to speak Norwegian and you had to know how to ski,” said Teagan Godfrey.
Battalion historian Teagan Godfrey said those skills were thrust into action in the early 1940s.“They had a special purpose to jump into Norway to raise hell for the Germans,” she said. “Sabotage missions, this and that.”
Military recruiters set their sights on Minnesota and the region’s Norwegian heritage, selecting around 500 of the battalion’s 1001 men from the state. Many eventually trained at Fort Snelling.
Naturally, the unit carried the nickname of the “Vikings,” complete with their own patch.“Their missions were to snowshoe and ski down the mountain firing,” Godfrey said.
Some Vikings fought in the Battle of the Bulge, which liberated a concentration camp while others fought to free their own in Norway.58 men gave their lives, including five from Minnesota. “They were willing to give it all to free their home country,” Godfrey said. So far, 76 soldiers have returned to Fort Snelling where they’re buried.