Column: Thoughts of Val Bjornson, and a Worthington visitWORTHINGTON — You ever heard of Kristian Valdimar Bjornson? Raise your hand. I never had heard the name Kristian Valdimar Bjornson until lately.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — You ever heard of Kristian Valdimar Bjornson? Raise your hand.
I never had heard the name Kristian Valdimar Bjornson until lately.
Let me alter the question slightly.
You ever heard of Val Bjornson?
Now some hands go up. Val Bjornson was Minnesota’s state treasurer for 11 terms — for 22 years. Val Bjornson was an editorial writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch. He did a Twin City radio show.
Val Bjornson was Kristian Valdimar Bjornson, and Kristian Valdimar Bjornson was a native of Minneota — Bjornson would have been cheering the Minneota Vikings last month when they lost their girls volleyball tourney to the Windom Eagles in the Section 3A finals.
Val Bjornson’s father, Gunnar, owned the Minneota newspaper, the Minneota Mascot. Val Bjornson edited the Mascot while he attended the University of Minnesota. Some readers all across the country followed the Minneota paper because Minneota was (is) the heart of Iceland immigration in Minnesota. Icelanders were rare but they were found across our region — Lyon County, Murray County, Lincoln County, Yellow Medicine County.
The old joke was the Icelanders came to Minnesota to live where it is warm.
I was thinking lately of how I embarrassed Val Bjornson and Hubert Humphrey. It was 1954. Hubert Humphrey was the DFL nominee for re-election to the U.S. Senate and Bjornson was the Republican challenger. They both came to Worthington for Turkey Day.
In those years, when we (Daily Globers) were assigned to cover a visiting politician, we were expected to follow like puppies on the heels of their masters. I was assigned to Hubert Humphrey. If Hubert stopped somewhere for an ice cream cone, it was for me to know the flavor of ice cream he ordered.
It was late in the afternoon. HHH set out somewhat mysteriously from the Daily Globe. He turned at the corner of 11th and Fourth and started toward 10th Street. I followed. A minute or two later, Val Bjornson turned off 10th and walked along the side of what now is the Cow’s Outside, directly toward Humphrey.
Neither candidate appreciated immediately who I was, or what I was doing. They were slightly embarrassed — bitter rivals — to be seen talking together, cordially.
I caught their secret conversation. Want to know what it was?
Humphrey: You ready to leave?
Bjornson: Any time you’re ready.
The two candidates had come to Worthington in the same car. Neither had a great wad of money. Traveling together was one way to save dollars. That’s how politics was in those days.
This is not truly the first reason I was thinking of Val Bjornson. I was thinking of Ken Burns’ acclaimed television series, “The War,” and I was thinking of Ken Burns at Luverne and Ken Burns exploring our area — poking close to Minneota. Burns was only several miles from learning one of the (seemingly) forgotten stories of World War II. The United States was not even in the war when — July 7, 1941 — U.S. Marines went ashore at the harbor at Reykjav?k and occupied Iceland.
Ken Burns might have found people in the Minneota area who still have a memory of the U.S. occupation. He might also have learned that, while some Icelanders and their Minnesota relatives believed it was good to have U.S. Marines and U.S. soldiers as an occupation army, there were others who never felt easy about this.
Despite what Americans were saying — Icelanders love us — there probably never was a nation which truly welcomed an occupying army. Icelanders had another worry. The Germans had begun their aerial campaigns. The world had followed the bombings and the great fires in Rotterdam, in London, in Coventry. Iceland felt safe when it was neutral. With U.S. troops and U.S. planes on Iceland’s soil, and U.S. ships in Reykjavik harbor, there was fear German bombers might appear at any time.
American soldiers and Marines occupied Iceland to protect the North Atlantic sea lanes and the convoys carrying supplies to Britain and the Soviet Union. Val Bjornson, the southwest Minnesota boy who spoke the Icelandic language, was a U.S. Navy intelligence officer assigned to Iceland. He was an authority on the story of the nation America invaded half-a-year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.