TEQUESTA, Fla. -- The purchase of a World War II Jeep has launched Erik Wiborg, 47, on a mission that, if successful, will finally give an American infantry battalion the recognition it is due -- a medal it should have received from the Norwegian government.
"I bought this Jeep and wanted to paint it in the manner of the 99th Infantry Battalion," Wiborg said. The 99th Infantry was a separate battalion comprised of Norwegians or Americans of Norwegian descent who could speak the language fluently, said Wiborg, a shipbroker.
"As I was researching, I discovered that a special medal had been authorized for World War II veterans," Wiborg said. "It was intended to recognize units like the 99th which were specifically organized to liberate Norway from the Germans. But, I learned the members of the 99th had never received it."
Now Wiborg is trying to raise money to help get the 25 or so veterans who remain from the 99th to Washington on May 28, when the Norwegian government will award them the medal. All of the men are elderly and not in good financial or physical condition and could not make the trip unaided.
Wiborg, who was born in Oslo but is now an American, has already succeeded in having one 99th veteran receive the medal. Lief Oistae, of Houston, served in the 99th and then the Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor of the CIA, and then retired as a sergeant first class. Wiborg learned he was dying in Houston. He wanted Oistae to have the medal and convinced the Norwegian government to send its military attache to Texas to make the award.
"Oistae died 12 days after the award was given, but his family said he was very happy," said Wiborg, displaying newspaper clippings about the special award.
Wiborg has already received $10,000 from a Norwegian shipbroker, and is looking for more sponsors for the trip.
To learn about the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), go to their website at www.99thinfantrybattalion.org.
Wiborg was successful in getting his Jeep painted as a vehicle of the battalion would be painted. He drives it in parades and displays it at the Road to Victory Military Museum in Stuart, Fla. He serves on the board of the museum.
Joe Crankshaw writes for Scripps Treasure Coast (Fla.) Newspapers, The Stuart News, Fort Pierce Tribune and Vero Beach Press Journal.