The World War II Victory Medal was first issued as a service ribbon and in 1946, the medal was established. The medal was awarded to any member of the United States armed services, including members of the armed forces of the Government of the Philippine Islands, who served on active duty, or as a reservist, between December 7, 1941 and December 31, 1946. This medal was presented to Bernt Balchen.
Bernt Balchen was one of the world's greatest polar aviators. Throughout his lifetime, Balchen achieved many military and civilian accomplishments, set numerous records, received countless medals and awards and became a successful artist. Born in Tveit, Norway, he soon advanced himself through education and as an outdoorsman. He loved to hike, fish, camp and became a champion skier and motorcyclist. He was called into the Norwegian Army in World War I and fought for them until the armistice on November 11, 1918. Balchen joined the Finnish Army after Russia invaded the country. In September 1921, at just 20 years old, Balchen graduated first in his class from the Naval Air Training School in Harten, Norway and was commissioned as a flight lieutenant on January 1, 1924.
Balchen's polar expeditions began in 1926 at Spitsbergen where he joined Roald Amundsen, the famous Norwegian explorer, and the crew of the Norge. He was not aboard the dirigible that was the first to fly to the North Pole and on to Alaska, but did meet Admiral Richard Byrd who took him to the United States.
In September 1926 Balchen became a member of the Quiet Birdmen, a club established in 1921 by male pilots. There, he was introduced to famous aviators of the time including Carl Spaatz, Jimmy Doolittle, Billy Mitchell and Anthony H.G. Fokker. Belchen met and was sought after for his expertise by other aviators such as Charles A. Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.
His first significant flight came on the heels of Lindbergh's successful flight in the Spirit of St. Louis. As a relief pilot and mechanic for Byrd on his trans-atlantic flight aboard the America, Balchen actually piloted much of the flight because of his ability to fly solely on instruments. Also during this time, Balchen established his work in search and rescue missions in arctic conditions when he saved the crew of the Bremen which had flown from Europe to North America. 1929 marked the year of his first successful Antarctic expedition, also with Byrd. They flew the Floyd Bennett, a Ford trimotor, in the first flight over the South Pole on November 28, 1929, Thanksgiving Day. It set an important precedent in the use of arctic equipment and technology and they established the base, Little America, in the Bay of Whales.
Balchen became a U.S. Citizen on November 5, 1931 and soon began his collaboration with Lincoln Ellsworth, a wealthy American with a desire to further explore the Antarctic. Two attempts in 1934 and 1935 with the Northrop Gamma 2-B, Polar Star, failed due to damage and bad weather, but the crew successfully mapped out new areas including 5 islands, 3 fjords and mountain peaks.
Before the start of World War II, Balchen traveled back to Norway to assist in the creation of a Norwegian Airline, Det Norske Luftfartselskap (DNL) which later became part of the Scandinavian Airlines Systems (SAS). He traveled to Germany to purchase German JU-52's on floats for DNL and witnessed the country's massive military build-up despite the restrictions of the Versaille Treaty. He listened to speeches by Hitler and Goebbels and had dinner with Hermann Goering and German flying ace Ernst Udet, who he had met at Quiet Birdmen meetings.
The advent of World War II caused Balchen's focus to shift from civilian efforts to those of the U.S. and Norwegian military. On September 5, 1941, the Norwegian-American was made a captain in the U.S. Air Force and stationed in Greenland to head up Task Force 8 which completed an airfield, Bluie West 8 (BW-8). It served as an important base for refueling and supported aircraft movements to and from Europe. Balchen expanded the purpose of BW-8 to include search and rescue missions for crews such as that of the B-17, My Gal Sal. The rescue of 13 men as well as other crews, usually with the use of a Navy PBY Catalina, helped Balchen get promoted to major on 1 February 1942 and to lieutenant colonel in April 1942. He also received the Soldier's Medal. While at BW-8, Balchen pioneered many methods for arctic survival and training. He continually made surveys and reconnaissance missions, was the first to use belly landings on ice and snow and created new construction methods in order to adapt to the harsh environment. He led the northernmost U.S. bombing raid in WWII on a German base on Sabine Island, Greenland. On Balchen's return to the U.S., in 1943, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his services.
The lt. colonel went to Europe in January 1944 to continue his effort for the USAF. He led Operation Sonnie, a mission to take 2,000 Norwegians out of Sweden and transport them to Little Norway, a training base he had established in Canada. This was difficult because of Sweden's outward neutrality and therefore, the B-24's had to be disguised as civilian aircrafts. Balchen was also in charge of Operation Ball which called for paradrop missions over Norway to get supplies to the Norwegian underground. His crew flew 10, B-24's and became known as the Carpetbaggers. Balchen's method of getting into and out of Norway and Sweden helped to recover pieces of a German A-4 rocket, the prototype for the German V-2 ballistic missile. For his work on the two operations, Balchen received the Legion of Merit.
As the new commander of the 1415th Base Unit with headquarters in Stockholm, Balchen became the main figure in charge of air operations designed to get the Germans out of Norway. He led Operation Where and When and the Sepals Project. The operation involved the use of C-47's to get supplies and police troops to Norwegians from Sweden. This unit became known as the "Ve Do It Squadron," based on Balchen's frequent use of the phrase. The sabotage done in Northern Norway was executed under the guise of the Sepals Project. For his work during WWII, he was given the highest honors from Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
The Cold War called for Balchen's continued use in Norway and the arctic regions. He was first sent to Norway on December 10, 1945 for the purpose of helping Norwegian civil aviation, but more importantly for the USAF who wanted the use of certain bases and strategic locations. While there, he became copresident of DNL, president of the Norsk Aero Club and made airfields ready for U.S. aircraft and operations. In October 1948 he was assigned to Alaska where he established training techniques for cold weather operations and search and rescue missions. Balchen was commander of the 10th Rescue Squadron which handled rescues about every 1.5 days. On May 23, 1949, he became the first man to pilot an aircraft over both poles when he flew over the North Pole in a Douglas C-54. In August of that same year he performed the first successful glacier landing with a C-47.
January 1951 found Balchen in the Pentagon as special assistant on arctic problems to the Director of Installations. In February he became the project officer for Operation Blue Jay which called for the building of a base at Thule. Although the first flight took off from the base on September 11, 1951, it was not made public until the fall of 1952. This became an important base within Distant Early Warning (DEW), another project completed as a result of the Cold War.
1953 and 1954 mark diverse years full of awards and other accomplishments that attest to the remarkable characteristics and talents of Balchen. On January 6, 1953, his watercolors became part of an exhibition titled, "The High North," at the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City and later moved to Chicago. On 10 November he was awarded the Harmon International Trophy from President Eisenhower. He received an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Alaska in May 1954 and was also given the Charles H. Johnson Medal from the Norseman Lodge in Norway and the Adventurers' Club Medal in New York in 1954.
When he retired on October 31, 1956, Balchen was given the Distinguished Service Medal for his many years of important service to the USAF, but even after retirement he remained an important figure in polar aviation and training. He was a special military consultant on air defense systems, weapons systems, equipment and training for the arctic regions. Balchen also gave countless lectures and seminars on themes related to the arctic such as engineering, survival and defense. He was asked for his advice by international companies on a variety of topics from aviation to forestry and science. He also turned to the business aspects of aviation and became the vice president of Resort Airlines, was on the board of directors for Wien Alaska and was a marketing advisor for Canadair. In 1957 he received the first Outstanding Aviator Award from the National Pilots Association in Washington, D.C. As a result of retirement, Balchen had time to further his interests and capabilities in sketching, painting, photography, woodworking and outdoor activities.
Bernt Balchen died on October 17, 1973 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but his legacy still lives on. The Colonel Bernt Balchen Award was established in 1975 and given to the airport with the best snow and ice control program. He was inducted into National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio, in New Jersey and in Edmonton, Canada. Balchen was an international man who possibly did more for polar aviation and exploration than any other.
3-D (Grouping): 8.3 × 14 × 1.3cm (3 1/4 × 5 1/2 × 1/2 in.)
Storage: 19.5 × 15.2 × 5.1cm (7 11/16 × 6 × 2 in.)