DASSEL, MN – Dassel American Legion Post 364 will sponsor a presentation by special guest speaker Hakon Torjesen Thursday, April 19. Torjesen grew up in China in the middle of the Sino-Japanese War.
He is the son of Norwegian missionaries who moved to Hequ, China during the 1920s. There they found themselves in the midst of conflict between Chinese communists, Chinese nationalists, and the Japanese.
Torjesen and his siblings were enrolled in a missionary boarding school (about 1,218 km, or 757 miles away), while their parents and a local church opened their doors to refugees. Together, they harbored more than 1,000 refugees.
It would not last, however, as the Japanese retaliated against the Torjesens’ efforts by bombing their home, killing Hakon’s father.
After the incident, Hakon’s mother journeyed across the Gobi Desert by foot to reunite with her children attending boarding school. Her guide was an 80-year-old Chinese citizen, and it took them months to get there.
In time, the family found themselves incubated in a Japanese internment camp specifically designed for foreign civilians. There, they faced hunger, lack of sanitation, and crowding.
The 1924 Olympian Eric Liddle, whose story was made well-known through the movie “Chariots of Fire,” was also residing in the camp then.
“[He] was a surrogate for many people,” Hakon stated.
Liddle died in the compound from a brain tumor in February of 1945 – seven months before the war ended.
When the compound was finally liberated, Hakon was 17 years old and weighed 97 pounds.
“Cans of Spam fell like gifts from heaven,” he recalled. “One can of pineapple hit the ground and exploded, squirting a stream of juice into my mouth. What a treat that was for me.”
The public is welcome tohear more of Torjesen’s story April 19 at the Dassel History Center, starting at 6 p.m. A potluck dinner will be served beforehand at 5:30 p.m. The Legion meeting will commence afterwards at 7 p.m.