Greetings to the crew of the Gambier Bay and to their loved ones. I grew up in the tiny town of Malmo, Minnesota and on a recent visit there, I was chatting outside the general store with one of our “old-timers”, Gaylard Westerlund. Conversation had turned to our community’s Veterans when suddenly Gaylard remarked how tragic it was that Lage Naslund had “disappeared in WWII.
Since it is often my honor to read aloud the Veterans List at Memorial Day services, I was confused at hearing a war-related name with which I was unfamiliar. Upon further questioning, Gaylard related that he remembered Lage Naslund as being a friend of his older brother’s. He recalled that Lage had lived in Glory (a farm community just up the road from Malmo) and that he had served in WWII and never returned.
This story intrigued me as my grandmother’s family had homesteaded in Glory. The last of Grandma’s generation, my Great Aunt Vivian, was still living in a local nursing home– so on my next visit, I asked her if she knew anything about Lage Naslund. Her eyes lit up as she exclaimed, “Lage! I haven’t heard that name in years!”
It transpired that in 1930 Lage Torgny Naslund was an adventurous 19-year-old when he boarded a ship in Sweden and sailed to America searching for a new life. He settled in Glory next to my Grandmother’s home. He became friends with her family and often helped out on the farm. Aunt Viv recalled that she and her younger sister Eileen (just little girls at the time) would peek around the corner of the house to watch Lage washing his red hair in the rain barrel. They thought he was the “dreamiest thing” ever! My Aunt remembered that Lage had married a local girl named Signe Arvidson; that he had at some point gone off to war and never come back.
Lage and Signe – late 1930s
Wedding of Lage and Signe – 1933
I began scouring old family photos but was unable to locate one labelled “Lage”; I also was beginning to feel frustrated that no one could tell me what had actually happened to him during the war. That’s when I set out looking for Lage! My search took me to the local Historical Society, Veterans Office, churches/cemeteries and even the funeral home. Finally, I held in my hand an address for Barbara Kennedy, a niece to Lage and Signe Naslund. Unfortunately, the address I had been given was almost thirty years old…but it also was for a place I estimated to be not more than 10 miles from where I currently lived in Cloquet, MN.
So setting off on a whim and a prayer, I traversed a number of confusing country lanes until I located the house. Imagine my excitement when Barbara Kennedy answered my knock on the door! Tears filled her eyes when I asked her if Lage Naslund had been her uncle. She said how strange it was that I had come at a time when the family had recently been talking and reminiscing about him.
I learned from Barbara that Lage had married her Aunt Signe in 1933 and instantly become “the best uncle ever;” a favorite of family members old and young alike. He was a good-natured, happy man…full of laughter and life. One of her favorite memories was of him being such a strong swimmer, he could swim across the lake with two children on his back!
After their marriage, Lage and Signe farmed for a time locally before relocating to Minneapolis where he became a cement finisher. He took an Oath of US Citizenship in 1940 and went to Alaska to work on the ALCAN. He later enlisted in the Navy and was WT3c on the Gambier Bay when the ship was sunk in the Battle Off Samar. Lage’s widow Signe lived with her family during his absence, and niece Barbara recalls how heartbreakingly sad they all were to be notified after the battle that Lage was listed as MIA and later KIA. It was the only time she saw the adult males in her family openly cry. To this day, waves of grief wash over her when she thinks of that time in her childhood.
William Kennedy, Barbara’s husband, is a Veteran himself who did his master’s thesis on naval battles. By listening to him and reading literature he recommended, I have come to see how horrific was the Battle of the Gambier Bay and how heroic were the sailors who fought it. I feel overwhelming sadness at the thought that Lage (the incredible swimmer) was probably trapped in the depths of the ship with no chance for survival. But I’m glad today to have many pictures labelled “Lage” in my possession, and Barbara and I are working on a display of his photos/medals to hang in a local VFW.
Lage Torgny Naslund sailed on the Gambier Bay and lost his life in that terrible battle. He was a Swedish immigrant who loved America…enough to adopt her as his own country and to die in her service. I hope that in Heaven, Lage knows that he is still deeply loved and missed by his family and friends… and by a very, very grateful community.
Lage was KIA