Lieutenant Claus Brockman scraped his boots against the edge of the wooden walkway, trying to remove the mud that had accumulated there. It was early May and that meant spring had finally come to Falun, Sweden, and spring meant that the streets were a sticky mess.
He looked down at his uniform trousers with despair; mud was splattered up past his knees. For this duty he was supposed to look his best, but there was no way that could happen now. He tugged on the tail and sleeves of his jacket to make it as presentable as possible and patted his pocket to make sure the package he was delivering was still secure.
He pushed open the door of the shop and stepped inside, quickly closing the door behind him. As he paused for a moment to soak in the warmth of the general store, an older man at the counter looked up to greet him.
The man eyed Claus’s uniform suspiciously. “Yes, how may I help you?”
Claus removed his hat before answering the man. “Excuse me, sir, is your name Erik Svedberg?”
“Yes, that is my name.”
Claus felt a rush of relief; he had been tracking down this place for almost a year and a half. Perhaps he had finally found the man he was looking for. “Herr Svedberg, I am Lieutenant Claus Brockman of the United States of Europe Navy. Do you have a son named Bjorn?”
The man stiffened at the question and answered warily. “Yes, I have a son by that name, but I have not seen him for almost three years. Why do you ask?”
Claus tried to calm his nerves for what he had to say. “Herr Svedberg, I have news of your son, very sad news. Sir, it is my duty to inform you that Bjorn was killed while fighting against the forces of Denmark.”
The blood drained from the man’s face as the news registered. “Bjorn is dead?”
A scream of anguish came from the back of the shop and a woman rushed into the room, throwing herself into the man’s arms. The man held the woman tightly as she sobbed against his shoulder.
Claus stood in silence, allowing the couple their grief. After a couple of minutes, the man looked up, as if remembering Claus was standing there. “I am sorry, Lieutenant . . . ?”
“Brockman, sir, Claus Brockman,” Claus quickly answered.
“Lieutenant Brockman, please forgive my manners.” He pointed to the woman next to him. “This is my wife, Helena, Bjorn’s mother.”
Claus bowed slightly. “Madam.”
The man gestured to a small table and chairs in the back of the room. “Please, have a seat.”
Claus took one of the seats as the man and woman joined him. The woman was sobbing gently, her face buried in a handkerchief. The man took a few moments to compose himself and then began speaking. “Please, I again ask you to forgive me. You see, nearly three years ago, my son parted under unpleasant circumstances. I have not seen him since that awful day.” The man paused as he was overcome with grief and regret, tears flowing down his face. “My last words to my son were words of anger.”
Claus felt uncomfortable hearing the man’s story. “I am sorry; I did not mean to bring up bad memories.”
The man shook his head. “No, that is in the past and not your concern. You said that my son died in battle.”
Claus nodded. “Yes, let me start again.” He took a moment to organize his thoughts. “On October 7th, in 1633, the city of Wismar was threatened by an invading Danish fleet. A small group of U.S.E. forces was gathered to repel the fleet. Although they were greatly outnumbered, the group was successful; they destroyed some of the invading fleet’s ships and repelled the invaders. Regretfully, several men were killed that day, including Bjorn, whose boat was destroyed in the battle.”
The man sat in silence for a few moments as he digested the news before speaking. “My son was at Wismar, where that German boy died in the flying machine.”
Claus nodded. “Yes, sir. Your son was one of only a handful of men who faced the Danish fleet. Because of them, the city remained safe.”
The man nodded in understanding. “My son died honorably then, he fought bravely?”
“I believe he did, sir.” Claus reached into his jacket and pulled out the package he carried. He opened it, took out an envelope, and handed it to the man. “Sir, this is a letter from Bjorn’s commander. I believe it contains more details on your son’s last days.”
The woman had regained her composure. “Did you know my son, Lieutenant? Were you there that day?”
“No, madam,” Claus answered. “I never met your son and I joined the navy a few months after Wismar.” He reached into the package and pulled out two small boxes and two sheets of paper. “I also brought something for you. As a result of your son’s final actions, the navy has awarded him decorations.”
The man was obviously confused. “Decorations?”
Claus opened one of the small boxes to confirm its contents and then handed it to the man.
The man looked at the box and its contents. Inside he found a medal, a heart shaped metal medallion suspended from a purple ribbon. He looked up at Claus.
Claus picked up the certificate and read. ” This is to certify that the Prime Minister of the United States of Europe has awarded the Purple Heart (Posthumously) to Gunner’s Mate Bjorn Svedberg, for fatal wounds received in action at Wismar on 7 October 1633. Signed John C. Simpson, Admiral, United States of Europe Navy.”
Claus then handed the man another box. The man pulled out another medal; this one a silver star suspended from a red, white, and blue ribbon.
Claus read the next certificate. “The Prime Minister of the United States of Europe takes pride in presenting the Silver Star Medal (Posthumously) to Bjorn Svedberg, Gunner’s Mate, U.S.E. Navy, for conspicuous gallantry as a member of the three-man crew aboard the navy boat Outlaw during action against an armed enemy fleet on 7 October 1633 in defense of the city of Wismar. Remaining at his station in the face of hostile fire, Gunner’s Mate Svedberg, with cool courage and utter disregard for his own personal safety, manned his weapon until he was fatally wounded. His heroic devotion to duty, maintained at the sacrifice of his own life, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States of Europe Naval Service. Signed John C. Simpson, Admiral, United States of Europe Navy.”
Claus gave both certificates to the man. “In addition to these decorations, I want to inform you that the U.S.E. Navy has commissioned a schooner to be named in honor of your son and his sacrifice.”
“It’s a small, fast ship, sir.”
The man had a small, sad smile on his face. “Did you hear that, Helena? They have named a ship after our son.”
The woman nodded sadly. “Lieutenant, was Bjorn buried properly?”
Claus felt very uncomfortable, but it was a question he had prepared to answer. “Madam, I’m sorry to say that since Bjorn was lost in a naval action, his body was not recovered, nor were the bodies of any others lost in the sea. There was a memorial service held for all those lost and a monument has been erected at Wismar dedicated to those who gave their lives that day.”
The man looked troubled, but nodded in understanding. “That is the way of war. I want to thank you, Lieutenant. What you have done must have been difficult for you.”
“Yes, sir, it was, but I accepted the difficulty because it needed to be done.” He rose from the chair and stepped away from the table. “Sir, madam, now that I have performed my duty here, I must return to Magdeburg. However, I will not leave town until tomorrow morning, so if you have any more questions, you can find me at the inn on the corner tonight. Please, if you need anything at all, feel free to contact me. Again, I am sorry for your loss.”
Claus had just reached the door when the man hurried over to stop him. “Lieutenant, I do have a question. You never served with my son and you did not know him. Why did you come all this way, do all that you have done, for a man you never met?”
Claus turned to the man. “Sir, it is a policy our admiral put in place and, when I think of my own family, one that I agree with. When any member of the navy loses their life, the navy will do everything it can to inform that man’s family. Our policy is that no family should ever be left not knowing the fate of their loved one.”
It was obvious the man was confused. “But my son was no one important; he was not a noble or an officer.”
Claus held himself up with pride in his service. “That doesn’t matter, sir. Everyone who wears our uniform is important.”
With that, Claus opened the door and stepped out.
Erik watched the young man walk away and then closed the door to the shop. He walked back to the table where his wife was looking at the medals with tears in her eyes.
Sitting down again, he opened the envelope. As he began to read the letter, tears ran down his cheeks.
To the family of Bjorn Svedberg,
My name is Lieutenant Commander Edward Cantrell. Writing this letter is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Admiral Simpson offered to write it in my place, but he and I agreed that it would be more appropriate if I did it.
I was Bjorn’s commander on the day that he died. Other men died that day as well, among them a lifelong friend. It was only pure luck that I survived, although I was wounded and captured.
But this letter isn’t about me, it’s about Bjorn. I didn’t know him long, but let me tell you of the time I did know him and of his bravery that final day . . .
A soft wind came off the Baltic Sea on the late June afternoon in Wismar. A light drizzle washed the dirt from the bronze plaque set into the stone monument erected near the shore.
A lone man dressed in the uniform of the U.S.E. Navy, with the double silver bars of a lieutenant, stood at the base of the stone and read the words cast into the metal plaque. The same message was repeated in English, German, and Swedish:
On October 7th, 1633, joint elements of the U.S.E. Navy and the U.S.E. Air Force defended the city of Wismar against an invasion fleet of the Kingdom of Denmark. Although vastly outnumbered, the small group of defenders successfully repulsed the fleet and kept the city from enemy hands.
This memorial is dedicated to the bravery and sacrifice of the men who gave their lives that day:
Captain Hans Richter, USEAF
Lieutenant Lawrence Wild, USEN
Gunners Mate Bjorn Svedberg, USEN
When he had finished reading, the young lieutenant came to attention and saluted. If anyone had been standing nearby they would have heard his soft-spoken words. “Mission accomplished, Gunners Mate Svedberg.”