Sgt. Reidar Waaler
USCIS Jacksonville Field Office
Reidar Waaler was born in Oslo, Norway, on February 12, 1894. He came to Newport News, Virginia, in 1913, and made his way to New York City. He entered military service in the New York National Guard’s Squadron A, Calvary, and later transferred to Company A, 105th Machine Gun Battalion, 27th Division.
On September 27, 1918, during World War I, Sergeant Waaler’s unit was positioned with British and Australian forces on the Hindenburg Line near Ronssoy, France. Ignoring orders, he rushed to rescue soldiers trapped inside a British tank that was on fire. His supervisor reprimanded him for his disobedience. Another witness recognized his valor and recommended him for a Medal of Honor, which he received on February 4, 1919. The citation reads:
In the face of heavy artillery and machinegun fire, Sergeant Waaler crawled forward to a burning British tank, in which some of the crew were imprisoned, and succeeded in rescuing two men. Although the tank was then burning fiercely and contained ammunition which was likely to explode at any time, this soldier immediately returned to the tank and, entering it, made a search for other occupants, remaining until he satisfied himself that there were no more living men in the tank.
Britain and France also honored his heroic actions.
After his discharge from the Army on April 1, 1919, he returned to Norway to open an import-export business. Later that same year, however, he moved back to New York, and got married in 1920. By that marriage, his wife, Gladys, lost her U.S. citizenship and gained her husband’s nationality under U.S. nationality law of that time. In 1923 he and his wife, Gladys, moved to Oslo, Norway, where he opened a clothing factory.
They left Europe in 1939 as World War II was about to begin. After Japan attacked U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, the 47-year-old Waaler tried to re-enlist but the Army considered him too old. After he persisted, the Army accepted him into its intelligence service. According to the Medal of Honor Historical Society, he was based in Sweden and “served as a conduit for information spirited out of Norway.”
Waaler became a U.S. citizen during the war under a provision of the Nationality Act of 1940 supporting military naturalizations. But his citizenship remained secret for the rest of the war.
Among his post-war business accomplishments, he oversaw Remington Rand Corp.’s European operations as a vice president. He and Gladys spent summers in Oslo and winters at their home in Stuart, Florida. Waaler Street in Stuart is named in his honor.
He died of complications from surgery on February 5, 1979. He and his wife are buried at Forest Hills Memorial Park in Palm City, Florida.