By JEFF Thielen, Guest Columnist
According to a recent article in the Minneapolis Star & Tribune, Morrison County has one of the highest concentrations of military veterans in the state of Minnesota. This is evident by the strong veteran presence seen in the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts in the county.
Camp Ripley is considered a second home for many of the county’s veterans and is one of the reasons for the high veteran concentration in the area.
The county also has the honor of being the final resting place for many Minnesota veterans at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery. The Veterans Cemetery is home to the “Veterans Art Project” a historical educational interpretation of each branch of the service through paintings that represent the story of veterans’ service to the state and nation.
It is only fitting that a county with a large veteran population is also home to one of the finest small military museums in the country. This small non profit is located on the grounds of Camp Ripley and is in the business of collecting and telling veterans’ stories. There is no place in Morrison County or in the state of Minnesota doing a better job of telling those stories than the Minnesota Military Museum.
The Minnesota Military Museum’s mission is to educate the public on the service of Minnesota’s veterans, to preserve a record of their service through exhibits, and to preserve the artifacts related to their service for future generations.
The Minnesota Military Museum has over 100,000 artifacts to preserve and to help tell veterans stories. There is a lot of interesting “stuff.” There is stuff from frontier days to the present representing each branch of Service. There is big stuff, and little stuff, and uniform stuff, and stuff worn by the famous and by the not so famous. But all the stuff in a museum is just stuff unless it can be woven into a story about someone or something that visitors to the museum can relate to.
Artifacts or “stuff” bring life to the stories about a particular veteran or battle. A small piece of a flag is just that unless you know the piece of flag is the largest surviving piece of the flag carried by three different flag bearers of the 1st Minnesota during their famous charge at Gettysburg during the Civil War.
Veterans from Minnesota were the first to be sent to the Philippines prior to World War II as part of the 194th Tank Battalion, and were later part of the infamous Bataan Death March. Their story is brought to life when you view a pair of boots worn during that march along with soil from Bataan.
Most visitors are unaware that Minnesotans fired the first shot of World War II against the Japanese in the Pacific at Pearl Harbor, and against the Germans in North Africa. Without the stories of Minnesota veterans and the artifacts to help tell those stories these important facts would fade into obscurity.
The Minnesota Military Museum has many veterans’ stories to share with visitors and a lot of “stuff” to help tell those stories. We encourage local residents to visit and become involved in the museum as a member and/or a volunteer.
We hope local residents will become involved through memberships and donations to help us build our new exhibits on the 50th anniversary of Vietnam opening in 2015 and the 100th anniversary of World War I opening in 2016.
In the next few months the museum will be unveiling a new web- (Continued on Page 7A)
site allowing Minnesota Veterans the opportunity to submit a picture and their military story or the story of a relative that will be maintained in a data base and available on line for anyone to view.
Please join us and help us preserve and tell the story of Minnesota Veterans so future generations will never forget what they did, how they did it and the sacrifices they made to get the job done.
Jeff Thielen, is the executive director of the Military Historical Society of Minnesota, Minnesota Military Museum.