Let us all honor and remember our veterans every day not just on Veterans’ Day. I want to bring awareness of how important it is for us all to respect and honor our United States military veterans. My father, Wayne Higgins, served in the U.S. Air Force in Japan during the Vietnam War. Growing up he didn’t talk much about his service but now he’s attended reunions and shares stories with us. I am proud to be a daughter of a military veteran.
Back in 2007 I met a wonderful veteran, Russ Freeburg. He served in the Vietnam War as a dog handler. He was delivering posters for the Traveling Vietnam War Monument that was in Marshall that year. I recognized his name and asked him about his family history. His father, Harry, had grown up outside of Walnut Grove and had served in World War II and at the time his son, Matthew, was in the Marines. Our conversation led me to start seeking out more of the Walnut Grove area veterans’ photographs and stories. When the Veterans’ exhibit opened at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum (LIW Museum) in 2008 we had collected over 120 military veterans’ photographs. Troy Krause, of the Redwood Gazette, came to Walnut Grove and interviewed three local veterans, Emil Bannick, WWII U.S. Army veteran, Don Johnson, Korean War U.S. Army veteran and Jack Van Gelderen, Vietnam U.S. Marines veteran. These three men served their country and were willing to talk about their service. It was a very enlightening event. The exhibit continued to grow. I remember when Gordy Pederson, Redwood Falls resident originally from rural Walnut Grove, stopped by the museum to donate his uniform and his brother’s scrapbook. He was so proud that the Museum wanted ‘his old stuff’. The local veterans were proud the Museum took an interest in their stories. Through these kind of projects communities are brought together. Other organizations could get involved by interviewing veterans and sharing their stories with historical societies and libraries.
Here at the Renville County Historical Society (RCHS) in Morton, we continue to preserve our military veterans’ histories, their stories and of course their photographs. Currently RCHS has been gathering World War 1 photographs, artifacts and letters. These items have been added to our permanent files and are on exhibit until 2019. The upcoming exhibit, Renville County in World War 1: 1918 will have the stories of the soldiers we lost that year, the war effort through various organizations and of course photographs of those who served that year. If you have a World War 1 connection please be sure to contact your local historical society and share this history. World War 1 is the forgotten war by many because it happened so long ago. Let us honor these soldiers by remembering they had families, hopes and dreams. Renville County lost 69 soldiers in World War 1. The returning soldiers came back different men. The Olivia Times printed the book Renville County in World War 1: 1917, 1918, 1919 in 1920. This book is a good record of the soldiers, nurses and organizations that served and assisted in World War 1. Stop by the Museum to check it out. Currently RCHS is working with the Renville County Genealogical Society (RCGS) to revamp the book. We are gathering as much information on the men and women who served and will be putting together a new book that we hope will be available at the 2019 Renville County Fair.
Just because it is the anniversary of World War 1 doesn’t mean historical societies have stopped collecting other veterans’ items. If you are currently or have in the past served in the military please contact your local historical society and share your information. It is imperative that not only the past veterans be remembered but the current and future ones as well. We do not want any forgotten veterans. Historical Societies do not just preserve the past but they preserve yesterday and tomorrow. We have binders of Renville County veterans in the Research Library along with many artifacts donated over the years of other Renville County veterans.
I had the wonderful opportunity to work with U.S. Navy Korean War veteran Wilbur Oberg during my time at the LIW Museum. He was very proud of his service and was part of the Walnut Grove American Legion. He passed away on July 17, 2013, I miss him to this day. I have been blessed again to work with another U.S. Navy Vietnam War veteran, Dick Roper. He grew up in the Beaver Falls/Morton area and has taught me a lot of this area’s history. He is a great friend and I enjoy seeing him at work and socializing with him. I must be meant to hang around Navy guys.
Let us all honor and respect our military veterans every day and remember to carry on their stories. I have met so many veterans I couldn’t list them all here in this article. I do want to send out a personal thank you to military veterans for their service and all they have done and continue to do for the United States of America.
If you have Renville County military connections either personally or through your family please contact the Renville County Historical Society. Museum Hours for the Winter: Monday – Friday 10 AM – 4 PM to make an appointment outside of the posted hours please call 507-697-6147. You can also reach the Museum via email firstname.lastname@example.org and or go to ‘Share Your Story’ page on this website. Be sure to LIKE us on FACEBOOK or FOLLOW us on TWITTER to keep up with our events.
RCHS has two events honoring our veterans each year, the Veterans Round Table on the Museum Grounds on the 4th of July at 1 PM and the Patriotic Pancake Breakfast that takes place the Saturday after Labor Day 9 AM-11AM Free Will Donations accepted at both events and proceeds shared equally with RCHS and the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon of Renville County. RCHS also holds a Patriotic Sing-a-Long on the 4th of July in St. John’s Church on the Museum Grounds at 7 PM.