CAMP RIPLEY - "Hey, I'm in that picture," Sgt. Timothy Milo of Brainerd said as he and a few of his fellow Iraqi War veterans peered into the tall glass display case at the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley Saturday. "That photo was taken after a 90-hour mission in Baghdad. We're all dirty-looking and tired."
Milo, who served in Iraq from 2003-05, was one of many war veterans and former and current members of the Red Bull 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota Army National Guard who on Saturday attended the opening of a special exhibit that pays tribute to the Red Bull Division at the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley.
The exhibit honors the division which has served Minnesota and the nation from its creation in 1917 to its current service in Iraq, Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia. July will mark the division's 90th anniversary.
Retired Gen. John W. Vessey (right), of Garrison, looked at combat photographs taken during World War II with fellow Red Bull WWII veterans Tom Countryman (left), of Mound and Don Singlestad, of Park Rapids, Saturday at Camp Ripley. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The new exhibit provides visitors with historical artifacts, uniforms, photographs and historical accounts of the Minnesota Army National Guard division, focusing on the division's Minnesota roots tracing back to the Civil War through the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Iraq War display includes a replica of an Iraqi suicide bomber vest; insurgent improvised explosive devices, also known as roadside bombs; the camouflage uniform worn by Sgt. Jerry Huntington while serving in Iraq; and many photographs. One photograph shows an outdoor thermometer with its needle stretching behind 120 degrees Fahrenheit in Iraq.
Sgt. Milo said it was strange to think that his service in Iraq has become part of history.
"This is weird," said Milo. "It doesn't seem like history to me yet."
Saturday's event included an opening ceremony, exhibit tours by World War II re-enactors and a picnic lunch. Speakers included master of ceremonies Stan Turner; museum curator Doug Bekke; Brig. Gen. Gerald Lang, Red Bull deputy commander; Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Kness; Rep. Al Doty, D-Royalton; and special guest Retired Gen. John W. Vessey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who lives in Garrison. Vessey is a four-star general and also a former Red Bull himself, as well as a veteran of World War II, Vietnam and Korean and the longest-serving member of the U.S. Army.
Anthony Lebda, St. Paul, showed off the boots that went with his World War II Italian military uniform Saturday at Camp Ripley. Lebda and others, dressed as World War I and II soldiers, led tour exhibits as part of the opening celebration for the 34th Infantry Division exhibit at the Minnesota Military Museum. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Vessey told the crowd that the 34th Division was one of three Divisions he served in during his military service and while he said he achieved no great fame while in the 34th, he chose to wear the Red Bull shoulder patch on his right shoulder during his entire military career. The retired general said he was honored to visit with members of the 1st Brigade Combat Team before they were sent to Iraq last year. The soldiers are expected to return at the end of July.
"They're bigger than we were and they're probably smarter than we are," Vessey said of today's soldiers as he joked with fellow World War II veterans in the audience.
Vessey also said he visited with several wounded Red Bull soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, many of whom who had lost arms and legs while serving in Iraq. Vessey said it would bring tears to your eyes. He asked that the older vets - or "old fuds," as he called himself and others of his generation - to stand up and applaud the present day soldiers. He encouraged them to take the time to listen to the stories of war from these young soldiers.
Several other World War II veterans who served in the 34th Infantry Division attended Saturday's celebration.
Don Frederick, a World War II and Korean War veteran from Richfield, joined the 34th Infantry Division in 1941 and had three encampments at Camp Ripley before being sent overseas during World War II. His nephew accompanied him to Camp Ripley Saturday.
Frederick, 84, donated a photograph of his 151st Field Artillery Battery F to the exhibit.
The Red Bull insignia of the 34th Infantry Division was based on a design by Marvin Cone of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who drew it for a contest while training with the division at Camp Cody in New Mexico in 1917. The design includes a steer skull imposed on the shape of a Mexican water jar called an "olla." Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Tom Countryman of Mound, a World War II veteran and a fellow Red Bull member, brought a photo album of photographs taken during the war, including a roll of film taken by German soldiers he happened to confiscate. He planned to donate some photographs to the exhibit.
A photograph on display that ran in the "Saturday Evening Post" shows a young John Brunnette who fired artillery that knocked out a German tank in Italy during World War II. Brunnette, who lives in Rochester, also donated other photographs and memorabilia to the exhibit, including a photograph of his brother Albert, who was killed in action during the war. Brunnette was one of six brothers who served during World War II. Two of his brothers were killed in action.
"That's me," said Bob Watts of Canyon, as he checked out a World War II display case in the Red Bull exhibit Saturday. "I didn't know I had a picture here."
Watts was 16 when he enlisted in the 34th Infantry Division. His father, 1st Sgt. George Watts, brought his son, then 14, to Camp Ripley for two summers in a row so the boy could shine shoes for the soldiers because he was too young to enlist. A photograph of Watts taken soon after he enlisted is on display at the museum. Watts served in Africa and Italy during World War II.
Doug Bekke, museum curator, had been working on this exhibit for the past two years. The Red Bull exhibit will remain on display for the next four years, at which time the exhibit will become a tribute marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, said Bekke. He has spent a lot of time interviewing veterans from the Red Bull division and is still seeking to interview other members of the division to collect historical information.
Former 34th Infantry Division soldiers may contact Bekke at (320) 632-7374 so he may obtain their personal historical accounts of their service.
The Minnesota Military Museum, located at Camp Ripley, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Sept. 30. Fall and winter hours will vary. There is a suggested donation of $3 per person. To schedule a group tour, contact the museum at (320) 632-7374.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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