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Finding Minnesota: Honoring Heroes

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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GRANITE FALLS, Minn. (WCCO) – They used to cause startled glances, but now when war planes fly over one Minnesota town, people know it’s just one of their neighbors.

Ron Fagen and his family have a passion for all things related to World War II. And because of this passion, aircraft that went on raids over Germany and France now come and go from Granite Falls.

“We really are serious about reminding the youngest generation about the greatest generation,” said Fagen.

For the past several years, he and his wife, Diane, along with their two sons have been quietly assembling an impressive collection of aircraft, ground vehicles, uniforms and other war mementoes.

“We never know where the treasures are,” Diane said. “They’re everywhere.”

“This is the original Twilight Tear airplane right here,” said Ron Fagen, as he stood by a P-51D Mustang, which he purchased from the Lear family of Lear Jet fame.

Across the room, Diane Fagen sat in a Jeep lent to them by one of their friends.

“General Omar Bradley who was the commander of D-Day,” she said. “This is his actual jeep.”

It’s one family’s tribute to the courage shown on June 6, 1944. They also commissioned prominent sculptor Fred Hoppe, Jr. to re-create the scene of American soldiers, storming off their Higgins boats onto the beaches of Normandy.

“This is how they arrived on Utah beach, exactly what it looked like,” said Ron Fagen, pointing to the bronze statues.

Even the sand in the display was shipped in from Normandy. The museum on Utah beach just happened to be doing some excavating for an expansion, and the Fagens struck a deal to buy 55 barrels of the excess sand.

“People at the Utah Beach Museum said, ‘Absolutely – American soldiers walked in this sand,'” said Fagen.

The family business, Fagen, Inc., built 60 percent of America’s ethanol plants, and is now considered the largest green energy design-builder in the world.

That was their job; their historic collection is their new passion.

Much of it is now in a fortified hangar at the Granite Falls airport, built to withstand a tornado.

The Fagens have a very personal reason for their WWII fascination. If you look closely at the lead soldier in the group of bronze statues, you will see the likeness of Private Ray Fagen, Ron’s father, who stormed Utah Beach with the 4th Infantry Division.

“He lived through a lot of tough experiences,” said Fagen. “But he was a good mentor and I loved him very much.”

The family’s entire collection now makes up the Fagen Fighters World War II Museum in Granite Falls.

The grand opening celebration is Saturday, September 29th.

If you have an idea for a place we should feature in Finding Minnesota, please let us know.

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