Wander Minnesota: Sightseeing with Veterans

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Amy Rea Amy Rea
Amy Rea is a freelance writer and author of Minnesota, Land of 10,000...
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After the Fourth of July, a reader asked me to come up with a list of places she could take her elderly father-in-law, a WWII veteran, over the summer that would give him the opportunity to pay respects to veterans of any war. There are many such sites across the state. Below is a sampling.

Fort Snelling National Cemetery, not far from the international airports, is open daily except for Federal holidays (but is open Memorial Day and Veterans Day). The cemetery was opened in 1870 initially to bury the soldiers who were killed on duty at Fort Snelling. Today it has graves for veterans from every war since. There’s also a memorial walkway with a variety of monuments from various organizations representing the different wars since the beginning of the 20th century.

The grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol also have a memorial walkway, with tributes to the veterans of all the wars Minnesotans have fought in represented in striking and varied artistic sculptures. Note: best to visit this before September, when a more-than-three-year Capitol reconstruction project begins.

Adjacent to the Capitol is the Minnesota History Center, which has its Minnesota and the Civil War exhibit open until Sept. 8. Also on display: an exhibit about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and Minnesota’s Greatest Generation, an exhibit focusing on people who grew up during the Depression and WWII years.

Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, is home to the Minnesota Military History Museum. The museum, open daily through September (Thursdays and Fridays October-April), has several themed exhibits, including America at War, Forts on the Frontier, and the Arms Room, as well as an outdoor area with a wide variety of vehicles, aircraft, and artillery.

The Aliveo Museum in Red Wing, open Fridays and Saturdays, is dedicated to preserving military history. Its collection includes items dating back to the Revolutionary War, and even includes artifacts from the Zulu/British War.

St. Paul’s Minnesota Air National Guard Museum is located on an active military base and is only open to the public on select days. Known as “Open Cockpit Days,” you have the option of exploring the collection of military aircraft on your own, or if you reserve a week ahead, you can take a guided tour.

There are also self-guided tours to battles fought within Minnesota, such as the Birch Coulee Battlefield near Morton, which was the site of a hard-fought battle during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. It’s part of the Lower Sioux Agency, which was the site of the first attack of that war. Fort Ridgely near Fairfax was built as a sort of police station for new communities springing up, and eventually it was attacked during the U.S.-Dakota War, then served as a training ground for troops heading to the Civil War.

Historic Fort Snelling commemorates Minnesota’s participation in various wars as well and has a fairly packed summer event calendar, most of which are family friendly.

What else is happening in our state? Be sure to check out the 10 p.m. Sunday night WCCO newscasts, where you can learn more in the weekly segment, Finding Minnesota.

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