Veterans Day exhibit set up at City Auditorium for 15th year
WILLMAR — Jon Lindstrand may have more than 5,000 military items in his growing collection, but he knows exactly what each item is and where it should go in the annual Veterans Day display at the Willmar City Auditorium.
Lindstrand’s collection has grown to include four trailers full of items, including more than 850 full and partial military uniforms from all the branches of the service. A crew of volunteers, family and friends began unloading, unpacking and arranging the massive collection on Friday evening and many worked through the weekend in preparation for the three-day program.
The Kandiyohi man who began collecting military items at the age of 5 says displaying the items is how he honors veterans for stepping forward when the call to duty came.
“This is who I am,” he said, looking around the auditorium filled with partially finished displays Saturday afternoon. “This is my way of trying to say thanks to those who have done so much for us.”
The display is in its 15th year, with the first three years in Kandiyohi community building. In 2002, it moved into the auditorium, having outgrown the Kandiyohi space.
New items that Lindstrand has collected in the past year include items from a local soldier who returned from Afghanistan this summer, some World War I and World War II uniforms and Korean War era items, plus an M1 Garand rifle.
The display will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today through Wednesday with a special program at 7:30 p.m. tonight featuring Maj. General Jerry Lang, deputy commanding general in the Army National Guard. There will also be music by the West Central Connection chorus, plus special music and readings. The Blue Star Mothers will be there to share what their organization does for deployed troops and will be collecting items, such as snacks, toiletries, etc. to send to troops. Ron Mackedanz, Vietnam vet and author of the book “Drafted” will be available to sign books throughout the event.
Lourdez Schwab, who served in the U.S. Navy in Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn, began helping with the display last year after Lindstrand asked her to be in an all-female color guard. The Willmar woman is still in the Navy Reserves and says the display has a profound impact on her.
“The first time seeing it, it left me breathless and speechless,” she said, noting that visitors see new items each time they visit and even each time they move to a new location in the room. Visitors cannot help but be moved. “Everyone who comes in here sheds a tear,” she said.
Lindstrand’s collection is the sole focus of the display this year, as the Civil War cannon owned by the New Ulm Battery will not be on display because it cannot fit through the new doors installed at the auditorium and Dale and Sharon Koenen, who had displayed their Civil War items, have retired.
An estimated 1,300 to 1,500 people visit the display each year, including school children on field trips, including some folks who come back every year to see what is new and discover items they may have passed over on their previous visits.
“People look forward to coming every year, that’s a compliment,” Lindstrand said.