GRANITE FALLS — Opened in 2012 to honor the “Greatest Generation,” the Fagen Fighters World War II Museum has ever since hosted an annual Veterans Day event to remember all those who serve.
It does so each Veterans Day by opening its doors to not only veterans, but also students at Yellow Medicine East Schools in Granite Falls.
This year’s event saw the students honor more than 50 veterans who attended the program at the museum. The veterans included two World War II veterans, Frank Wilkins and Richard Tjosaas.
Minnesota Air National Guard Master Sgt. Ashley Wilkins served as the event’s guest speaker. She is the granddaughter of the late Allard Stevens, a World War II veteran whose story is among those told in a video at the museum. Stevens, who died in August at age 98, was living on a farm near Hanley Falls when the attack on Pearl Harbor led him to enlist.
Wilkins was a junior at Yellow Medicine East High School on Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks, the opportunity to earn money for college, and her grandfather’s example of service to country “solidified” her own decision to serve, she told her audience Monday. She enlisted on Sept. 27, 2002, just days after turning age 17.
Wilkins has now served nearly 18 years in the service, and plans to continue. The sense of belonging and the opportunity to serve are what matter to her. “I never felt that I needed to change who I am to fit in or to meet military standards,” she said.
Eight YME students followed Wilkins to the podium Monday to tell personal stories of thanks to the veterans. They included Madasyn Ludwig, who could also speak with experience of the sacrifice that comes with service to country.
Ludwig told how her father, Corey Ludwig, has been deployed overseas with the U.S. Army Reserves. He left the Willmar armory in May 2016 for a nine-month deployment to Kuwait when Madasyn was 9 years old.
On Christmas Day during his deployment, her father was an image and voice on a screen. Ludwig said he asked her if she had gotten what she wanted for Christmas. “All I wanted was you here with me,” Ludwig said she responded.
Ludwig said her father came home early from one deployment. He surprised her. He sneaked up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. “I burst into tears and wouldn’t let go of him,” she said.
After the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion honor guard retired the colors Monday, hundreds of students, Ludwig among them, walked single file and shook the hands of all 50-plus veterans who had joined the event at the museum.