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Minnesota's World War II vets honored with new memorial
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The Minnesota World War II Veterans Memorial will feature 12 glass panels anchored in granite, with etchings depicting various scenes from the war. (Image courtesy of Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs)
State officials and veterans groups broke ground at the Capitol Sunday for a World War II veterans memorial. Many veterans say the memorial is long overdue, to honor the more than 300,000 Minnesotans who served in World War II. Some of those veterans have started telling their stories, because they worry that generations to come will forget about the last world war.

St. Paul, Minn. — Many veterans were just 19 or 20 when they were sent overseas to fight in World War II. Now, they're in their 80s, and it's estimated that more than 1,000 of them die each day across the country.

Bernie Lieder is one of two World War II vets serving in the Minnesota Legislature. He and fellow veteran Irv Anderson pushed for state funding for a Minnesota World War II memorial.

Lieder said it's important for Minnesota to honor the state's World War II veterans while some of them are still alive. He hopes the memorial will make people think about the impact of the war.

"I think our younger generations -- as we all, when we grow up -- we kind of forget the history of the past, and sometimes we repeat it," Lieder said. "And certainly we don't want to repeat any of that."

Lieder served in the infantry in Europe, and was in Germany when the war ended. He doesn't say much about what he experienced, but said he still thinks about the war a lot.

"Frankly, just about every spare moment that you aren't thinking about something else, you're kind of going back into that," Lieder said.

Some veterans are starting to talk about their experiences. Earlier this week, 18 veterans from Luverne, who will be featured in an upcoming Ken Burns' documentary about World War II, gathered at the governor's residence.

Veteran Warren Herreid said he never told his wife and children about many of the things he saw. Herreid fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and helped liberate a concentration camp in Germany, where the handful of people who were still alive looked like skeletons.

"There was a lot of things that I'd like to forget, and it does bring back memories that are not real pleasant," said Herreid. "War is not good in any phase."

But Herreid said he decided that he and other veterans needed to tell their stories, or a generation of memories would be lost. He wants young people to learn about Normandy and Pearl Harbor and all the other conflicts since World War II.

"If they know the horrors and the things that people are going through, maybe they will someday solve their differences diplomatically or something," Herreid said. "But they have to know what people have done for them."

The Minnesota World War II Veterans Memorial will be located on the state Capitol mall, near the veterans service building. At the center of the memorial will be a map of Minnesota, surrounded by bronze stars.

The memorial will also include 12 glass panels anchored in granite, with etchings depicting various scenes from the war.

"It should be quite a spectacular effect when it's complete," said state veterans affairs commissioner Clark Dyrud.

Dyrud said a memorial honoring Minnesota's World War II vets is long overdue.

"The great generation came back, and it seems like they never asked for any honor for themselves. They're very humble," Dyrud said. "We have memorials for Vietnam veterans and Korean veterans, and the World War II veterans never really asked for anything."

Dyrud said the memorial should be completed by the end of 2006. He said service organizations have raised about $500,000 for the memorial, and the Legislature approved $670,000 for the memorial in this year's bonding bill.

The Sunday groundbreaking ceremony coincided with the 60th anniversary of the surrender of Japan, ending the single deadliest war the world has ever seen.