For veterans, a tour to remember

GRANITE FALLS – Just outside of Granite Falls sits the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum of aircraft and ground transport vehicles. On Friday a group of 30 veterans of World War II and Korea came for a look at the machines their comrades used to smash the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan.

Tim Kolhei, Veterans Services Officer in Chippewa County, came up with the idea and sold it to fellow VSO’s across a five county area.

“We went last October and were impressed,” Kolhei said. “It was pretty easy to talk them into coming a second time.”

According to Diane Fagen, all the planes are flight-worthy except one full-sized model Messerschmitt 109 which is actually a prop from the 1969 movie “The Battle of Britain.”

“We have various planes and we keep adding to the collection,” Fagen said. “The P-40s are restored next door. My son Aaron collects ground vehicles, Evan and Ron fly the planes.”

Harold Freetly served in the U.S. Navy air arm as a radar technician during the war, and ironically only learned to fly after the war.

“I love it,” Freetly said. “I moved to Kerkhoven 56 years ago and after I’d been there five years a buddy said, ‘How’d you like to learn to fly?’ I flew all over the place.”

The veteran who came the furthest was undoubtedly Stan Reeves, originally from London, but a resident of Montevideo since 1960. Reeves met and married a Canadian girl while training to be a gunner on Lancaster bombers for the Royal Air Force, moved to Canada after the war and eventually went to work for an American insurance firm in Minnesota.

“It’s wonderful, it really is,” Reeves said. “I’ve been here several times, before it was even built. I’ve watched it grow and got to know Ron (Fagen) and his father.”

Reeves kept flying after the war until sidelined by a heart attack, but says he still longs to fly.

“I know how to work that one,” Reeves said, pointing at a P-40 fighter. “I was at an airfield where they had them. I got to get inside and learn the instruments and dials. I’d fly it right now if they let me.”

According to Reeves, out of 165,000 Englishmen were sent by the RAF to Canada to train only 55,000 of them survived the war.

In the second display hangar of the museum is a sculpture group of American GIs storming ashore on Utah Beach in Normandy from a landing craft on D-Day. Every soldier is modeled from life. Beneath their feet is actual sand from the French beach.

Myron Kuno, a Korean War vet from Montevideo, said, “I look at the guys coming out of that Higgens Boat, and I wonder how old some of them were.”