As several area veterans found out last week, you don’t need to travel far to find a full museum in western Minnesota.

As several area veterans found out last week, you don’t need to travel far to find a full museum in western Minnesota.
A group of around 30 veterans from Chippewa, Lyon and Swift counties took the afternoon last Friday to head to the Fagen Fighters WWII museum just south of Granite Falls.
Tim Kolhei, Chippewa County’s veteran service officer, said the idea originated a little over a year ago, during the Tuesday veterans coffee group at the American Legion.
“They were talking about the air shows and how crowded they get,” Kolhei said. “They had a desire to go there when there was less of a crowd.”
Area veterans had previously made group trips to Camp Ripley, but the approximately three hour trip, there and back, wasn’t feasible for everyone. The Fagen museum became a new ideal destination.
“Last year in October we took around 20,” Kolhei said. “It was just Chippewa County.”
This year, however, Kolhei presented the idea to the veterans service officers of Swiff and Lyon counties. The result was a group of around 30 veterans from WWII and the Korean War all getting together in one location.
With the exception of one full-sized model Messerschmitt 109, all of the planes on display in two warehouses are flight-worthy. Tour guides from the museum showed the veterans around and provided some not-unfamiliar background for the museum’s planes, vehicles, era memorabilia and a life-sized memorial for veterans who landed on Utah Beach in Normandy during D-Day.
One display that caught a lot of attention was the CG-4A transport glider, an aircraft that required an assisted take off. The transport had a lightweight design, and was constructed out of a wood and metal frame, covered in fabric to create the shape, allowing it to glide on its own for considerable distances while carrying a number of soldiers in the back, or even equipment or smaller vehicles. A calculated crash landing was always required.
Orice Larson of Montevideo, a WWII veteran, recalled flying in one of the transport gliders during training.
“You had to hold on when it would take off,” he said. “The fabric on the outside just quivered around the frame.”
Larson ended up co-pilot during the training exercise, despite not being a pilot. “Because I was a non-commissioned officer, they said ‘you can go up there,’” Larson said.
He learned the general operation of the transport, and learned what to pull or push and when, but added, “I don’t know what I would have done if the pilot would have fainted.”
In the second hangar, filled with various restored aircraft, such as a P-51 Mustang a P-40 Warhawk, several veterans complimented the quality of the restorations and the believability of the paint designs. At the end of the hangar, the Utah Beach landing memorial — consisting of sculptures modeled after WWII veterans, and sand taken from the beach — drew many long gazes and contemplative expressions.
After the tour, Kolhei said he was happy the trip was made.
“It was a good experience for everyone. Last year we went, and there was focus on the equipment, and this year there was a lot of focus on the people, so it wasn’t the same trip all over again,” Kolhei said. “A few people have stopped by since we went, and they said it was such a class act, the museum ... they were impressed with how high of quality it was and located so close to us.”
He said that similar trips will be planned in the future, and that the veterans group will likely return again next year, though perhaps in warmer weather.
The Fagen Fighters WWII museum is a true family project. Fagen family members maintain and build the collections, help operate the museum and even fly the planes.