Generations of Service

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Generations of Service

The Veterans Memorial Hall (VMH) Program of the St. Louis County Historical Society has opened a new feature exhibit. Generations of Service illuminates 150 years of U.S. military history by bringing the stories and artifacts of local service members into focus--from the rare 1818 American flag donated by Civil War POW Robert W. Mars, who settled in Duluth after the Civil War, to the backpack and dog tags donated by Mark Hilleren, who served in Iraq. Visitors encounter history through the artifacts and stories of veterans connected to northeastern Minnesota.

Upon entering the exhibit, viewers will see one of the rarest of American flags, a twenty-star American flag from 1818. Only twenty such flags are known to exist. (This flag flew over the nation for one year; at the time, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were still alive.) The flag was donated by the family of a local Civil War veteran.

Visitors will then see eight cases, each containing several items from a particular war. A Civil War bugle is on display, along with a section of an oak tree from the battlefield at Gettysburg with a bullet lodged in it. A uniform from the Spanish American war; a naval aviator helmet from World War I; a leather bomber jacket with from World War II; a yellow arrowhead-shaped patch sewn for service members in Korea; a hand grenade from Vietnam; a uniform from Desert Shield/Storm; and an MRE (meal ready to eat) from Iraq—these are only a few of the artifacts on display that tell the story of service members and their war experiences.

The exhibit is rounded out by several other displays:

- One considers the impact of war on the families on the home front. This section includes a reconstruction of the end of a mine tunnel or “drift,” reflecting the profound impact that iron ore from the Iron Range had on the U.S. ability to arm for battle in World War I and World War II. 

- Another addresses the history of local Ojibwe veterans and the manner in which they are honored at powwows and in veterans’ museums.

- The unique experiences of POWs (prisoners of war) are considered; a flag from a local chapter of the American Ex-Prisoners of War is on display.

- A case with “war souvenirs” includes a World War I airplane-mounted German machine gun.

- Local recipients of the prestigious Medal of Honor are recognized.

- Counterfeit military medals confiscated by the FBI are also on display.

- Finally, a killed in action wallbears silent witness to the terrible local losses of war: it honors the memory of more than 1,100 St. Louis County service members who died in combat, from the Civil War to the present.

Visitors are able to watch a 2.5-minute interview with a veteran. Visitors are also able to enter the story of their service or that of a loved one (if the veteran is from or now lives in northeastern Minnesota) on the website while in the exhibit.

The St. Louis County Historical Society has collected and made available on the VMH website more than 6,000 veterans’ oral histories. The Society also maintains the third largest collection of military artifacts in Minnesota and, since 1922, has been gathering military and home front archival materials. The Generations of Service exhibit features both artifacts and archives drawn from the Society's extensive collection.

Veterans Memorial Hall wishes to thank the exhibit sponsors: the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, Lake Superior College, Minnesota Historical Society, the Northland Vietnam Veterans Association, St. Louis County, United States Steel Foundation, Inc., the Wildey H. Mitchell Family Foundation, and the individual contributors who helped make it possible.


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