Minnesota’s Greatest Generation

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News Release

"Minnesota’s Greatest Generation: The Depression, The War, The Boom"

Experiencing Their Past, Learning For Our Present

The Great Depression, World War II and the boom that followed the war were all defining events in the life of Minnesota's Greatest Generation.  With the current challenges facing our county, including a struggling economy and high rates of unemployment, it is more important than ever to reflect on their stories and learn from their enduring legacy.  Experience the accomplishments, sacrifices, disappointments and challenges of this remarkable generation at the Minnesota Historical Society's new exhibit, "Minnesota's Greatest Generation: The Depression, The War, The Boom," opening May 23, 2009, Memorial Day weekend.

This landmark, 6,000-square-foot exhibit traces the entire life arc of the generation – from birth to legacy – in a manner unlike anything else at any other history center or educational institution across the nation.  With the use of recorded interviews, archival footage, film and audio, members of the generation guide visitors through their childhood and adolescence in the 1930s, to their years as young adults during the war and post-war era.  The exhibit is a highly moving experience, featuring artifacts, displays, hands-on elements and multimedia interpretive techniques that reveal the experiences of Minnesota's Greatest Generation.   

Put Yourself in Their Place

"This exhibit is the culmination of one of the most ambitious undertakings in the Society's nearly 160-year history," said Nina Archabal, Minnesota Historical Society Director.  "It tells the story of a generation that endured great hardship, displayed courage and seized the opportunity to shape our modern nation and world.  At a time when there is a rare and clear convergence between past and present, we are so fortunate that many of the members of the Greatest Generation who lived these experiences have told us their stories in their own words.  Looking around us today we see Minnesotans and other Americans facing hardship, displaying courage and seizing the moment to change the world."

Exhibit visitors will embark on a journey that transports them back in time and creates the feeling that they are experiencing the events of the past.  As they travel from a childhood trip to the movies to a classic, 1930s soda fountain, visitors will gain a new understanding of how the attacks on Pearl Harbor ripped the generation from their peaceful lives and threw the United States into the middle of a tumultuous World War. 

A re-created factory assembly line where visitors can learn to pack ammunition shells conveys the dedication and determination of life on the home front.  A simulated D-Day flight in the fuselage of a war-era C-47 airplane reveals the intensity of the battlefield.  Finally, a 1950s television showroom and hospital nursery return visitors to the wonders of prosperity and suburbia as the post-war boom begins.   

Opening Weekend and Summer Events 

To celebrate the opening of the exhibit, a series of events will be offered at the Minnesota History Center from Saturday, May 23, through Monday, May 25, Memorial Day weekend.  Events include educational presentations, musical performances, film screenings, craft and cooking demonstrations and programs honoring veterans’ service.  In addition, the Minnesota History Center and state historic sites, such as Historic Fort Snelling, will host Minnesota's Greatest Generation events throughout the summer.  For more information on events, please visit www.mnhs.org/mggevents.

The Minnesota's Greatest Generation Project

The exhibit is the capstone of the Historical Society's multi-year Minnesota’s Greatest Generation project.  Since the project’s launch on August 14, 2005, the 60th anniversary of the end of the World War II, tens of thousands of people across the nation have been engaged to collect, preserve and share the stories of Minnesota's Greatest Generation through traditional and Web-based programs, including a collections initiative, an interactive website, oral history project, publications, and public and educational programs.  The project has been lauded by the National Endowment for the Humanities as an initiative that "may establish a model for history museums throughout the United States," and the exhibit has been designated as a prestigious "We The People" project for promoting knowledge and understanding of American history and culture. For more information about the project, please visit www.mngreatestgeneration.org.

Exhibit Fact Sheet

Exhibit Fact Sheet

The capstone of the Minnesota's Greatest Generation project is a landmark, interactive exhibit opening at the Minnesota History Center the Saturday before Memorial Day.  This long-term exhibit features more than 6,000 square feet of artifacts, displays and hands-on elements using multimedia interpretive techniques to reveal the experiences of Minnesota's Greatest Generation.  The National Endowment for the Humanities has designated the exhibit as a prestigious "We The People" project for promoting knowledge and understanding of American history and culture.

Minnesota's Greatest Generation: The Depression, The War, The Boom, is a highly moving exploration of the accomplishments, sacrifices, disappointments and challenges that have shaped the enduring legacy of Minnesota's Greatest Generation.  Through the use of recorded interviews, archive footage, film and audio, visitors experience the stories of the generation as told by members of the generation themselves.

The exhibition is organized into several major thematic areas:  Growing Up; Heading Off to War; The Home Front; The Battlefront; Moving Out and Making the Boom; The Whole World; and, a concluding section honoring the legacy of this generation.  Visitors to the exhibition will encounter iconic artifacts and experiences including:

  • A re-created 1930s movie theater with clips from films popular with kids during the era and stories about movie-going.
  • Artifacts and stories from the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps.
  • A homemade "car" from the 1938 St. Paul Soap Box Derby.
  • A classic soda fountain from the 1930s with a vintage pinball machine that visitors can play and jukebox where they will hear stories of carefree teenage lives interrupted by the events of December 7, 1941.
  • A "home front" setting where visitors will be able to recycle aluminum and experience what rationing was like.
  • An interactive "bullet-packing" station where visitors will be able to pack ammunition shells on a re-created factory assembly line based on the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant.
  • An M8 armored vehicle produced during the war by workers at the St. Paul Ford plant.
  • The fuselage of an actual war-era C-47 troop transport aircraft where visitors are transported into the harrowing experience of a D-Day flight through a realistic multimedia presentation.
  • A Combat Stories audio feature where visitors will hear compelling stories told by Minnesota men and women who experienced the war on the front lines.
  • Stories and objects from the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Ft. Snelling where Japanese-American soldiers trained for work in wartime intelligence. 
  • Stories and objects from the University of Minnesota’s "semi-starvation" study in which conscientious objectors volunteered to be "guinea pigs" in a wartime project studying the effects of malnutrition.
  • A 1950s television showroom with clips from popular shows of TV’s pioneer days and the KSTP Archives housed at the Minnesota Historical Society, as well as an interactive area where kids can test TV tubes to see if they are faulty.
  • An iconic "St. Paul Tourist Cabins" neon sign.
  • A 1950s-era hospital nursery with an "endless babies" vista.
  • A 1955 Ford nicknamed "the Bluebird" by its original owners in Clinton, Minn.
  • A dry-cleaning shop with a moving rack of clothes highlighting the activities of this "generation of joiners."
  • A 1960s airport setting recalling the global reach and work of men and women of this generation from Washington, D.C., to the State Department and the United Nations.
  • A multimedia show that will remind visitors of the life arc and profoundly important legacy of this "greatest generation."
Opening Weekend Fact Sheet

Opening Weekend Fact Sheet

Exhibit Opening Weekend Events, May 23 – May 25, 2009

To commemorate the opening of the "Minnesota’s Greatest Generation: The Depression, The War, The Boom" exhibit, the Minnesota Historical Society will host three days of events.  All events are free with museum admission.

Saturday, May 23, 2009 – Family Day (Noon to 5 p.m.)

Enjoy a historic dance workshop and performance from Twin Cities Swing and The Swing Cats.   
Participate in Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard’s sing-along program of "golden age" hits.
Watch cooking demonstrations of World War II favorites including, SPAM! from "Bundt Cake Bliss" author, Susanna Short. 
Play retro bingo to win great Minnesota prizes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009 (Noon to 5 p.m.)

Listen to a presentation by exhibit curator Brian Horrigan, and authors Dave Kenney and Barbara Sommer about the origins of the term "Greatest Generation."
Enjoy screenings of eight of the short documentaries from the Moving Pictures Film Festival.
Attend the film "In Focus: U.S.S. Minneapolis and U.S.S. Ward" to view excerpts of interviews from crew reunions of the storied World War II cruiser and destroyer.

Monday, May 25, 2009 – Memorial Day (Noon to 5 p.m.)  

Attend the Honor and Remembrance ceremony emceed by news anchor and World War II aficionado Stan Turner.  The event features a World War II aircraft flyover, World War II-era songs from "Five By Design" and a Color Guard ceremony by Arlington High School’s award-winning NJROTC unit.
Learn from a panel discussion by World War II veterans, emceed by Stan Turner.
Watch cooking demonstrations of World War II favorites including, SPAM! from "Bundt Cake Bliss" author, Susanna Short. 
Enjoy a performance of jazz classics by Jazzfly, featuring Dorothy Doring.
Join "Operation Minnesota Nice" in assembling care packages for active servicemen and women overseas.

Activities and Displays Throughout the Weekend

In the Trenches of World War II – a military encampment with re-enactors from the 105th Engineer Combat Battalion, 30th Infantry Division.
History HiJinx: Silent Wings – make a souvenir World War II paper glider.
Meet-and-greet with history player Virginia Mae Hope, a World War II Women Airforce Service Pilot, and other notable figures from Minnesota’s Greatest Generation.
Short plays about Minnesota’s Greatest Generation.
Artifact displays that feature uniforms and other World War II items not featured in the exhibit.

Retrorama Fact Sheet

RetroRama: Fashion Comes Full Circle

May 21, 2009, 7 p.m. at the Minnesota History Center

RetroRama celebrates the popular culture of Minnesota's Greatest Generation and illustrates how the past has influenced the present. Featuring fashion, décor, music, dancing and related activities, RetroRama transports young and old back to a time when the Barbie was born and American Bandstand was all the rage. RetroRama also offers attendees the chance to experience popular games and crafts. From pop-up books to place mats, the do-it-yourself craft stations allow event-goers to take home a piece of retro style.  

RetroRama 2009

Minnesota's Greatest Generation attained a cohesiveness, not only because of its shared experience of key 20th century events, but also because of their participation in the birth of popular culture through the relatively new outlets of radio, movies, newsreels and television.  As young people, they emulated the same movie stars and baseball heroes, hummed along to the same popular tunes, danced the same dances, laughed at the same jokes and gabbed in the same slang.

The RetroRama 2009 gala commemorates the popular culture and key moments throughout the lives of Minnesota's Greatest Generation. Event highlights will include:

  • "Fashion Comes Full Circle" runway show produced by Anna Lee and styled by Eclecticoiffeur that features looks inspired by the styles of the '20s through the '60s;
  • Vintage shopping, courtesy of Swank Retro and Via's Vintage Wear;
  • Cooking and cocktail demonstrations with bartenders from Bradstreet and chefs from Chowgirls;
  • Mid-century retro trivia with Trivia Mafia;
  • A do-it-yourself craft station where event-goers can make their own corsage or boutonniere;  
  • Music from A Night in the Box and D.J. Jake Rudh;
  • Displays of vintage fashions, accessories and artifacts from the Society's archives; and
  • Access to the museum galleries, including the Society's latest exhibit, "Minnesota's Greatest Generation: The Depression, The War, The Boom."

RetroRama bridges the generation gap to create an evening that is sure to be enjoyed by all, providing a nostalgic experience for members of the Greatest Generation and an educational one for younger generations. 


1929 – Construction is completed on the Foshay Tower.

1929 – In October, the stock market crashes.

1930 – St. Paul-based 3M™ receives a patent for its transparent cellophane tape developed by Richard G. Drew, which becomes known as Scotch™ Tape.

1930 – Golf great Bobby Jones wins his fourth U.S. Open Championship title at the Interlachen Country Club in Edina.

1931 – Minneapolis-based General Mills introduces Bisquick®.

1933 – Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) is launched, eventually putting thousands of men to work in Minnesota's forests.

1934 – Congress passes the Indian Reorganization Act allowing Native Americans to govern themselves on a tribal basis, manage natural resources on reservations and incorporate as a tribe to facilitate business ventures.

1935 – High-speed rail service between the Twin Cities and Chicago begins with the Hiawatha train.

1935 – St. Paul-based KSTP increases its radio station to 5,000 watts and claims to be the only high-fidelity, high-power radio transmitter in the West and the first U.S. station to broadcast to Australia

1937 – Austin-based Hormel Foods launches SPAM®.

1938 – University of Minnesota football coach Bernie Bierman's book "Winning Football" is published.

1939 – The city of Duluth replaces its streetcars with trolley buses.

1940 – The first peacetime draft in U.S. history begins. Fort Snelling re-opens as a major military induction center.

1941 – The Minneapolis-born Andrews Sisters record "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy."

1941 – Famed Minnesota aviator Charles Lindbergh speaks out against American involvement in the war in Europe at a huge Minneapolis rally in May.

1942 – Private Milburn Henke of Hutchinson, serving with the American Expeditionary Force, is the first enlisted man deployed to the European theater.

1942 – Minneapolis-based Munsingwear introduces their stars-and-stripes bra and girdle set.

1943 – Minnesotan Virginia Mae Hope serves as a Women's Air Service Pilot (WASP).

1944 – The Farm-Labor Party and the state Democratic Party agree to merge at their joint convention. The Democratic-Farm-Labor (DFL) Party is unique to Minnesota.

1945 – "Hail! Minnesota" becomes the state song. – The last navy tanker built at the Cargill shipyards in Savage is launched. The Wacissa is one of eighteen ships manufactured for the war effort. – Nellie Stone Johnson, union organizer and activist, is elected to the Minneapolis library board. She is the first African American ever elected to a citywide post in Minneapolis.

1946 – Dan Brennan's fictitious account of World War II, Never So Young Again, is published.

1947 – Nearly half of Minnesota's college and university students are World War II vets under the G.I. Bill.

1948 – Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey delivers speech against racial discrimination at the Democratic National Convention.

1948 – African American leaders in the Twin Cities reject General Ellard A. Walsh's offer to establish an "all-Negro" unit of the Minnesota National Guard. Walsh had proposed forming the unit to allow African Americans to take advantage of provision in the draft law that exempted guardsmen from the draft.

1948 – KSTP-TV makes the first commercial television broadcast in Minnesota, showing the Minneapolis Millers baseball game to the approximately 2,500 owners of television sets in the Twin Cities.

1949 – Melrose native Captain James Gallagher of the U.S. Air Force completes the first non-stop flight around the world. He and his crew of thirteen completed the 23,452-mile trip in ninety four hours and one minute.

1950 – Minneapolis-based General Mills debuts its "Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book."

1953 – Bemidji native Jane Russell and her co-star in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," Marilyn Monroe, immortalize their handprints in the "Forecourt of the Stars" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Ca.

1955 – St. Paul's Roy Wilkins elected executive director of NAACP.

1956 – The ore boat C.L. Austin picks up the first load of taconite at Silver Bay.

1956 – Dayton Company opens Southdale, the nation's first enclosed mall, in Edina.

1956 – Elvis Presley performs at the Minneapolis Auditorium for a crowd of 3,000.

1958 – St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood is razed to make way for Interstate 94.

1959 – The British freighter Ramon de Larrinaga passes through the St. Lawrence Seaway and becomes the first deep draft ocean ship to enter Duluth's harbor.

Historical Background

The History That Shaped Minnesota’s Greatest Generation

Life in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s


Every generation faces the world as it was given to them and strives to leave it safer for the next.  For those who came of age in mid-20th century America, the challenges were particularly daunting.  Minnesota’s Greatest Generation is defined as the men and women born between 1910 and 1929.  Their lives have been shaped by some of the most difficult years in modern history.

Like other generations, the members of Minnesota’s Greatest Generation moved through life together, encountering the same historical events at the same stages in their lives.  They were children in the roaring 1920s, adolescents in the depression-era 1930s and young adults in the war and immediate postwar years.  The collective experiences of this generation – the mingling of real lives with the larger, more impersonal forces of history – form the core of the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation Project.  

Through the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation project, the Minnesota Historical Society aims to collect and preserve the stories of this remarkable generation’s entire life course – from birth through old age.  The project pays special attention to their experiences in the central decades of 1930s, ’40s and ’50s and to the legacies left by the generation to their descendants.

The Depression

The stock market crash of October 1929 began a downward spiral that affected all parts of the economy, creating the worst depression in the nation’s history.  Although Minnesota suffered less than other states during the Great Depression, these still were hard times.

Minnesota’s farmland did not sink into a dust bowl, but the decade’s unusually hot and dry weather severely depressed agricultural yields, forcing thousands of farms into foreclosure. Unemployment spread throughout the state, from the logging camps and iron mines of the north, to the shops and industries of cities and towns.  As in other parts of the United States, labor unrest in Minnesota rose sharply during the Depression, leading to bitter and often violent strikes, such as the Minneapolis truckers’ strike in 1934.

The state was led in the early years of this decade by Governor Floyd B. Olson, a self-proclaimed radical who, much like President Franklin D. Roosevelt, had a remarkable genius for inspiring hope during frightening times.  Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, many launched in the first hundred days after his inauguration in 1933, tempered the most debilitating effects of the Depression, pumping more than $1 billion into the state between 1933 and 1939 and putting thousands back to work.

Many young men joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, restoring state forests and parks. Thousands more found work through the Works Progress Administration building bridges, roads, schools and other public projects.  Many of the state’s farms and towns were wired through the Rural Electrification Administration.

The War

When war broke out in Europe in September 1939, most Minnesotans – like the majority of Americans – opposed U.S. involvement in another global conflict that came so soon after the end of the First World War.  Famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, who grew up in Minnesota, became the principal spokesman for the anti-interventionist America First movement. However, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 ended most Americans’ opposition to the war.

Thousands of Minnesotans immediately enlisted in the armed services and many thousands more from around the country mustered through Fort Snelling.  Even the state’s young governor, Harold Stassen, resigned and enlisted in the Navy.  National Guard units that were “federalized” in order to serve in the war effort overseas included the famed 34th Infantry Division (the “Red Bull”), in which Minnesotans were heavily represented.  In January 1942, the 34th became the first American division to ship for Europe.  In the North African campaign, the Red Bull Division’s 175th Field Artillery fired the first American shells against the Nazis.  A tank company composed mainly of men from Brainerd, the 194th Tank Battalion, fought in the Philippines and after being captured endured the tragic Bataan Death March.

On the home front, Minnesota industries threw their weight behind the war effort. Munsingwear, the Minneapolis underwear manufacture, began to produce military uniforms. Villaume Industries, a St. Paul wooden box manufacturer, helped produce lightweight gliders that were used extensively for troop transport.  And of course there was SPAM®, the canned meat made by Hormel Foods in Austin – millions of cans of it were shipped around the world to feed soldiers and civilians.

Minnesota’s farmers increased production during the war, with women, children, the elderly – and even some German prisoners of war – going to work on farms to make up for severe labor shortages.  The mines of Minnesota’s iron ranges, idled by the Depression, resumed production, sending off millions of tons of iron ore to be turned into guns, tanks, bombs and ships.  Meanwhile, average citizens did their part for the war effort, growing food in “victory gardens,” making do with fewer consumer goods and gasoline and investing in government-issued war bonds.

Nearly 6,000 Minnesota men and women died in World War II out of more than 300,000 who actively served.  Countless others contributed to the victory by making sacrifices on the home front.  At war’s end in 1945, Minnesota’s “greatest generation,” the men and women who came of age in the war years, turned their attention to settling down, making families and to other dreams deferred.

The Boom

The most familiar “boom” of the postwar years was the “Baby Boom” – the historic rise in the U.S. birthrate that began with a sharp spike in births in 1946 and ended just as abruptly in 1964.  But the United States witnessed other booms as well in this period.  

Along with much of the rest of the country, Minnesotans began moving in record numbers to suburbs like Richfield and Roseville.  Housing developments, schools and shopping centers sprouted on former farm fields beyond the Twin Cities.  The nation’s first enclosed mall, Southdale, opened in Edina in 1956.  Freeway construction tore out huge swaths of inner cities and fueled the rush to suburbia.

New industries sprouted and expanded.  Factories that had been making war materials switched back to making high-demand consumer goods, such as appliances, automobiles and televisions.  And there was one more “boom”: the atomic bomb and the Cold War tensions that made it a looming source of anxiety from the late ’40s, into the 1950s and beyond.



Randal Dietrich, Project Director

Dietrich joined the Minnesota Historical Society in 2004 to launch and lead the statewide Minnesota’s Greatest Generation project. As project director, Dietrich is responsible for the overall integration of the project components as well as the coordination of media and materials in support of the development effort to privately fund the project. Over the last three years, Dietrich has also played the role of director of the Moving Pictures Film Festival, a key initiative of the Greatest Generation project. He is a lead spokesperson for the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation and has been interviewed more than 18 times on Twin Cities television programs.

Prior to MHS, Dietrich served as the Executive Director of the Experimental Aircraft Association's Countdown to Kitty Hawk- thecornerstone of the nation's Centennial of Flight Celebration. In 2001, Dietrich served asExecutive Producer of the Bancroft-Arnesen Antarctic Expedition in which Minnesotan Ann Bancroft and Norwegian Liv Arnesen became the first women to cross Antarctica.

Dietrich is a native of Red Wing, a graduate of the University of Minnesota and has also done extensive work with the Minnesota Department of Education.

Interview subjects:

  • The significance of the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation project.
  • The timeline of the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation project from inception to exhibition.

Brian Horrigan, Exhibit Curator

Horrigan joined the Minnesota Historical Society in 1990 to research, develop and implement exhibits and interpretive trail projects at the Minnesota History Center and state historic sites. As exhibit curator for the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation project, Horrigan is responsible for developing exhibit concepts, conductingoral history interviews, securing loans for the exhibit and overseeing the exhibit’s completion. Horrigan has also been a contributing writer for the Society’s quarterly periodical, Minnesota History magazine.

Other exhibits developed by Horrigan for the Minnesota History Center include: Saving Places: Historic Preservation in Minnesota (1992-93); Families (1995-2005); and Tales of the Territory: Minnesota 1849-1858 (1999-present). Horrigan has developed interpretive projects at state historic sites and trails including the Split Rock Lighthouse Historic Site in Beaver Bay, Minn., and the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Little Falls, Minn.

Prior to MHS, Horrigan served as project officer of official U.S. cultural exchange exhibits for the USSR and Eastern European countries with the U.S. Information Agency. Horrigan also served as Curator for the Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the America Future exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of History.

Interview subjects:

  • The development and significance of the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation exhibit.
  • The elements of the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation exhibit.

Matt Anderson, Exhibit Collections Representative

Anderson joined the Minnesota Historical Society as a Curator in 2006 to research and select new additions to, as well as oversee the care of the Society’s three-dimensional object collection relating to agriculture, firearms, communication, politics, medicine, military, sports and transportation, among other topics. 

As the collections representative for the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation project, Anderson has helped secure new pieces for the exhibit and the Society’s permanent collection, including a 1955 Ford sedan built in St. Paul, Minn. an M1 Garand rifle that was a standard-issue U.S. infantry weapon during World War II and a suit worn by Minnesotan Bruce Laingen during his captivity in the Iran Hostage Crisis.

In addition to his work as Curator, Anderson serves as a State Finals Judge for the Minnesota Historical Society’s Minnesota History Day competition.

Interview subjects:

  • Artifacts from the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation exhibit.
  • The development and significance of the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation exhibit.

Aleah Vinick, Public and Educational Programs 

Vinick joined the Minnesota Historical Society in 2005 to develop gallery, educational and public programs that engage a variety of audiences. As part of the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation project, Vinick has served as project manager for public and educational programs including RetroRama, History of Hip and Generations Camp and has worked with program participants in a variety of settings.  

Since 2007, Vinick has served as a volunteer board member to Minneapolis-based TVbyGIRLS. Vinick holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies and a license to teach secondary social studies.

Interview subjects:

  • Minnesota’s Greatest Generation public programs, including RetroRama.
  • Intergenerational experiences from Minnesota’s Greatest Generation educational programs.

General John W. Vessey Jr., Minnesota’s Greatest Generation Project Honorary Chairman

Gen. Vessey began his 46-year military career in 1939 as a private in the Minnesota National Guard. He ended it in 1985 after a second term as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States of America. After World War II, he served with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Force and in Vietnam, Laos, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. Vessey was promoted to general in 1976 and was appointed as the 10th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President Ronald Reagan on June 18, 1982, and reappointed to a second two-year term in 1984.

Gen. Vessey is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and is the recipient of numerous U.S. military decorations and awards, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Medal and the Purple Heart. He has been decorated by the governments of Belgium, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Greece, Honduras, Korea, Luxembourg, Norway, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Thailand and Uruguay.

In addition to his military duties, Gen. Vessey has served on the Board of Governors of the American Red Cross; Youth Service, U.S.A. Inc.; National Flag Day Committee; and the Board for Mission Services of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.  Gen. Vessey and Avis Funk of Minneapolis were married in July 1945. They have three children, John III, Sarah Vessey Krawczk and David. The Vesseys make their home in Crow Wing County in north central Minnesota.


Minnesota's Greatest Generation Images

Minnesota's Greatest Generation Images

These images may be used for editorial purposes in magazines, newspapers and online to promote "Minnesota's Greatest Generation" at the Minnesota History Center. They may not be used for advertising or promotional efforts.

Johnny Buskowiak used this footlocker while working in the Civilian Conservation Corps in Plainville and Lake City, Minn., from 1938-1940.

Johnny Buskowiak used this footlocker while working in the Civilian Conservation Corps in Plainville and Lake City, Minn., from 1938-1940.

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M8 Greyhound Armored Car built at the St. Paul Assembly Plant, 1944-45.

M8 Greyhound Armored Car built at the St. Paul Assembly Plant, 1944-45.

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Ford Custom Fordor Sedan, built at the St. Paul Assembly Plant, 1955.

Ford Custom Fordor Sedan, built at the St. Paul Assembly Plant, 1955.

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Boys building a bomb shelter during the nuclear anxiety of the Cold War, 1952.

Boys building a bomb shelter during the nuclear anxiety of the Cold War, 1952.

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NAACP members picketing for integrated lunch counters outside Woolworth’s in St. Paul, Minn., 1960. Look for film  footage of this protest in the exhibit.

NAACP members picketing for integrated lunch counters outside Woolworth’s in St. Paul, Minn., 1960. Look for film footage of this protest in the exhibit.

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New father views child through nursery window at Abbott Hospital in Minneapolis, Minn., 1950. Experience an endless vista of “baby boomers” in the exhibit.

New father views child through nursery window at Abbott Hospital in Minneapolis, Minn., 1950. Experience an endless vista of “baby boomers” in the exhibit.

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Medal of Honor winner Ricky Sorenson at the soda fountain in Anoka, after coming home from fighting in the Pacific, 1945. Look for a similar soda fountain in the exhibit.

Medal of Honor winner Ricky Sorenson at the soda fountain in Anoka, after coming home from fighting in the Pacific, 1945. Look for a similar soda fountain in the exhibit.

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Virginia Mae Hope, from Faribault, Minn., a pilot for the Women’s Air Force Service, 1943. Meet a costumed history player portraying Hope in the exhibit.

Virginia Mae Hope, from Faribault, Minn., a pilot for the Women’s Air Force Service, 1943. Meet a costumed history player portraying Hope in the exhibit.

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Marines from St. Paul on Guam, 1944.

Marines from St. Paul on Guam, 1944.

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Girls say goodbye to Marine recruits at St. Paul Union Depot, 1942.

Girls say goodbye to Marine recruits at St. Paul Union Depot, 1942.

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Japanese language translators at the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Fort Snelling, 1944-45.

Japanese language translators at the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Fort Snelling, 1944-45.

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Farm family from Hollandale, Minn., who appealed for aid in the early years of the Great Depression, 1929.

Farm family from Hollandale, Minn., who appealed for aid in the early years of the Great Depression, 1929.

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Children holding signs in a Workers Alliance picket line in St. Paul, Minn., during the Great Depression, 1937.

Children holding signs in a Workers Alliance picket line in St. Paul, Minn., during the Great Depression, 1937.

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Civilian Conservation Corps workers building a road near Baudette, Minn., 1933.

Civilian Conservation Corps workers building a road near Baudette, Minn., 1933.

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Minnesota's Greatest Generation Logos

Minnesota's Greatest Generation Logos

Silhouette Logo

Silhouette Logo

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Wordmark Logo

Wordmark Logo

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Summer Programs Fact Sheet

Summer Programs Fact Sheet

Throughout the summer, the Historical Society will host several programs and events in conjunction with the Minnesota's Greatest Generation exhibit at the Minnesota History Center and at historic sites throughout the state.

Related Exhibit: Native Words, Native Warriors, May 23 – August 23, 2009

Focusing on the American Indian "code talkers," this exhibit explores the key role they played in securing victories in World War I and World War II.  Using their native language, American Indian "code talkers" were able to transmit secret tactical messages over telephone or radio signals in a way that proved undecipherable by enemy forces and helped the Allied forces achieve victory.

This Smithsonian traveling exhibit explores the code, battlefield experiences and shift in attitude towards the use of their native language with graphic panels and oral histories from veteran "code talkers."  At the Minnesota History Center.

Events and Programs at the Minnesota History Center

  • June 7, Noon to 5 p.m. – Open House, enjoy free admission at the History Center, historic sites and museums as part of the state-wide Society open house.
  • June 9 – Aug. 21 (Tuesdays through Fridays), 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – History Hijinx: Silent Wings, learn to make a World War II paper glider.
  • June 23 – Aug. 7 (Tuesdays through Fridays), 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. – Minnesota’s Greatest Generation Short Plays.

Events and Programs at Historical Society Sites and Museums

Historic Fort Snelling

  • May 14, 7 p.m. – World War II History Roundtable: Glider Operations with Gerard Devlin
  • June 13 – 14, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. – World War II Weekend
  • June 28, July 26, Aug. 23, Noon – Upper Post Walking Tours

Lower Sioux Agency

  • June 13, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. – Veterans Family Free Day

Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site

  • June 13, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. – Veterans Family Free Day

Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site

  • July 11, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. – Minnesota’s Greatest Generation and the WPA
Preserving Family History Workshops

Preserving Family History Workshops

Treasure Hunting In Our Homes

The majority of our nation's treasures are not found in museums; they are tucked away in our attics, garages and basements. Through a series of state-wide workshops, the Minnesota Historical Society is encouraging families to develop their own archives by teaching residents to identify and preserve their treasured family keepsakes for future generations to learn from and enjoy.     

Preserving Family History workshops teach participants how to preserve and care for different types of memorabilia, provide tips on how to organize family papers, photos and other family treasures and tips to create a successful oral family history. In addition to step-by-step preservation instructions, participants will learn about common mistake made when storing heirlooms and key issues to consider before beginning a preservation project.

The free workshops are presented by Bob Herskovitz, outreach conservator for the Minnesota Historical Society, in partnership with county historical societies and other community organizations. Workshop participants are encouraged to bring items that can be safely transported for Herskovitz to answer specific preservation questions.

During the course of the four-year initiative, Herskovitz will conduct workshops in all 87 Minnesota counties. To date, workshops have been held in 63 counties and attended by more than 2,000 people.

For Minnesotans unable to attend a workshop, the Society has made detailed information and advice on organizing and preserving photographs, diaries, letters, war medals and other materials available at www.mnhs.org/preservingheirlooms.

Preservation Tips from the Minnesota Historical Society

  • Use a #2 pencil to label photographs, folders and boxes with names and dates - and for photographs, where and when they were taken – rather than relying on memory.
  • Store valuable papers and textiles in a part of the house where you live to safeguard against excessive humidity and temperatures, as well as insects and other pests.
  • Use acid-free boxes and acid-free tissue for storing textiles and clothing.  Acids and damaging vapors from wood (even cedar) and some plastic storage boxes can damage fibers and change colors.  If wood shelves, drawers or trunks are used, wrap textiles in acid-free tissue to prevent direct contact with the wood.

Excessive exposure to light probably causes more damage than any other single factor. Be conscious of exposure when displaying light sensitive items, such as photographs, documents and textiles.

Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures is Minnesota's most rewarding film competition. Since 2006, filmmakers of all ages and abilities have been invited to submit a documentary film, 10 minutes or less in length, on any topic related to Minnesota’s Greatest Generation – those who grew up during the Great Depression, came of age during World War II and participated in the boom that followed the war. 

In the last three years, over 150 films have been submitted to the Moving Pictures Film Festival. More than 5,000 people have attended the film festival and awards ceremony, more than 17,000 people have viewed the films in theatres and public screenings, and television broadcasts of the films have reached more than 250,000 people.

To encourage greater participation in Moving Pictures and improve the quality of film submissions, the Society hosted free filmmaking workshops over the last three years that focused on recent advancements in film and video technology. Filmmakers learned how to integrate a blend of interviews, film footage and photographs to create their films and received access to the Society’s film and photo archives, including their online database of more than 60,000 images from this era. 

Each year, the Moving Pictures Film Festival culminates with the screening of all film submissions and an awards ceremony to present more than $10,000 in cash prizes to five deserving filmmakers. Awards are presented for: Best Film ($5,000); Best Depiction of the theme ($2,500); Best Exploration of an Intergenerational Legacy ($1,000); Emerging Filmmaker ($1,000); and, Best Collaborative Effort ($1,000). 

The 2008 competition rounded out a three-year endeavor to collect and preserve the rich stories of Minnesota’s Greatest Generation. Among the 52 submissions were films about:former Minnesota First Lady Jane Freeman; Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Wahl; band leader Charles Beasley; painter Charles Beck; and inventor Dr. Earl Wood.

There are several ways to view the 2008 film submissions. The five award-winning films are available for free viewing via Comcast’s Local On Demand service and were broadcast on Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) during the Greatest Generation Showcase on Sunday, Nov. 9. In 2007, the TPT Showcase was broadcast in conjunction with the release of Ken Burn’s highly-anticipated documentary, "The War."

In partnership with the Metropolitan Library Service Agency (MELSA), encore screenings select films are being held at nine metro-area libraries during November. Every short film submitted to the 2008 Festival will be made available to library patrons as a compilation, DVD boxed set. The 2008 films complement the 2006 and 2007 boxed sets already available on library shelves. In the last three years, more than 40 screenings have been held at MELSA libraries.  More at www.melsa.org.

Public and Educational Programs

Public & Educational Programs

Connecting the Past to the Future

As part of the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation project, the Society is offering a series of public and educational programs designed to help Minnesotans learn about the daily lives and experiences of the Greatest Generation. 

History of Hip: Events at the Turf Club

As popular culture flourished in the postwar years of the 1950s, its consumers and critics debated the quality and "cool" of each emerging artist, trend and product. History of Hip explores cultural phenomena that emerged in the wake of World War II, examines the factors that make an artist or fad "hip," and traces the origins of musical, literary and art genres that are still popular today.

History of Hip events feature a historic overview, a short performance illustrating the style and structure of the topic being examined, and a discussion session about its relevance and innovations over the years. Held at the Turf Club's Clown Lounge in St. Paul, History of Hip offers participants an accessible, informative approach to history in a fun, informal setting.  Past History of Hip programs examined the Beats, mid-century modern design and jazz. 

Upcoming History of Hip Events

The 2009 History of Hip events will explore advertising (Tuesday, Feb. 17), the legacy of Lenny Bruce (Tuesday, March 3) and the psychedelic aesthetic (Tuesday, April 7).

Creative Keepsakes: Handing Down History Through Family Heirlooms

In Creative Keepsakes, participants explore the many ways families collect and maintain domestic articles, learn about their significance and how to preserve family heirlooms of this noteworthy era. At each event, a collections expert provides historical perspective and an artist presents creative techniques to preserve family history using artifacts as a starting point.  Past Creative Keepsake events featured quilting, knitting, letter writing and scrapbooking, as well as popular keepsakes such as cookbooks, "Depression Glass, "sweetheart jewelry," Tupperware® and children's toys. 

Upcoming Creative Keepsakes Events

Upcoming Creative Keepsakes events will be held in June, July and August at Crafty Planet, 2833 Johnson St. NE, Minneapolis, Minn.

Comics Camp

Comics Camp is a collaboration between the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minnesota College of Art and Design (MCAD). During Comics Camp, kids research the history of their community and create a comic that reflects the changes of their community over time.  Working with an MCAD student, the kids develop two to four panel comics and storyboards that illustrate the community’s history. The end result is a professional comic produced by the MCAD students based on the kids’ original comics and storyboards.

Upcoming Comics Camp

The next Comics Camp will focus on Fridley, Minn.  Comics created during previous Comics Camps include "A Glimpse of the Future" featuring Rice Street in Saint Paul and "Written in Taconite" featuring Silver Bay, Minn. Comics can be viewed at www.mhshistorycomic.blogspot.com.

Generations Camp

Generations Camp is a collaboration between the Minnesota Historical Society and the University of Minnesota art department. It partners first generation Minnesotans with seniors to create art with the theme "what it means to be Minnesotan."

With the help of local artist David Feinberg, kids are paired with seniors to learn about family traditions and what it was like to grow up in Minnesota in the '20s, '30s and '40s. Students and seniors spend a week sharing memories and stories and translate their experiences onto canvas through painting and collage. 

Generations Camp Art On Display at Common Roots Cafe

Currently, nine pieces of artwork from Generations Camp are on display at Common Roots Cafe. The Generations Camp artwork will remain on display to the public through the end of the year.

Website Fact Sheet

Website Fact Sheet

As part of the Minnesota's Greatest Generation project the Society has developed a comprehensive, interactive website that allows visitors to explore the rich and diverse history of Minnesota's Greatest Generation at www.mngreatestgeneration.org. In 2007, the Society received the Minnesota Council for Nonprofits' DOT.ORG Award for "Best Storytelling Web Site."

The website provides visitors with a multitude of resources including: access to films submitted to the Moving Pictures Film Competition; information on preserving family heirlooms; 60,000 historic photographs from the Society’s photo archives; descriptions of events related to the project; tool and lesson plans for teachers about the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s for grades 4-8 and 9-12; and, resources for making an artifact donation.

MNHS has established two online databases where visitors can share their stories and listen to first-hand accounts from Minnesota's Greatest Generation – Share Your Story and In Their Words. 

Share Your Story

Family stories passed down from one generation to the next are treasures that connect us to our past and give us perspective for the future. The Share Your Story database invites members of Minnesota's Greatest Generation, their descendants and friends to write and submit stories and photographs of the generation-defining decades of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Stories collected from Share Your Story are edited, entered into a searchable database and posted on the Web site. They become part of the Historical Society'’s electronic archive, allowing Minnesotans statewide a convenient way to access the stories for years to come. The database is searchable by story category, by keywords or by browsing the story and image archives. Stories of interest can be e-mailed to friends and family directly from the Web site.  Since December 2005, more than 1,000 stories have been entered into the Share Your Story database and have been read more than 181,000 times. 

In Their Words

In Their Words: Stories of Minnesota’s Greatest Generation is an evolving database that allows visitors to explore the legacy of this remarkable generation through personal stories.  Organized by eras, the In Their Words stories are each illustrated with objects, letters, photographs, manuscripts and artifacts from the Society’s collections.  

To date, In Their Words contains more than 160 stories of more than 50 members of Minnesota's Greatest Generation.  Examples of stories include: "Country Kids," "Bombshells and Wedding Bells," and "Ah, Suburbia!"  In Their Words also features historical timelines and teacher tools for grades 4-8 and 9-12.