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Minnesota National Guard
Minnesota Military Museum Curator and Secretary of State discuss Red Bull history

Minnesota National Guard Last Memorial Day, Doug Bekke, the curator of the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley and Minnesota's Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie had the opportunity to sit down with Tom Lyons of Minnesota Military Radio in Minneapolis to discuss the 34th Infantry Division and Minnesota's military history

Lyons: Welcome back to our special Memorial Day edition of Minnesota Military Radio I am your host Tom Lyons This is Twin Cities News Talk AM1230 Jack and Ben, Up and At 'Em in the Morning, will be back tomorrow morning, but today, all morning, we'll be talking about Memorial Day with our special guests and my co-host this morning has been Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie Mr secretary, you're always here early in the morning and your full energy I don't know how you do that at this hour

Ritchie: Well I just so appreciate that you each week make this an important resource for all of us here in the state 

Lyons: Mr secretary, we've got a special guest in the studio with us this morning, the curator of the Minnesota Military Museum up in Camp Ripley, Doug Bekke Doug welcome back to the show

Bekke: Good morning, glad to be here

Lyons: For those of us who haven't heard the show, Doug joins us periodically to bring us up to date on all things history about the military in Minnesota Doug, one of the things we wanted to talk about this morning was the 34th Infantry Division Red Bulls participation in WWII, but before do that, what comes to mind when for you, as a historian, when Memorial Day rolls around each year What do you think about?

Bekke: Well, I think about the veterans I've known and I've known a lot of them since some of my earliest memories are talking to my relatives who served in various wars or neighbors, listening to teachers They've always surrounded me and always being a history geek from my earliest recollections that's what I talk to people about was history and their experiences, so now, in many cases, I go to the Ft Snelling Cemetery and I visit them and they're not just grainy black-and-white photographs to me they're real people who influenced my life They were relatives, mentors, teachers and I see their faces, I hear their stories I remember them as real people Those are the things that I really recall

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Lyons: Doug, we've interviewed for 3 and a half years now, veterans from WWII on up to today and the one thing that strikes me that, maybe our current generations doesn't understand, is that WWII was a world war The entire United States economy, all of our people, most of the people in the world were involved in it I'm a Vietnam veteran and in my era we went on deployments, on tours to Vietnam and came home in about 13 months In the Gulf wars and the wars today, they might go for 6 months, 9 months, 12 months In WWII, the guys went to war and they stayed until it was over How can, do you have the words to describe a world war? 

Bekke: It's a concept that's alien to me, really, because also being a Vietnam veteran, we'd go, like you say, on a deployment and then we'd come back, but there wasn't a sense of closure for many of us because we'd come home, but the war would go on For many veterans you'd become part of that whole experience and then you leave it and it goes on without you and there is a sense that you've missed something or you've left something behind You might be very glad to be home, but it's going on without you and you've become part of that With WWII the war ended, they came back; everyone had been involved in the war Many times, for many Vietnam veterans, there is a sense that 'we didn't get the parades' or 'we didn't get the heroic welcome back" Well, it didn't happen in WWII either and most veterans came home and everyone was tired of it and everyone had been involved in some level and they just wanted to get on with their lives Many of them came home to families that they didn't know, wives that they barely knew, children they hadn't seen before Suddenly, they were out of the service They had to get an education They had to get a job They had to provide for their families and they moved on from the wartime experience

I hear all of the time, I'm going to go do an interview and someone will say that dad or mom will not talk about the war They've never done it, but just as the secretary of state said with his father-in-law experience, an outsider can sometimes 'crack the nut' Many times, there's a wealth of information there that's just waiting for a vehicle to talk about the war They won't do it within the family, but someone comes in from the outside and interviews them, especially someone that shares some of these experiences, they'll talk for hours sometimes You open that door and they want to to talk and want to talk and want to talk One man that I had met had been in the 82nd Airborne Division for the whole war, made all 4 combat jumps, he was a quiet guy and had never talked much about his experiences until he got involved with the WWII round table programs at Ft Snelling When I did finally interview him, he talked for 10 hours It went on and on and on

Lyons: You got him started and he kept going

Bekke: You opened up that door and it just went on and on and on, and unfortunately, the last part of the interview, this is years ago when I was doing it on tape, I had just ran out of tape He had just started a monologue about 'why did I survive' It was just one of the most riveting monologues I've ever heard from anyone, especially coming from this guy It was completely unexpected because he was a very quite, very modest man, but it was just a riveting monologue and I didn't get it

Lyons: We're speaking with Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and historian Doug Bekke on a special Memorial Day edition of Minnesota Military Radio right here on Twin Cities News Talk AM 1130

Doug, I've heard a lot of talk the last few weeks about D-Day and it's D-Day +70, but leading up to D-Day our Minnesota National Guard 34th Infantry Division Red Bulls played a significant role in occupying, as you told us last time you were on, 18 divisions in Italy, which made D-Day more manageable Can you tell us a little about the Red Bulls?

Bekke:  Well, the 34th had been called up in February of 1941 with most of the rest of the National Guard They went to Camp Claiborne Louisiana They were expecting to come home in early 1942, but Pearl Harbor happened in December 1941 and they were one of the first units sent overseas and went to Northern Ireland and trained there They participated in the invasion of North Africa on 8 November 1942; some of the first units to go into North Africa They fought through the North African campaign to Tunisia, played critical roles there They didn't go into Sicily The division's 151st Field Artillery played a critical role in the Salerno landings, supporting the 36th Division They then fought their way up the Italian boot and were there until the very end of the war They played a critical role in the fighting around Casino They later went to Anzio and ended the war in the Po Valley on the march almost up into Austria

Lyons: Mr secretary, I don't know if you're aware of this, but we found out that, the last time Doug was on, that the 34th Infantry Division was involved in the liberation of Rome which had the headlines for about a day before D-Day hit Maybe it was a day or two, but it was pretty close wasn't it Doug?

Bekke: They went in on the 5th of June, and of course D-Day was on the 6th, and once D-Day happened 'so what' for the rest of the war Normandy captured all the headlines

Lyons: And I think you told us that the 34th Infantry Division was the first unit activated at the beginning of the war and they had more front-line combat days than any other unit in WWII

Bekke: As a division they had more days in combat than any other division and one of their battalions, the 175th Field Artillery had more days in combat than any other battalion in WWII

Ritchie: When it's reminiscent of the origins of that division is the 1st Minnesota Volunteers being the first who mobilized for the Civil War when President Lincoln called for troops to support the Union and to defend the constitution Its part of Minnesota history and important to remind, to retell that story because there are so many people who, young people growing up, or people coming to Minnesota for economic opportunities or for school to really know what an important part of our tradition and our history This is really in our DNA We need to carry it forward

Lyons: Mr secretary, I know that you taught history at one point, I think you're keeping that secret these days because you're so busy lately

Ritchie: And I'd love to get back to it

Lyons: Well I don't remember ever learning in high school or college about the legendary 34th Infantry Division Red Bulls I mean, they've traced their way back, as you said, to the civil war?

Ritchie: Well, its interesting, Doug Bekke's comment how once D-Day happened both the world's attention, the media's attention, that's the thing about a world war My dad was in China, a Marine in the Pacific theater There were things going on and some we know more about and some we either have never learned or have forgotten, but these anniversary dates and these important moments it's a real important chance to just bring that history back and doing things like going to a museum or one of these events is just a way, particularly for our younger people, for families to go together and say 'history is important,' here is a little piece hopefully to build a life-long interest

Doug mentioned the Second World War round table; we also have a civil war round table monthly meeting where folks can get that history

[station break at 21:47]

Lyons:   We've been talking a little bit about WWII because D-Day +70 is just around the corner on June 6th We can across President Roosevelt's D-Day prayer [Read the full text here]

Doug, it was a different time 70 years ago The entire world was thrown into war I think President Roosevelt understood that he had to send a message to the people of America

Bekke: That's right

Lyons: Mr secretary, those are some powerful words aren't they?

Ritchie: Thinking back on this as a world war and the discussion that we were having earlier in the hour about how different or unique that was and how the whole nation was involved and the whole nation was caught up in the news and experience Needing to keep that national involvement in front of us because as a nation we face challenges year after year not just at times of worldwide war, so Memorial Day is a chance to remember just a little bit about that and help reignite that understanding of the way we are all connected in this way as a nation

Lyons: And it was a big world war, as we said, but Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan; the men we send over there are no less brave and no less honorable

Ritchie: Amen!

Lyons: And it's a day to remember those folks Doug, we've just got a few minutes left Can you sum up the 34th Infantry Division? Our Minnesotans it seems like from Civil War to WWII to every conflict we're there We stand up and we go

Bekke: That's right, that's right The one experience that was a big one for my generation that was missed with the National Guard was Vietnam and that forms an image for many people Even Jessie Ventura mentioned that the National Guard is only there for tornadoes and emergencies and that He was thinking about the Vietnam experience when the National Guard wasn't involved, but traditionally, from the revolution on the National Guard had its roots in the militias, the local community groups that formed to defend their communities That was then formed into more organized units, and of course, in the Civil War our first militias were formed in 1858, or in 1857 before we were even a state, and served significantly in the Civil War Served significantly in the Spanish American War We had the 13th Minnesota in the Philippines WWI, the unit with the most combat was the 151st Field Artillery which still exists, but the 34th got to France just at the very end of the war and didn't participate in any major campaigns, but in WWII was heavily involved from the very start and, as I went over their history earlier, more days of combat than any other unit They became the 47th Division after WWII with the reorganization of the Army As a unit, they went to Camp Rucker Alabama Didn't go to Korea as a unit, but many, many individuals out of the division were sent to Korea We were preparing for Vietnam, double drilling, as were many other National Guard units, but weren't called The more recent conflicts in the Middle East have been very, very heavily involved and have an incredibly strong record of service and are very highly regarded in the military today

Lyons: Doug, I know you have to get going because you're participating in an activity at Lakewood Cemetery, but you're the curator of the Minnesota Military Museum, it's located up at Camp Ripley What a fantastic facility It's open all Summer?

Bekke: Its open 7 days a week from the 1st of May until the 1st of October The public is very welcome to come up to Camp Ripley It's a great museum We're heavy in artifacts I believe that's the strength of the museum, is to put the artifacts out and let the artifacts tell the story We've got a special exhibit now on Minnesota's two Civil Wars; the war between the North and the South and the 1862 Dakota War We've got a special exhibit on the 34th Division right now Next year we're doing an exhibit on Vietnam and the following year we're doing an exhibit on WWI

Lyons: I don't know how you keep up with it all Doug

Ritchie: I just love going to the museum because it has so much that's personal, the letters, the notes from Soldiers and others serving back and forth, the families It's just a beautiful place to be and so folks out in the state make sure you don't miss it And that Civil War exhibit is fantastic, so thank you for making that available for all of us as citizens of Minnesota

Lyons: It's a great place to stop for a couple of hours on an afternoon on the way up North to the lakes You do a great job up there and Doug, thanks for visiting with us on Minnesota Military Radio

Bekke: Thank you very much

May 26, 2014
Transcribed by Master Sgt Daniel Ewer
Minnesota National Guard Command Historian

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