A visit to the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum
Two weeks ago, I received a phone call extending an invitation for my Uncle Allen to be a guest of honor at a special event at the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum. My uncle expressed interest in attending, so yesterday we made the 5+ hour round-trip drive.
The Fagen Fighters WWII Museum recently acquired an authentic 1899 box car that was used to transport Jews during the war. Though the museum’s collection is focused on WWII aircraft and other ground vehicles, the museum’s founders wanted to be sure their collection honored victims of the Holocaust. Yesterday’s event formally added the box car to their collection; the event was attended by what seemed to be two thousand guests, dignitaries, a Holocaust survivor, and eight or so WWII veterans. Special acknowledgement was given to Merrill Burgstahler, who was involved in the liberation of Buchenwald, and my uncle, who, while he didn’t liberate Buchenwald, bore witness to the atrocities that happened there.
After the ceremony, we toured the museum’s collection, which includes fully-operational P-51s, a P-38, two P-40s, a FM-2 Wildcat, and a B-52 bomber. (Don’t let the detail fool you. I’m no expert in aircraft types — I referred back to the brochure.) At 91 years old, Allen has days when his memory is crystal clear, other days when memories are harder to retrieve. Yesterday, he was in great form, and he seemed especially touched when total strangers came up to him, shook his hand, and said “thank you for your service.” For a man who, for decades, did not talk about the war, it seems as though he is reveling this twilight attention.
Allen was able to identify the various planes and vehicles with ease. He even shared a story of the single time he was put in charge of plane-spotting while the rest of his unit cleared a mine field. Allen thought he recognized the plane, and told his buddies not to worry. “It’s a P-51, one of ours,” he assured them. Just then, a Nazi fighter flew overhead, the swastika on the wings unmistakable. As his buddies yelled and cursed his name, telling him they were never again going to let him be a plane-spotter, a P-51 came roaring behind, not far off the Nazi’s tail. “That’s the one I meant,” Allen claimed with a smile and a shrug.
Before we departed, we were able to take in a special sight: the flying of a WWII transport plane, along with one of the P-51s, and a P-40. I’m not one to Ooooh and Aaaah over cars or planes, but I will confess it was a whole lot of fun to watch those planes roar by, their wings tipping and dipping as they showed off.
If you find yourself in the Granite Falls, MN area, or are up for a road trip, I encourage you to check out the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum! Their commitment to restoring WWII airplanes and honoring the legacy of “The Greatest Generation” is remarkable.