The plane seems to pitch and roll, noise fills the interior and the shouts of the men are deafening. Enemy fire tears holes in the cabin. We are hit! Flames leap past the windows. A green light guides them to their destiny. Jump! Jump now!
A voice covers a new silence, informing me that all but two perished that day.
I am sitting inside a replica of a WWII Douglas C-47 Skytrain. The faces and voices are real, the effect stunning and emotional. For me, this is the core experience of the Minnesota History Center exhibit, Minnesota’s Greatest Generation.
It resonates on a personal level; my father served in the 19th General Hospital (Rochester, NY) in the European Theater. I realize there are quite a few people like me; children of WWII vets, born later in life perhaps. We learn about our parents through family artifacts, books, letters and exhibits, such as the one at the History Center. My dad did not speak of his WWII.
Tragically, we lost touch when I was 28; his mind captured by a different sort of enemy: Alzheimer’s. I had not begun to formulate, or even imagine, the questions I would later want to ask.
The Minnesota History Center is perched on a hillside overlooking downtown St. Paul. Intersected by streets that also lead visitors to the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Minnesota State Capital, it provides sweeping panoramas from its expansive windows.
The Generations exhibit covers birth, the growing up years, the cultural influences of the times, and what society looked like after the war: the boomers…
Via the Minnesota Historical Society, a portal opens to over two dozen historic sites across the state. From the History Center to Split Rock Light House and Jeffers Petroglyphs, or living history at Oliver H Kelley Farm; the story of Minnesota unfolds.
For me, my visit inspires me to continue the project of reading and archiving my father’s letters and memorabilia. He and I have a great deal of catching up to do.
November 9, 2012