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New exhibits share local hero stories at Bong Center

Randy Freeman installs a new display at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center on Tuesday afternoon. Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

In World War I, Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker was America's Ace of Aces with 26 aerial victories over the Germans.

"I didn't figure on breaking the record, but they got in front of me so I had to shoot them down," Richard I. Bong wrote home to his mother during World War II.

It's one of the stories of that becomes more accessible as the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center revamps some of its exhibits honoring a hometown hero and the nation's most successful fighter pilot with 40 aerial victories.

The display that highlighted the Winds of War — events leading up to World War II — has been replaced with photos and words and maps that highlight the life of Bong, born in Superior and raised in Poplar.

"It's got a more personal feel to it," said Hayes Scriven, director of the Bong Center.

The new exhibit includes the Medal of Honor and other medals earned by Bong during his service in World War II.

But moving the Medal of Honor from the lower level where the restored replica of Bong's P-38 plane remains on display created a hole, and an opportunity to honor Northland Heroes — Medal of Honor recipients from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Plaques in the shape of each state recognizes recipients, irrespective of the conflict they served and better reflecting the change in the center's mission from honoring the World War II veterans to honoring veterans of all conflicts.

"We picked out four local recipients to highlight in the middle with longer bios and their picture," said Curator Briana Fiandt.

Scriven said digging out the stories was done by volunteer researcher, Dave Schmidt.

"It's nice because we can alternate them out and put up other local recipients," Scriven said.

Recipients of the nation's highest military honor from Wisconsin and Minnesota received their medals of honor during Indian and Mexico conflicts, the Civil War and World War II.

"It turned out really good," Scriven said. "It was really important to do all of them, not just the World War II stuff."

Scriven said the new displays are the first step in revamping the center to focus on veterans of all conflicts.

"It's a longer-term plan," Fiandt said.

Scriven said with the changes, the next phases of the update include highlighting veterans of the Korean War, Vietnam War and the Cold War.

"We're getting spaces opened up again so we can do a better job of telling stories," Scriven said. He said the goal is to open up the rotating exhibit room.

"We're not going to tell that 10,000-foot conflict story," Scriven said. "We're going to tell the veteran's story. We're going to use their words, their letters home, their mission reports, all that stuff so it's their true story. You can get that 10,000-foot story anywhere else. You can't get the Northland veterans story other than here."

The new exhibits will be unveiled 5-6:30 p.m. Wednesday during the Chamber of Superior-Douglas County's Business After 5 at the Bong Center, 305 Harbor View Parkway, Superior. For information, visit www.superiorchamber.org.

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