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History of ordinary men, extraordinary acts

"I shoot down a couple here and there, and they give me a Congressional Medal and write big stories about me. War is hell."

Those are the words from Maj. Dick Bong in a letter to his Mom on Dec. 17, 1944, fresh off of being awarded our nation's highest military honor.

I have only been back in the Northland for a few months in my new job as director of the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, and I am continually humbled at the stories I am hearing of people doing amazing things, and them not thinking anything about it.

It is a common theme I see in my new role. Recently, I was chatting a with Vietnam War veteran; he told me how he shot down two enemy planes during his tour. I asked him if it was a rush or if he was scared. His response was, no "they trained me and I was just doing my job."

Another interesting thing I have noticed is how active duty and veterans interact with each other. The veterans thank the active duty members profusely and the active duty thank the veterans profusely. But they all say, "I am just doing my job."

I guess this is strange to me to see these interactions. No, you are serving or you have served, our country bravely and sacrificed immensely so we all can live our lives and this museum geek can write an article about how awesome you all are. I am not military and not many in my family have served, but I have always had the utmost respect for active duty and veterans for what they have done to keep us free.

Fifteen years ago, on Sept. 24, 2002, the Richard I. Bong Veterans Center opened its doors to honor Major Bong and all World War II veterans. Since then, we have changed our mission to include more veterans' stories beyond WW II. To date, we have conducted over 600 oral history interviews, cataloged over 10,000 artifacts in the collection, and memorialized more than 2,100 veterans on 528 tiles that line our gallery walls. The center is truly a Northland center and we want you all to feel that. So, I ask you, when was the last time you visited the center? Come back and rediscover the Bong. We are changing our programming and you will start to see many more community events offered by us. Yes, we are here to document, preserve and interpret veterans' history, but their history is our history. Come in and learn about the best stories in the Northland.

Hayes Scriven is executive director of the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center.