Fagen Fighters WWII Museum draws a crowd

Photo by Sabrina Pankratz Warbirds soar above the Fagen Fighters WII Museum grounds Thursday.

GRANITE FALLS — They flew in from such places as Minneapolis and Sioux Falls.

World War II veterans gathered at the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum Thursday for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

They arrived in a B-25 in the afternoon with the help of groups such as Wings of the North, a T-6 group from Minneapolis and the CAF Joe Foss Squadron from Sioux Falls.

“This is a real small community of people, the warbird community. You kind of reciprocate, we have people that come to our things and we go to theirs,” Diane Fagen said. She and her husband Ron own the museum.

Jim Johns, retired Army captain, author and historian was the guest speaker at the event.

“I’m really thrilled to see this big of a crowd here today. Not because I like to talk to big crowds, but because I am so honored at all the people that are in this crowd that remember D-Day,” Johns said.

He spoke of the details surrounding WWII and specifically D-Day.

“Who did we fight in Europe in WWII?” he asked. “The Nazis comprised of the Germans, the Italians, the Hungarians, the Romanians, the Bulgarians, the Croatians, and the Estonians. Combined they totaled 50 divisions, five of them armored,” Johns said.

“They (the Nazis) had selected a spot, 60 miles down the coast at a place called Normandy. Where we had already code named five beaches, Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah. Even our generals had argued against that spot,” Johns said.

“When the sun rose on June 6, lookouts in the German pillboxes on the hills of Normandy could not believe their eyes. They were looking at 5,000 ships, of every shape, variety and form. That had positioned themselves at night in the dark ready to launch or support the launching of the invasion,” Johns said.

“The Higgins boat would pull up to the beach, the ramp would drop, the 36 men were on the beach, they’d hit the deck and wait until enough Higgins boats had deposited enough 36 men per boat. To the point where they would dare chance the barbed wire and move inland against murderous solid machine gun fire,” Johns said.

“Now whatever you read on D-Day, you will all read different figures. But there is absolutely no question, that in the first 10 hours, 2,500 Americans died, 2,700 British died, over 2,000 Canadians died, over 9,000 injured,” Johns said.

The Fagens have a display of a Higgins boat atop of Utah beach sand.

“My dad was first guy or the last guy, I don’t know. I made him the front guy. He landed on Utah beach at 06:30,” Ron Fagen said.

“Ron went a step further, he purchased from the French government barrels of sand from Utah. Which you see in front of you in this display. That is sand that our troops tracked across, that is sand that our boys died on, that was sand that our troops bled to death on. But, they would want you to remember,” Johns said.

“The reason we got the sand is because the museum at Utah beach in France, was doing an expansion. They had displaced a bunch of sand and it was already in barrels, so we were able to purchase that. Otherwise, we probably never could have done it,” Diane Fagen said.

Diane Fagen said that the museum did a program to hear WWII veteran’s stories.

“Now we were fortunate enough to do some filming early on. We’ve been a museum open to the public since 2012. We started right away with what we call our Voices of Valor program and we captured a lot of video in their (WWII veterans) own words. And we had actually five D-Day veterans that we did our interviews with,” Diane Fagen said.

Diane Fagen said they have held a ceremony before on the 70th anniversary.

“We did it on the 70th, this is the 75th, and who knows,” Diane Fagen said. She said the next air show will be in June 2021.

“That will be a big endeavor,” Diane Fagen said.