‘A historic moment': 72 veterans memorialized in Minnesota Medal of Honor ceremony on Capitol grounds
“This memorial stands in symbolic defense of not only our Capitol, but also the state and nation," Kraemer said.
ST. PAUL — Six dozen Medal of Honor recipients were honored by government officials and military advocates on the Minnesota State Capitol Mall on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 22, as part of a formal dedication of the Minnesota Medal of Honor Memorial.
The origin of the memorial is almost a century in the making. It was first dreamed up by famed American architect Cass Gilbert in 1931, who, after serving as the architect for Minnesota’s Capitol, had the idea to construct a memorial on the Capitol grounds to honor veterans. Though no such memorial was built, after the conclusion of World War II, construction began on a building to house veteran’s services, which remains standing today.
Roughly 80 years after Gilbert’s sketch, Minnesota businesswoman Tiffany Kovaleski teamed up with Stillwater Veterans Memorial Committee member John Kraemer to create a memorial honoring Minnesota’s 72 Medal of Honor recipients.
A process that would take roughly a decade of hard work and dedication to complete, Kovaleski and Kraemer began working with veterans groups and government officials to secure the grounds and funding for the project. After breaking ground on the site in October 2016, the Minnesota Legislature in May 2017 passed an omnibus bill which included the appropriation of $250,000 in funding for the memorial, which was matched and exceeded from private donors.
At Thursday’s dedication ceremony, Gov. Tim Walz took to the podium to share the importance of remembering America’s veterans.
“It is a historic moment,” Walz said. “This memorial is talking about the values that these Medal of Honor recipients embody — the best that America has to offer. … When you see [the Medal of Honor] on someone, it's a feeling of awe, as you step back and recognize what these folks did.”
Walz noted that the contributions of Medal of Honor recipients carry far beyond the battlefield, and often make an impact at home, as well.
“It never fails to amaze me with the humility and the sense of service that these folks put on, many times as young warriors, and then lived the life that embodied those spirits — improving their communities, their state, their country and their world,” Walz said. “This memorial is a place to capture and bottle what we’re feeling now and the sense of service and character that these recipients embody. This memorial stands as the entrance place to our democracy, to our memorial and to our place of remembrance.”
Thursday was also proclaimed by Walz as Minnesota Medal of Honor Memorial Day.
Following a reading of the proclamation, Tom Kelley, former president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and Medal of Honor recipient, spoke to remind those in attendance that the memorial mustn't only look to the past, but also serve as an educational opportunity for the future.
“Seventy-two sons of Minnesota have been awarded the Medal of Honor. I only knew two of them: Vietnam airmen Leo Thorsness, from Walnut Grove, and World War II soldier Don Rudolph from either Duluth or Minneapolis. Both men continued to serve their fellow citizens after their military service — Leo in politics and Don working for the Veterans Administration,” Kelley said. “They both share something with the other 70 Minnesota recipients. They were ordinary men, boys, not looking for fame or glory, but they responded in a big way when their country called upon them to serve.”
Kelley pointed out that the memorial is more about teaching future generations about doing the right thing.
“In the years and generations ahead, Minnesota citizens, especially children, will be coming to this site and modeling the stories of the recipients we honor today. Their reaction might be ‘Wow I could never do what these guys did … that's really heroic.’ But I'm here to tell you today that you don't have to be a soldier or first responder in order to be a hero,” Kelley continued. “You can stand up and be heard when you see some classmate being bullied or by telling your friends that drug use is harmful or by taking an unpopular stance. These actions count and they demonstrate a moral courage that is just as heroic as the deeds of these men. You may not find your name on a monument, but you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you did the right thing.”
Kovaleski and Kraemer spoke in closing, calling attention to the six qualities Medal of Honor recipients must embrace — sacrifice, commitment, integrity, citizenship, patriotism and courage — and reiterating their call for the memorial to live on and see continued dedication.
“This memorial stands in symbolic defense of not only our Capitol, but also the state and nation. Accordingly, this memorial has a future responsibility to add faces and biographical info to the names of the selfless valor and ultimate sacrifice of the few who maintained our rights and freedoms over these many years,” Kraemer said. “The valor and sacrifice of these individuals will not be lost to the passing of time. There will always be a way and means to pay tribute to the few.”
Though no events have been formally planned, Kraemer indicated the memorial could serve as a site to host gatherings of remembrance or celebration in the future.
Biographical information for each of Minnesota's 72 Medal of Honor recipients can be found by clicking their names in the table below.