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Veterans sought for memorial dedication

ST. PAUL -- There is a special guest list of nearly 50,000 Minnesotans for the upcoming dedication of a new World War II memorial.

Organizers are trying to round up the state's World War II veterans and their families to attend the June 9 ceremony dedicating the memorial located on the Capitol Mall.

John Polley, whose Army service from 1942-45 took him from North Africa to Norway, plans to be there. The Crookston man said it's "late in the game" to recognize World War II veterans, but he wants to see the memorial anyway.

"One of the things that should come (from the memorial) is that people of the nation become aware of what in the world is actually going on," Polley said of Minnesotans' involvement in the war.

While there are at least 47,000 living World War II veterans in Minnesota, around 5,000 are expected in St. Paul for the formal unveiling, said Pat Turgeon, communications director for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs.

The dedication, called "Above and Beyond," is planned from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and will feature historical displays, military vehicles and two aircraft flyovers. State legislators will read the names of 6,000 Minnesota soldiers who died serving in World War II.

"They look out over our veterans at the Legislature," Turgeon said of lawmakers.

The memorial will be dedicated during a program beginning at 2 p.m. with speeches from Gov. Tim Pawlenty and retired Gen. John Vessey, a Minneapolis native and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Legislators approved construction of the memorial project in 2000. They agreed earlier this year to spend an additional $250,000 to help pay to transport the aging veterans from across the state to St. Paul for the ceremony.

The funding was in a military veterans' spending package approved last month after a state lawmaker anticipated aid would be needed to get veterans to St. Paul.

Freshman Rep. Tim Faust said he and House colleagues toured the Veterans Service Building overlooking the memorial while construction was still under way.

"I was thinking to myself, I've got to figure out a way to get all my World War II veterans here," recalled Faust, a Mora Democrat who did not serve in the military. Then he decided the effort should be extended statewide.

Faust and other lawmakers worked with the Veterans Affairs Department, which has overseen the memorial construction and dedication plans. An advisory board of World War II veterans has also been involved in the project.

"It's our last chance to honor them and thank them for what they've done for this state and this country," Faust said.

Veterans interested in attending have been encouraged to contact their county veterans' service officer or their local American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. Some will travel by car, others by the busload. The public event is free.

Local veterans' groups are being reminded of the importance of getting World War II veterans to the dedication, said John Cox, commander of the Minnesota American Legion.

"For a lot of them," he said, "it may just be the last time they see this memorial."