Groundbreaking ceremony for military and veterans museum held at Camp Ripley

A ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony for a world-class military and veterans museum at Camp Ripley was held Sunday afternoon in Little Falls.

“I haven’t seen anything like it in the state or in the country,” shared Randal Dietrich, executive director of the Minnesota Military & Veterans Museum at Camp Ripley, ahead of the ceremony.

Plans have been drawn up for a 40,000-square-foot building made possible with a $32 million investment from the state Legislature, another $5 million in private funding and a family’s donation of the 32-acre plot where construction will soon begin.

“This is the high point of my life,” Navy veteran David E. Anderson said. “From being married, being a father, and earning my dolphins [a hard-earned pin signifying submarine warfare], this fits right in there.”

Anderson, who was a submarine sailor on the USS Gurnard in the early 1970s, said he’s most excited to see fragments of the now-decommissioned 1984 USS Minneapolis-St. Paul submarine be made into a centerpiece of the lawn leading up to the facility.

In a rare move to date, the museum is also expected to provide a look into service post-9/11, leading up to the fall of Kabul in 2021, where the Minnesota National Guard played a major role.

“There’s, you know, more than 40,000 Minnesota veterans that served post-9/11,” Dietrich said.

“That started a brand-new era,” added museum board member and 33-year military veteran John Pearson, recalling how technology forever changed communication from the battlefield back home. “I watched a father in Iraq who was reading a bedtime story to his child while he was in Iraq — very emotional, very emotional.”

The new era is equally worth preserving, Pearson said.

“Never let the children forget what we did. Freedoms are not free, and as I take a look at veterans and so forth that we see across the nation and so forth, don’t ever let the message die,” he continued.

Construction of the museum is set to begin in the spring of 2024 and is expected to be complete in late 2025 with a grand opening in early 2026.

The board continues to fundraise and take ideas from veterans and families as they plan for the galleries and classrooms to be inside the museum.

To help out, call the existing Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley, Dietrich said.

The event was emceed by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS evening anchor Kevin Doran.