On Memorial Day, we take time to honor and remember the brave Minnesota veterans and servicemembers who have passed on. For centuries, Minnesotans have displayed incredible courage, perseverance, and grit. These are just a few of the countless Minnesotans in history who put their lives on the line to serve our state and country.
The First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment
There’s a unique item in the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection that might seem out of place in the star of the North: a confederate flag. But the story of how it got to Minnesota is one of great heroism and sacrifice.
The men of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment were some of the first to volunteer for service during the Civil War and earned a reputation for their strength and relentlessness. Perhaps their bravest effort came on July 2nd and 3rd of 1863, when they held the line at Gettysburg while the Union gathered reinforcements. They knew it would be risky, and most of the Regiment perished during that battle, but they charged on anyway and helped the Union to victory.
One of the surviving Minnesotans, Private Marshall Sherman, managed to capture a confederate flag from a Virginian soldier during the chaos. After the war, he was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor and brought that flag back to Minnesota, where it remains today. And though Virginia’s governors have asked, we’re not giving it back.
Minnesota’s “Red Bull” Division
Much like during the Civil War, Minnesotans were among the first to enlist during World War II. Minnesota’s 34th Infantry Division (nicknamed the “Red Bull” division, as it’s still called today) shipped out for Europe in January, 1942, and Minnesota’s 175th Field Artillery waged the first American attack against Nazi forces. Minnesotans are pioneers who don’t hesitate to take action, even when there are risks ahead.
Hmong and Lao Veterans
Since the first Hmong immigrants arrived in Minnesota in 1975, Minnesota has grown to become home to some of the country’s largest communities of Hmong and Lao Americans. That influx of new Minnesotans came after the fallout of the “Secret War,” when the CIA recruited Hmong soldiers to assist American forces with a secret campaign in Southeast Asia from 1961 to 1975.
After the United States pulled out of the region, Secret War soldiers and their families were forced to flee to refugee camps in Thailand out of fear of persecution, and many of them eventually resettled in Minnesota.
We’re proud of Minnesota’s vibrant Hmong, Lao, and Southeast Asian communities, and we honor and remember those who put their lives on the line. You can visit a memorial for these veterans on the grounds of the State Capitol.
Just like in civilian life, women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ Minnesotans have long fought for acceptance and equity in our military. As early as the Civil War, when 104 Black Minnesotans bravely volunteered for service, Minnesotans of color have answered the call to serve, but were segregated from their white fellow soldiers until 1948 when President Truman signed an executive order desegregating the services. In 1973, women were finally able to enlist in the Minnesota National Guard and quickly began to make historic rises in the ranks.
While too many servicemembers were forced to hide who they were until President Obama abolished Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011, we still recognize and remember the many LGBTQ+ Minnesotans who served, whether they were out or not.