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'Our Lives, Our Stories' celebrates grand opening

Connie Vandermay/FOCUS Lieutenant Elvin Andrews, of Pelican Rapids, visited the "Our Lives, Our Stories: America's Greatest Generation" exhibit at the ITOW Museum in Perham dressed in full uniform, ready to share his story.

Within the next six weeks, Perham residents and visitors will have the opportunity to dive into the lives of America's 'Greatest Generation' by dipping into the hundreds of stories now on display at the In Their Own Words Veterans Museum.

The "Our Lives, Our Stories: America's Greatest Generation" national traveling exhibit features written and oral recordings, as well as photos and artifacts of major events that shaped the WWII-era generation.

Saturday morning, a small crowd gathered under a tent outside the museum for a special opening ceremony. Guest speakers included politicians Bud Nornes and Dan Skogen, as well as Otter Tail County's Veterans Services Director Charlie Kampa, who introduced nine local veterans with their own stories to tell.

A special 21-dove release ceremony was held for all those who were never given the chance to share their stories.

After the short ceremony, guests were invited to browse through the exhibit on their own, or wait for a tour guide.

Lieutenant Elvin Andrews, a Pelican Rapids resident who visited the exhibit dressed in full uniform, said in an interview that, "These pictures are my story, too. So many people's stories challenge the mind because you think it didn't happen. But it did."

Throughout the exhibit, some stories are captured in text, some in photos, and others in black-and-white video. A radio at the soda fountain shop relays memories from some, while still others are typed out on large boards for museum-goers to read.

There's a photo of children collecting scrap metal for the war effort, and manufacturing companies transforming their assembly lines to make machines for war.

One can see how the women's movement churned forward as women rolled up their sleeves and went to work in hospitals and factories during the war.

As one woman at the exhibit told it, "When all the other boys came back home, I wanted to be able to look them in the eye with a clear conscience and say, 'I did all I could.'"

For some, the statistics of the era are what make this generation stand out. For example, the U.S. bought 75 percent of the world's appliances during that time. The country also produced 41 trillion rounds of ammunition during the war.

Born in 1920, Andrews had his own 'Greatest Generation' life story to tell. He was the pilot in a B17 Bombardier in the Army Air Corp during WWII in his younger twenties. Andrews visits ITOW often, and even recorded his story in a video for the museum's archive.

"This is well put together," Andrews said of the traveling exhibit. As he looked around the room at the displays, he added with a chuckle, "I've been there, and done that."

The individual stories paint a picture of a world that's far different from today's. Upon browsing the exhibit, there's no question as to why this particular generation is considered 'America's Greatest.'

The exhibit will be in Perham for six weeks, until the middle of October. The ITOW has events planned throughout the fall to align with the exhibit. Museum hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.