John Holbrook

Do you often have company that stays for a week or two and you run out of ideas as to how to entertain them? (That sort of company happens nearly all summer at our lake place). If so, may I suggest a day trip to Camp Ripley.

The Camp is located on a 53,000 acre site 10 miles north of Little Falls and just a mile west of Minnesota 371. It was first approved as a military site after World War I in 1929. It has now grown to be a training site for the Minnesota National Guard, Minnesota State Patrol, the MN Department of Natural Resources, and the Minnesota Civil Air Patrol. It is also the site of an excellent museum whose collections are the largest and most comprehensive repository in Minnesota for military artifacts and records.

Indeed, the museum houses over 80,000 items including uniforms, weapons, equipment, insignias, flags, medals, and much more. Also included on the campus are static displays of tanks, aircraft, vehicles, and artillery pieces. Finally, an adjacent building houses a huge collection of military history books that can even be checked out by interested readers.

A very special museum collection is the General John Vessey exhibit. Vessey was a Minnesota native whose 46 years of service to our nation spanned his early enlistment in the National Guard (he lied about his age at 16) just before WW II up to the time he served as Chair of the Joint Chief of Staff under President Ronald Reagan from 1982 to 1985. That position is the highest assignment that any military person can hold.

It is also should be noted that even after retirement to his lake place close to Garrison, Minnesota, Vessey continued to serve his country and his local community. He was a frequent guest lecturer to history students at Onamia High School, and he also endowed a special scholarship each year for a graduating Onamia girl student going on to college and majoring in science. That scholarship is still in effect today.

The museum is open daily from May to September from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. From October to April, the visiting hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is only $5 for adults and just $2 for kids 6 to 16 (under 6 is free). Admission fees are capped at $12 for large families. Please note that for security purposes, adults will need a picture ID issued by either the State or the federal government. If you have questions or special needs, the museum can be reached at (320) 616-6050.

There you have it! Camp Ripley is a perfect place to get those lingering summer relatives out of your house and out to visit a very special place full of rich Minnesota military history. They won’t be disappointed to see such a great variety of artifacts. Meanwhile, you won’t be disappointed to get a break from constant company!

(John may be reached for ideas or comments at mnjholbrook@gmail.com.)

John Holbrook is a former teacher, coach and counselor at Onamia High School. He now resides on Lake Hubert near Nisswa and does part-time writing.

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