MONTGOMERY, Minn. – In some ways, Montgomery, Minn. honors veterans with the same respect as most cities in Iowa and Minnesota. The local American Legion has spearheaded the development of the Veterans Memorial Parkâ¦ and it is a beautiful memorial.
Attention is focused on a tiled area with an American flag fluttering above the Minnesota flag and a POW / MIA flag flanking it. Behind float the flags of each of the armed services. There is a statue of a soldier and eagles – a large, sculpted eagle covered with plexiglass that stands under the roof of a shelter. The refuge also houses an exhibition of photos and stories of veterans. A granite monument sits at the front and center.
Which is unlike any other city this writer has been in, veterans honor isn’t limited to a memorial. They are recognized throughout the downtown business district. Photos and stories of veterans are displayed along Main Street in store windows and on the sides of buildings. The idea came from John Grimm.
Air Force veteran Grimm moved to Montgomery in 1992. He flew in the Vietnam War, but instead of going overseas, the Air Force kept him home to train other pilots. . After leaving the service, he joined commercial airlines as a pilot and instructor.
While visiting his parents in the small town of Wautoma, Wisconsin, he saw a display of plaques with photos of veterans and their individual stories in the foyer of the community building.
âI thought it was a great idea,â said Grimm, âbut Montgomery didn’t have a community building. I figured that instead of concentrating the plaques in one place, why not scatter them around? the Montgomery business district.
He took his idea to American Legion Post # 79 in Montgomery and told them he was willing to pay for it. With the cooperation of the post, word got out, stories and photos were collected. Grimm had a friend who made the wooden frames, and each tribute to the veterans was framed behind glass. Many businesses accepted them in their windows, and others were displayed on exterior walls.
After a few decades, the wooden frames deteriorated and are said to have water leakage, especially those posted outside. With the expertise of another friend in the Legion, they were all converted to waterproof panels. Three hundred and thirty-nine tributes are now on display in the Veterans Memorial Park, on the side of the Legion building, and throughout downtown Montgomery.
The American Legion Post continues the veterans program as more tributes are added. It is not limited to natives of Montgomery. Anyone can add a photo and story of a Veteran they wish to honor. There is a charge to cover the cost.
Honoring veterans’ past service is good, but what about after service? Grimm was aware of the plight of homeless veterans and wanted to do something about it as well. He often drove past a seaside resort about a mile north of the bankrupt town. There was a central building and three cabins. He envisioned a place for the veterans to live. Grimm found a way to buy the property, named it The Harbor, and set to work converting the main building into ten apartments.
A month after the project began, he received a phone call from the mother of a homeless veteran. As Grimm barely started the year-long remodel, he decided he would welcome it – because living in a mess is better than being homeless. It turned out that the man had experience in sheet plating and was able to trade in labor for a place to live.
With the three cabins, The Harbor can accommodate 15 occupants. When Grimm couldn’t find enough veterans to fill the apartments, he opened it up to other low-income residents, but veterans will always be given preference.
Still energetic at 80, Grimm is probably not done with the projects he dreams of. Coming from a family of veterans (his father and brothers also served in the military) honoring veterans with plaques, and now providing them with housing, John Grimm has made Montgomery a place where veterans fighters are honored in a unique way, and can be at home.
For more information, including on The Harbor, you can contact John Grimm at (612) 756-1075. Information on the Veterans Program and Memorial Park can be found on the American Legion of Montgomery website, www.montgomerymnamlegionpost79.org.