Pagel works to honor veterans as part of the American Legion
“I’m hoping, by bringing this event, we may be able to engage more of our younger veterans."
SLAYTON — When Brad Pagel graduated from Balaton High in 1987, he wasn’t sure about his future.
So the man who grew up on a Garvin dairy farm enlisted in the U.S. Army.
“The only branch to be in,” he smiles. “I think it would benefit everyone to be in the service at that age. Then they’d figure out what life’s all about.”
Pagel served from 1987-91 as a PFC E3 and participated in Desert Shield/Storm. He was in a rear support unit that in part refueled Chinook helicopters in the middle of Saudi Arabia.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen at that time,” he says softly. “Because the last major conflict we’d been in before that was Vietnam. In Desert Storm we had no clue if our equipment would work right or not. And it did.
“We all had a job to do and that’s what we did.”
Pagel is the commander at the American Legion post in Slayton. It happened, he says, very quickly.
“I went to the first meeting about nine years ago when they were putting up the Veterans Memorial (just east of the courthouse in Slayton),” he says. “I went to one meeting, paid my dues at the next meeting, and somehow the third meeting I’m the Post Commander. I’ve been there ever since.”
“But on the flip side of that, I wish I would have joined when I first got out in ’91,” he says. “Especially after seeing what the Legion does and what we stand for: Veterans rights and benefits and our youth. It’s very rewarding.”
Pagel says his life was changed by his military service. And now he’s trying to make a difference for others.
His passion these days is a planned Vietnam Memorial Wall and Cost of Freedom exhibit that is planned for mid-August in conjunction with the annual Murray County Fair. The Memorial Wall replica consists of 144 panels dedicated to the memory of those U.S. troops who perished in Vietnam. The Cost of Freedom exhibit pays tribute to veterans from many other conflicts, including World Wars I and II, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq, Desert Storm and Desert Shield, the Cold War, Beirut and Grenada.
There are seven American Legion posts in Murray County, including the Edwin March Post 64 in Slayton that is sponsoring the exhibit.
“I’m hoping, by bringing this event, we may be able to engage more of our younger veterans,” Pagel says. “This is a way for people who can’t make it or afford to go out there to D.C. There is certainly a historical aspect, but this could also be a healing process at the same time. And, of course, there are educational aspects, because maybe kids aren’t being taught about these conflicts to the extent that you and I were in school.”
The Vietnam Wall is an 80% replica of the monument in Washington, D.C. Like the real thing, the replica bears the names of the more than 58,000 soldiers — including about 20 from southwest Minnesota — who lost their lives in Vietnam.
The hope is that the exhibit has a profound effect on all who see it.
“I think it will,” Pagel says. “From the time we set it up until the time we tear it down (five days later) it’s open 24 hours per day. With no charge.”
The cost of bringing this to the Murray County Fair is more than $11,000. Pagel and the Slayton Legion post, the host, are currently in full fundraising mode. The reception has been tremendous.
“Really, really good,” Pagel says. “We really haven’t had any organizations turn us down.
“No matter how much money we raise, if we have any left over it will remain in that particular account to be used the next time we do something like this.”
The Murray County Fair has an excellent reputation.
“It’s one of the best in the area in my opinion,” Pagel says.
This year, because of the Slayton Legion club’s plans, it promises to be better than ever.
It’s a huge endeavor. Pagel, who still works on the family farm near Garvin and has other small jobs in Slayton, was asked why his Legion position is so important to him.
He paused for a long time.
“It’s a personal thing,” he says. “My dad served. He was stationed in Germany during Vietnam. I have an uncle who was a door gunner in a Marine helicopter. We don’t see much of him because of what went on over there.
“So it’s personal, but it’s also about educating our youth. And for a lot of other people.”
Southwest Minnesota is special to Pagel. He’s a Murray County man who said living in this area means much to him. In fact, Pagel has plenty of reasons to be thankful for his home.
“People here, we all work together in time of need,” he says.
He knows this from personal experience. About four years ago, Pagel was in a serious accident when a tractor tipped over, pinning him for nearly an hour.
“I was trying to invent a new sport,” he grins, “called tractor wrestling.”
The immediate response from emergency crews in Garvin and Balaton helped save his life. He knew people from both organizations. He was friends with many of them before the accident.
Those friendships have become stronger ever since.
“That’s right,” he says.
And now, by bringing a solemn and patriotic event home, Pagel hopes to help people of his community just as he was helped.
“Pay it back, pay it forward,” he says. “That’s really what it amounts to. There’s more ways than one to do that. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”