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‘I’d Do It All Over Again’: A Look At The Minnesotans Who’ve Served Their Nation

11November 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On this Veterans Day, many have taken the opportunity to thank a friend, neighbor or family member for their service.

Across Minnesota, there are 304,000 veterans — about 5.5% of the population.

There are just less than 6,000 World War II veterans in the state. They make up 2% of our vets, followed by Korea, the pre-911 Gulf War, the post-911 era and Vietnam.

Now 91, Juan Justiniano was stationed in Korea.

“I was there the night they say, ‘The war is over.’ What a relief [laughs]! Justiniano said. “But I lost a few friends.”

Now 86, Jim Smith served just after the Korean War.

“I’d do it all over,” Smith said.

(credit: CBS)

Kim Johnson retired from the Minnesota National Guard after 20 years of service.

“We want to tell our story, but sometimes it comes with a lot of heartache,” Johnson said. “Sometimes just listening helps a lot of the tears.”

Ninety-one-percent of Minnesota veterans are white; 3% are Black; 2% are Latino; 1% are Native American; and 1% are Asian. Almost 92% are men.

“I wanted someone to be able to see someone that might mirror them and say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it,’” Johnson said.

Like every other state, the veteran population is shrinking. It’s fallen 32% over the past 20 years in Minnesota.

“These people went over to some other country to fight, representing our nation,” Justiniano said. “You know, that means something.”

Though the veteran population is expected to become more diverse and more female over the next several decades, the VA projects the overall number will continue to fall.

Over the next 20 years, the population is expected to decrease another 35%.

 

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