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Painting dedicated to Air Force completes tribute at Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery - Little Falls

9/24/2019 10:00:00 AM

Melody Huttner

Air Force PaintingMore than 10 years in the making, a series of paintings that make up the Veterans Art Monument in the Committal Hall at the State Veterans Cemetery - Little Falls has been completed with the final installment dedicated to the U.S. Air Force.

In 2009, Minnesota Artist Charles Kapsner was commissioned by the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery Association to compose the series which he titled “Looking to the Past, Present, and Future: A Veterans Educational Historic Project.” The project ultimately included five paintings total, each measuring 8’x10’, that depict the history and contributions of the men and women of our five service branches. The Army painting was installed in November of 2011, the Navy painting in May of 2014, the Coast Guard painting in February of 2016 and the Marine Corps painting in May of 2018.

Throughout the process, Kapsner had Veterans model for him in his studio. The Air Force painting models included Brigadier General Sandra Best and Major General (Brevit) David Hamlar Jr.

To mark the completion of the project, the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery Association hosted a dedication ceremony on Sunday, September 22 at the Committal Hall at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery - Little Falls. They also dedicated a granite monument that honors all Veterans and those who donated to the project.

When asked about his favorite parts of each painting displayed in the Little Falls facility, Cemetery Administrator Erik Sogge replied:

“If I were to select a favorite portion of each painting, it would start with the homeless Veteran in the Army painting. One of the most common questions I hear from visitors is ‘Why is there a drunk in the Army painting?’ When the question is asked it serves Mr. Kapsner’s intent, which is to illicit conversation about the many issues that affect Veterans returning from war. By keeping issues like homelessness and post-traumatic stress disorder in the open, it allows for difficult conversations to be had regarding how to address them.

“… The Marine Corps painting includes a depiction of the original flag raising on Mount Suribachi. While the image itself is impactful, there is a unique addition to the painting. The artist was able to obtain soil from Mount Suribachi while completing the painting. This soil was ground into the paint used at the base of the flag raising depiction, adding a physical connection to the actual location.

“… The addition of Torpedoman’s Mate Chief Petty Officer Howard Warnberg was an important aspect of the Navy painting. Mr. Warnberg was a Navy Veteran, who served during World War II, and was a regular visitor at the Cemetery. Howard would participate in the annual Memorial Day event at the State Veterans Cemetery, wearing his World War II era dress uniform that fit as well as it did when it was first issued. Howard’s wife, Margaret, was interred at the Cemetery in 2012 and Howard, visiting often, became a close friend of our staff. Unfortunately, Mr. Warnberg passed away in 2016 but his image and memory are forever captured in the painting.

“The recently installed Air Force painting includes two service members who represent the progress of our Armed Forces. … Brigadier General Sandy Best was the first female to be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the Minnesota National Guard. A few years prior to Brigadier General Best’s promotion, David Hamlar Jr. was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, representing the first African-American to achieve that rank in the Minnesota National Guard.

“Finally, the Coast Guard painting displays the tragic events on September 11, 2001. A very underappreciated role of the Coast Guard are their contributions in protecting the United States of America. The Coast Guard played an integral security role after the September 11 attacks and continues to do so today. Another important element to the Coast Guard painting is the inclusion of a tribute to the Merchant Marines. Although they are not typically represented when referencing the current military branches, their sacrifices and contributions must be remembered.”

Cemetery Administrator Erik Sogge also noted that “Charles Kapsner was careful to include Minnesota connections in every painting as well. These include depictions of Old Fort Snelling, Split Rock Lighthouse, and the original flag raising on Iwo Jima. Richfield, Minnesota resident Charles Lindberg was a member of the team that conducted the original flag raising.”

For more information, including Cemetery hours, visit our State Veteran Cemetery - Little Falls page. For more information regarding the paintings and the artist’s notes and sketches, visit


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