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Brokaw encourages the next generation

Tom Brokaw challenged another generation to be the greatest Sunday in Austin.

The NBC Nightly News anchor was the guest speaker at the last day of grand-opening festivities for the new SPAM Museum.

On Saturday, crowds in the thousands toured the museum along North Main Street, enjoyed music and entertainment and celebrated with the SPAM Jam family activities.

On Sunday, the grand opening festivities turned serious.

A native of South Dakota, Brokaw is the author of three books on the generation of American's who fought in World War II.

The majority of Brokaw's audience members were those same sons and daughters, who enlisted in World War II six decades ago.

As Brokaw described them, "The young men and women who came of age during the Great Depression" fought for their country and came home "and gave us the pretest prosperity in the history of mankind."

Recalling the terrorist attacks on America of Sept. 11, Brokaw said another generation of Americans were responding as the ones who went off to fight in World War II

He quoted a firefighter, who told him in the shadows of Ground Zero last September, "Brokaw, you watch my generation now. You just watch us."

When he heard those words, Brokaw said, "I knew we were in good hands."

Brokaw said America's newest challenge was an opportunity to "dust off citizenship and public service."

The audience interrupted Brokaw several times with applause, but saved it loudest ovation for New York firefighter Mike Farrell, whom Brokaw introduced. Farrell told the audience, "You're an inspiration to us" and thanked them for their support in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

Joel Johnson, Hormel Foods Corporation's chairman of the board, president and CEO, introduced Brokaw. The grand opening of the SPAM Museum was delayed after the terrorist attacks on America last fall.

Combined with the company's famous SPAM Jam family celebration, the weekend attracted thousands to downtown Austin.

On Sunday, Johnson said, "This is a very special day of us."

He told the audience there were 1,751 Hormel Foods employees who fought in World War II and 67 of them died. On Sunday, nearly 300 of the surviving veterans were honored guests for Brokaw's speech.

Liz Strohfus, a former World War II pilot, stole the show with reminisces from her military service and nostalgic remarks about another era in American history. Strohfus' enthusiasm for the occasion belied her 82 years.

The Vocal Essence Ensemble Singers stirred the audience with patriotic songs under the direction of Philip Bruenelle, artistic director.

A new World War II memorial was unveiled with the assistance of I.J. Holton, the former Hormel Foods top executive and himself a decorated World War II veteran.

A fly-over drew appreciative "ooohhhs and aaahhhs" from the audience. The Minnesota Air National Guard sent an F-16 jet streaking over the city.

The Commemorative Air Force -Minnesota Wing's pilots had such aircraft as the T-6 Texan, BT-13, T-34 and P-51D Mustang among others in the skies over Austin and on display at Austin Municipal Airport.

Maynard Wolfe and Sheldon Lukes had a special Father's Day thrill. Their children arranged for them to the ride in the historic aircraft during the fly-over.

As the Jerry O'Hagan Orchestra performed swing era music, medals were distributed to the retired Hormel Foods employees who were World War II veterans. Among the veterans were John Biege and Ken Otto

Biege worked for Hormel Foods from 1942 to 1980. The company protected his job while he went off to war to serve in the U.S. Army Air Force and become a crew member of B-18, B-24 and B-27 bombers.

Otto worked for Hormel Foods from 1941 to 1982 except for a 3-year stint in the U.S. Army Infantry in the Pacific Theater. Biege called the grand opening fun and veterans tribute "the greatest" and Otto said he enjoyed "seeing old friends and buddies."

All because of the world-famous luncheon meat in the yellow and blue can.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at lee.bonorden@austindailyherald.com