ARLINGTON, Minn. -- The most eye-popping fireworks show nearest to this southern Minnesota town on July 4th occurred in nearby New Auburn, where a company called Hollywood Pyrotechnics obliged thrill-seekers with kaleidoscopic spectacles of spinners, comets, crossettes and brocades.
Yet whatever patriotism New Auburn showcased with its aerial explosions on Independence Day, Steve Gillaspie arguably exceeds here in Arlington, every day of the year.
"I bleed red, white and blue," he said.
Gillaspie, 71, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, earning a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star among other commendations, spoke recently while seated in Veterans Mess Hall, his yet-to-be-opened restaurant on Arlington's Main Street.
Ammo boxes for 7.62mm rounds were on each table and will hold napkins and vials of salt and pepper when the restaurant debuts, post-pandemic. Along with what Gillaspie calls "signature dishes" that he believes will draw diners from as far as 50 miles away, Spam, a staple of World War II grunts on the front lines, will also be on the cafe's menu.
"I've been in the restaurant business before and it's the worst business you can get into," Gillaspie said. "You have to be crazy."
The founder of a 501(c)(3) group called Veterans on the Water (veteransonthewater.com), which offers free fishing trips to military veterans, Gillaspie is a dreamer, a workaholic and an inveterate seeker of fish.
But he isn't crazy.
Born in Iowa, he grew up in St. Charles, Ill., alongside the Fox River. It was there he nurtured his love of angling, and he intends to use proceeds from Veterans Mess Hall, when it opens, to fund Veterans on the Water.
"That way we can get more veterans out fishing," he said. "We take trips to lakes as far north as Winnibigoshish and Kabetogama."