An exciting new military exhibit “Colonel Irwin H. Dregne – Military Aviator” has recently been completed at the Vernon County Museum featuring Vernon County native Irwin H. Dregne. Dregne was born in 1917 to Solfest C. and Christine (Yttri) Dregne. He had four siblings: Sylvan “Sully,” Bernard, Cachel Fredlund and Margery Solverson. They all grew up on the family farm in the town of Franklin. Solfest and Christine moved to Viroqua in 1945. Irwin was a graduate of Viroqua High School and later attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941. After attending flight school he was stationed at various Air Force bases before being transferred to England in November, 1943 as captain and operations officer of the P-51 Mustang unit. It was while he was stationed in England when 28-year-old Dregne was promoted to colonel. He was appointed commander of the 357th Group in November 1944.

Dregne served as a fighter pilot in Europe during World War II and Korea. Col. Dregne led the 357th Fighter Group when it broke an 8th Air Force single day record on Jan. 14, 1945, when using a tactic called the “Mousetrap”; 57 ½ German planes were destroyed — 56 ½ in the air and one on the ground. This earned him the title “WWII Fighter Pilot Ace.”

After World War II, Dregne’s commands included the 56th Fighter Group at Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan, the 51st Fighter Inceptor Group in Korea during the Korean Conflict, the 479th Day Wing at George Air Force Base in Victorville, California; Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya; and the Fifth Air Force Reserve Region, Selfridge Air Force Base.

Special appreciation is extended to Irwin’s son and Irwin’s nephew for entrusting the many artifacts, photographs and documents belonging Dregne to the Vernon County Museum for storage and exhibit.

Winter hours for the museum went into effect on Nov. 1 and will continue until the end of March. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, noon- 4 p.m., or by appointment. To make an appointment, please contact us a few days in advance.

The Vernon County Museum, 410 S. Center Ave., Viroqua, can be reached at 608-637-7396 or museum@vernoncountyhistory.org.

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