The Highground Veterans Memorial Park is a 155-acre Park whose mission is to “Honor, Educate and Heal” our Veterans, families and all who visit. Located three miles west of Neillsville in central Wisconsin, it has become the Nation’s leading, and largest, manned Veterans Park.
The Park includes over a dozen tributes, a museum with changing exhibits, a gift shop, four miles of hiking trails and Camp Victory, a 295-acre camp located 18 miles north of The Highground. Camp Victory is used by Veterans and Veterans groups for a variety of activities including preregistered Veteran archery hunting with adaptive equipment accessible blinds, campsites, hiking, photography, archery, workshops, hunter safety training, Boy Scout Troops, Girl Scout Troops and more. The Highground hosts events throughout the year, including Veterans retreats, helicopter and military vehicle expos, reunion and education days, motorcycle rides and an annual bike tour.
The grounds encompass one state and one national tribute along with many other tributes. The Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans Tribute “Fragments” was the first tribute placed on the grounds in 1988. It is also the home of the National Native American Vietnam Veterans Memorial which was selected by the Congress of Native American Indians in 1994.
“Fragments” is a complex piece at the apex of The Highground’s main plaza. Cast in bronze, the statue features a female figure wearing a poncho that signifies the burden of the 1,244 Wisconsin service personnel who died in Vietnam. The name of each of those men and women is inscribed on bundles of bamboo-shaped bronze rods mixed with wind chimes. The individual names are never meant to be read; they are to be heard over the hillsides as the wind blows. None of the figures are complete in the statue as they all flow into one. Much like in war, they are dependent upon each other and strengthen each other. A rifle turned upside down symbolizes that a Medivac is needed. A piece of orange glass embedded in the rifle signifies Agent Orange, a chemical that cost many soldiers their health and lives.
The Park has tributes dedicated to honoring the sacrifices of those who have served in the respective wars: The Persian Gulf Tribute (Desert Storm to present day), The Korean Veterans Memorial, The WASP Tribute, The WWII Globe, The Military Working Dog Tribute, The Nurse, The Gold Star, The Wisconsin Counties United in Service and the replica Liberty Bell.
In addition, there are tributes dedicated to healing which include The Fountain of Tears, The Earthen Dove Effigy Mound, The Ascension Doves and The Meditation Garden.
The Park also features four miles of hiking trails south of the main plaza. Along one of the trails is an accessible treehouse. There are three shelters in the picnic area that can be used for group events throughout the year. Charcoal grills are located next to each shelter.
The walkways of the main plaza are lined with hundreds of granite Legacy Honor Stones that families or groups have purchased in honor of loved ones. These stones help support The Highground’s continuing mission to Honor, Educate and Heal while leaving a lasting tribute to those they wish to honor. Legacy Honor Stones can be purchased throughout the year and are then installed during one of the placement ceremonies that are scheduled May through October. The Meditation Honor Stones can be seen in the Meditation Garden Shelter. Korean Honor Stones are polished black granite to honor Korean War Veterans on the walkway walls and on the rice paddies. The burgundy granite stones are located in the Military Working Dog Tribute area.
In 2018, a Museum was added to support the education aspect of The Highground’s mission. The Museum houses The Highground Archives which are created when stones are placed throughout the Park. Families and sponsors are invited to document the story of the individual they’re honoring with their stone in the Registry Book. There are currently over 2,000 records that include photos and documents that date back to WWI. The Museum houses various displays and exhibits throughout the year. Examples of past exhibits include Winter in The Military, The Vietnam Experience, Remembrance, Fur, Feathers, and Fidelity, Working Warriors and USO/Holidays In The Military.
Reunions are hosted throughout the year for Veterans to reunite with other Veterans from the same era, sharing their experiences, enjoying the camaraderie and educating guests.
The Highground also accepts nonperishable food, hygiene supplies and lightly used-new clothes that are donated to Veterans in need, homeless Veteran programs and military care packages.
The Park is free to the public and open 24/7/365. The Gift Shop and Museum are open daily from 10-5 (winter: 10-4). Volunteer porch greeters are available to help visitors get started with an audio tour, answer questions and give them directions to different parts of the Park.
The Highground, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, receives no ongoing federal or state funding and is supported by private donations and grants.
Chris Pettis was hired as the Executive Director in March 2020. He was born and currently resides in Osseo WI. At age 17 he joined the United States Marine Corps and for the next 23 years he served as a Radio Operator, Electro-Optical Repair Technician, MOS Instructor, and Ordnance Chief. His service brought him to 8 different countries, 3 combat tours and 13 relocations. Chris retired in 2014 as a Master Sergeant and returned to Wisconsin with his wife Bonnie and 2 children, while their oldest his daughter moved to California. For the next 5 years he worked in the mining industry until the opportunity arose to support military veterans and their families. Chris enjoys woodworking, hunting and the outdoors.
Kay was hired as the Donation Coordinator in May 2009. She coordinates donation funds, items and grant work (excluding event sponsors). With a background in business, The Highground has allowed her to use many aspects of her former experiences. Kay is not a Veteran but has a profound respect for our service personnel because she knows “The Veteran doesn’t fight because he hates what is in front of him; he fights because he loves what he left behind”. She has also learned from visitors what the costs are for Veterans and their families—the human cost. “If I can help one family, one Veteran heal in some fashion, it will be a small token for what they have given me.” – Kay
VETERANS CONNECTION: Kay’s dad served in the Navy during the Korean War
Museum Coordinator | Volunteer Coordinator
Educational Outreach | Tours
Theresa has been Volunteer and Event Coordinator at The Highground since 2012. She grew up in the Central Wisconsin area and returned after living in Washington State and Colorado. Although Theresa is not a Veteran, she found a “home” at The Highground for other personal reasons and is committed to keeping and expanding the mission to “Honor, Educate and Heal” during all events and ceremonies.
Rhonda came to The Highground in 2019 as the store manager. Her family includes her husband, Chris, and four children, four grandchildren and is ever expanding. Some things that they enjoy doing together are hiking, boating, gardening, and traveling. Before joining The Highground, Rhonda worked in the mining industry. Rhonda has degrees in Retailing, Marketing, Fashion, Merchandising and Supervisory Management.
VETERANS CONNECTION: Rhonda’s husband is a Marine Veteran, her dad is an Army Veteran, and she has multiple family members who have served in the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy.
Social Media Coordinator
Liz came to The Highground in 2019 to help support their marketing and social media efforts. She is amazed by how much the organization has accomplished over the past 30+ years and passionate in her support of the mission. Before joining the team, Liz spent a year at Country Jam USA. Prior to that, she was a longtime design and marketing lead at IDEXX, a multinational corporation that supports the veterinary industry. Liz is married with a daughter and four grandchildren. She enjoys spending time with her family, volleyball and photography. Liz holds a B.F.A. degree in Graphic Design with a Journalism minor.
VETERANS CONNECTION: Liz’s parent are Vietnam-era Marine Veterans, her uncle is a decorated Vietnam Combat Veteran, three cousins are Gulf War Veterans and her sister is retired Army National Guard.
For 20 years, Bonnie worked as an occupational therapy assistant, where she found great joy providing therapy to many. Having been separated from military life for six years, she was drawn to the activities The Highground and Camp Victory provide to Veterans (including her husband). Being around those who have served, are serving and will serve makes her feel at home. Bonnie joined The Highground in 2020 as the Event Coordinator and also supports their capital campaign efforts in an administrative capacity. She is humbled by the passion the staff, volunteers and Veterans possess, proud to be part of such a fulfilling organization and thankful for the opportunity to serve. “In this family, no one stands alone” – Author Unknown
VETERANS CONNECTION: Bonnie is the sister of a Marine, the wife of a retired Marine and the mother of a Marine.
History of The Highground
“I really began this project many years ago, in 1964, while serving in the 2nd Bn/7th Marines in California. This is where I met my partner, Jack Swender. Jack was from Kansas City, Kansas.
We landed in Qui Nhon, Vietnam on the 7th of July, 1965. We soon set up our battalions headquarters. It was located 15 miles west of that beautiful city in what was once an old French artillery base during the early 1950’s. Set off the road, there were huge pits dug into the ground about 5 feet deep. These pits ended up being internment camps for suspected Vietcong.
The final day came as many came in Vietnam: gray, overcast, heavy-aired, with drizzle, but very quiet. If you want an in depth writing on what happened that day, see Solid Contact for 2/7. We had slept in dirty water, 5″ deep, just a few nights before and we were soaked to the bones. We smelled and we were tired to say the least. Some small contact was made during the morning. We had just finished lunch in a hut and were moving through a small market hamlet named Ky Phu, when the 80th Battalion of hard-core Vietcong hit us. We were cut in to two groups with Jack and I being at the end of the first group.
We didn’t have to communicate to each other the fact that we had to hold the town from being overran by the Vietcong as they were trying to move a 50 caliber machine-gun into the middle of it. We held them off for I would say 15 – 20 minutes before a recoilless rifle shell blew apart
the rear wall of the house we were in. I like to think and I do believe that our action saved many Marines their lives that day, although it did cost Jack his.
I believe it is needless to say that the day that Jack died in my arms was the saddest day in my life. One grows to love another when they are that close. In late 1983, I again picked up the drive to produce our memorial. The mood of America had changed and I had come in contact
with a group of Vietnam veterans (Vietnam Veterans of America – Wisconsin delegation). Through them, the outstanding network needed to produce this project could be developed. It wasn’t until late 1984 that people started to believe that I was really going to do something and
then they slowly fell into place and supported the project.â€
And so it began.
The Highground has evolved to be a memorial park that pays tribute to the dead, and honors the survivors, their service, and their sacrifices. It also pays tribute to the people who supported them when they were away and upon their return.
Today, The Highground has tributes to Vietnam Veterans, Women Veterans, the Native American Vietnam Veterans, WWI Veterans, WWII Veterans, Korean Veterans, and families that supported and lost loved ones through the Gold Star Tribute and Fountain of Tears. In addition, The Highground has a Dove Effigy Mound, A United In Service Tribute, a Meditation Garden, a developmental forest with 4 miles of hiking trails, a museum, and a Learning Center. We have now added a camp just 20 minutes north of The Highground, which will be used to host Veteran Retreats and other Highground events.
We will continue to pursue our mission of healing and education through added tours, Educational Days, and various expos.
The Highground, once a field with a beautiful view, has grown into a wonderful park encompassing that view, adding to the Spirit of The Highground.