The Highground Veterans Memorial Park is a 155-acre premier manned park located on Highway 10 just west of Neillsville that pays tribute to Veterans of the past, present and future. Its mission is to Honor, Educate and Heal by honoring their commitment, sacrifice and service. The Park has over 15 tributes, 4 miles of hiking trails, a gift shop and a museum with multiple exhibits throughout the year. In addition, the Highground hosts a variety of events throughout the year including Veterans retreats and reunions, military vehicle expos, motorcycle rides and an annual bike tour.
Among the many tributes throughout the grounds are a state tribute and a national tribute. The Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans Tribute “Fragments” was the first tribute installed in 1988. It also is the home of the National Native American Vietnam Veterans Memorial as 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 holding 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 but to be heard over the hillsides as the wind blows. None of the figures are completed in the statue, they all flow into one; and much like in war, they are dependent on each other and strengthen each other. A rifle in the statue is turned upside down, a symbol that a Medivac is needed. A piece of orange glass embedded in the rifle signifies Agent Orange, a chemical used in Vietnam that cost many soldiers their health or lives.
The Park is also home to tributes dedicated to honoring the sacrifices of those who have served with the Persian Gulf Tribute, the Korean Veterans Memorial, the WASP Tribute, the WWII Globe, the Military Working Dog Tribute, The Nurse, The Gold Star Tribute (which was rededicated in 2019), the Wisconsin Counties United in Service, and The Highground replica Liberty Bell. Other tributes are dedicated to the mission of healing with the Fountain of Tears, the Earthen Dove Effigy Mound, the Ascension Doves and the Meditation Garden.
4 miles of groomed hiking trails are located to the south of the main Park plaza. Along one of the trails is an accessible treehouse. The picnic area includes three shelters that can be utilized for group events such as family picnics throughout the year. There are charcoal grills adjacent to each shelter.
On the walkways of the main plaza are hundreds of Legacy Honor Stones purchased by families and other groups in honor of loved ones. These stones are one of the ways to support the continuation of The Highground and also leave a lasting tribute to those they wish to honor. These honor stones are available for purchase and are installed during one of the placement ceremonies scheduled April through October. The Meditation Honor Stones have been sold out and can be seen in the Meditation Garden Shelter. They are red granite stones. Korean Honor Stones are polished black granite. Another wall is being erected in the spring of 2019 to honor additional recipients as the rice paddies and walkway are now full.
Part of The Highground’s mission is to educate, therefore a museum was added to the complex in 2018. The Highground Museum houses The Highground Archives. These archives are created when stones are laid throughout the park. Each sponsor, or family, is able to put documentation about the person that they are honoring with their stone in our book of archives. Currently, over 2,000 records are in the archives and include photos and documents that date back to WWI. The Museum houses changing exhibits throughout the year. Up-to-date listings of all our exhibits are included on our Calendar of Events page.
Reunions are held throughout the year to give Veterans the opportunity to reunite with other Veterans from the same era. They share their experiences and enjoy the camaraderie. The Highground also includes a 295-acre camp roughly 18 miles north of the main campus that can be utilized by Veterans groups for a variety of activities including accessible hunting blinds, camping, hiking, photography, archery, workshops, hunter safety training, Boy Scout Troops, Girl Scout Troops, and more. With nature playing a key role in Veterans coping with physical and emotional issues, the camp is currently dedicated to helping support the healing efforts for these Veterans. The camp also includes 5 miles of accessible trails.
The Highground is open to the public 24/7. The Gift Shop, Learning Center Exhibit Hall, Museum and Library are open daily from 10am-5pm (winter: 10am-4pm). Volunteer porch-greeters are on hand to help visitors get started with an audio tour, answer questions and direct them to the location they are looking for. Changing history and art exhibits are on display throughout the year
Chris Pettis Executive Director email@example.com
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 Anason Honor Stones
Donations | Grants
Veterans Organization Coordinator
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 also has 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. 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” in 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.
Marketing Communications Coorinator | Social Media Coordinator
Liz came to The Highground in 2019 as the Marketing and Social Media Coordinator, and is passionate about supporting the mission to Honor, Educate and Heal. She is married and has a daughter and three grandchildren. Liz enjoys family time, volleyball and photography. Before joining The Highground, 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 has a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design with a Journalism minor.
VETERANS CONNECTION: Her uncle is a decorated Vietnam Combat Veteran, her parents are Marine Veterans, three cousins are Gulf War Veterans and her sister is Army National Guard.
“We Were There” series curator
June joined The Highground in June of 2010 as a clerk in the Gift Shop. When the Learning Center was complete, she became the Learning Center Coordinator. June maintained this position until May 2016, at which time she took an 18-month leave to move to Nevada with her husband Shane. They are blessed to share 6 children and 5 grandchildren. June returned to work for The Highground in September 2018 as the Exhibit Coordinator.
June also partnered with Marissa Roth on a 2½ year project to create The Highground’s traveling exhibit entitled MY WAR: Wartime Photographs by Vietnam Veterans. MY WAR debuted in 2016 and is currently on tour around the United States.
June is very proud and honored to be from a large military family; though not a veteran herself, members of her family come from all branches of service and have served in all the conflicts from the Civil War to present day. Through this family connection and working with Veterans and their family members at The Highground, she has developed a real knowledge and insight for coordinating educational and meaningful exhibits for our Museum.
VETERANS CONNECTION: Multiple family members in service dating back to the Civil War
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.