Few, But Never to Be Forgotten

Few, But Never

to Be Forgotten

 

In an afternoon of moving tributes,

two groups of veterans got their due

By: Dean Lesar

 

          Women who once eased the pain of war for others wept in each other’s arms. Feeble veterans of a war that ended 75 years ago lifted hands to their foreheads in salute. Others watched, quietly.

          Two groups of “few, but not forgotten” veterans of war joined their more numerous compatriots at The Highground on Saturday, September 19. The unveiling of two new statues at the Veterans Memorial Park enshrined the contributions of women and World War I “doughboys.”

          The theme of the dedications, “Few, but never to be forgotten,” summarized the memorials to the few WWI vets who still survive and to the women who volunteered their lives for their country. At least for a serene September afternoon, the aged soldiers and women veterans received their due.

          Women veterans were hailed as a group small in number, but large in courage. State Representative Marlin Schneider of Wisconsin Rapids said women veterans helped soften the brutality of war for soldiers.

          Wisconsin is home to 23,300 women veterans, Schneider said. While the number is small in comparison to the 528,000 male veterans of the state, their contribution is equal. “The nation didn’t expect or allow the same kind of participation by women,” he said. “They {women veterans} have done everything they were asked to do. They have done everything they were allowed to do.”

          A group of women veterans unveiled “The Nurse,” a bronze sculpture first meant to be placed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

          Ray Fuller, now 96, said he was glad he lived long enough to help unveil “The Doughboy,” a bronze sculpture with a hand raised forever in recollection of the first “war to end all wars.” “The war should be remembered as the first time the rest of the world learned what America and Americans are really about,” Fuller said.

          But a lad in his early 20’s when WWI ended, Fuller still carries with him the memory of a distant battlefield, and now knows something about war. “Never forget that we have been in war,” he told the more than 1,000 people assembled, “but always remember that we are equally worthy in peace.”

          Schneider dusted off the words of a popular WWI era song to memorialize the efforts of the doughboys. “Over There” the song was titled, and included the words, “The Yanks are comin’.” “That was the call of the French and British waiting for your help,” Schneider said to those of the 1,800 WWI veterans left in the state who made it to The Highground, Saturday.

          June 5, 1917 was draft day, Schneider said, a day when 10 million young men signed their names and lives to the cause overseas. They did not come home until the job was complete, or did not come home: As the song went, Schneider noted, “And we won’t come back ‘til it’s over, over there.”

          Raymond Boland, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, called The Highground a “rallying point for Wisconsin veterans of all ages. As veterans, we all come together here as brothers and sisters who have served our country proudly in the armed forces.”

          Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans Memorial Project Board Chairman Steve Piotrowski also welcomed WWI and women veterans to their place on the hilltop off Highway 10. Recognizing several “doughboys” in the crowd, Piotrowski said, “I see the World War I veterans with the pride that many of them thought was going to be ignored.” Likewise, he said to women veterans, “Thank you, because none of you had to serve.”

          Piotrowski said he is humbled at The Highground each time a new group joins the official roster of enshrined veterans. “Each year I think it humbles me more,” he said. “Sometimes it brings you actual joy. Sometimes it makes you sad. It makes you hurt. But it’s a good hurt, because you heal.”

                                                                                                             Dean Lesar writes for the Tribune-Record- Gleaner,                                                                                                                                          which is published in Loyal, Wisconsin