Veterans seek comfort at memorial in central Wisconsin

Neilsville, Wisconsin (AP) 11-07

As U.S. Marine Jack Swender of Kansas City lay dying on a Vietnam battlefield in 1965, Tom Miller promised himself he would keep his fallen comrade’s memory alive.

“I vowed not to let his death go unnoticed,” said Miller, a Milwaukee native.

It took 23 years, but Miller kept his promise. He helped launch the High Ground Veterans Memorial Park in central Wisconsin, a permanent tribute to all war veterans, particularly those from Wisconsin.

The High Ground, which covers 140 acres near Neillsville in Clark County, was set to be the site of a number of tributes related to Veteran’s Day.

On Monday, the names of the 81 Wisconsinites killed in Iraq and the six killed in Afghanistan will be read, along with the names of the 30 Wisconsin soldiers still missing in action in Vietnam.

The memorial marks the official site of the state’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as well as the site of the National Native American Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“It honors the veterans and the sacrifices, not the war,” Miller told The Capital Times newspaper of Madison from his New Jersey home. “It was meant so people would think and not get involved in another war. It just bothers me very much when I see those young kids get killed or wounded.”

The only taxpayer contribution to High Ground was the donation of a small parcel of land by the state. The memorial features artworks that honor men and women veterans of most of the wars America has fought, beginning with World War I. But its planners and operators want it to be a place of “healing and education,” for the 200,000 visitors who come each year, said Kirk Rodman, the park’s volunteer general manager.

High Ground attracts many veterans who seek peace and healing along its paths, or meditate in its garden in hopes of easing what Rodman calls “survivor guilt.”

“I don’t think people understand and recognize that survival guilt is a terrible thing,” Rodman said.

One woman recently found solace there by pulling weeds for two days, he recalled, and an engineer who designed the lighting system for the shelter that houses a Liberty Bell replica decided to pay for the lighting.

Among the works of art there is the National Native American Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by Madison artist and World War II veteran Harry Whitehorse. The sculpture depicts an American Indian soldier in jungle fatigues, with a rifle in one hand and an eagle feather staff in the other. The names of all American Indians killed in Vietnam, with home, state, rank, and date of death, are listed on its black granite panels.

Nearby is a large earthen mourning-dove effigy mound constructed in the manner of Indian mounds found in many Wisconsin locales. This one is made of dirt from each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.

To the late John Beaudin, an American Indian who fought in Vietnam veteran, just being at the site brings a sense of comfort.

“It is a spiritual place where you can go and let your mother, the Earth, hold you,” he said.

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