Platteville’s annual Hometown Festival Week Party in the Park honors the city’s numerous nonprofit organizations and service groups and their volunteers.
This year’s Party in the Park had an additional reason for celebration — the return of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 229th Engineer Company from 10½ months of service, nearly all of them in Afghanistan.
Two weeks later, the members of the 229th who attended the Party in the Park didn’t look as much like soldiers as they had looked off the Sun Country Airlines jet two weeks earlier. Their hair was longer, and facial hair appeared in at least one case. None appeared in uniform. None chose to speak to the crowd when offered the opportunity.
“Hopefully all of you will remember this day for a very long time,” said Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Kathy Kopp.
The Party in the Park is held in City Park, the site of the Veterans Honor Roll. Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce President Tim Boldt noted that his grandfather and great-grandfather are listed on the plaques.
“Without that service, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be standing here today,” said Boldt.
Kopp noted that during the All America City Awards in Denver in June that the Veterans Honor Roll presentation “absolutely rocked,” and when the Platteville contingent mentioned the 229th’s return soon, “the entire room cheered.”
“The 229th certainly brings home a positive message for our community and how we all band together,” said City Manager Larry Bierke. “It’s a proud moment when businesses hold positions open to veterans to come back to. They deserve a big round of thanks.”
Grant County Veterans Service Officer Tim Murphy noted that the 229th is still under orders until Aug. 12.
“After tonight most of the 229th will be out on your own,” he said. “That support is still there. I will help you get through the system, or systems … those benefits that you have earned.”
Lt. Col. Dan Pulvermacher of the National Guard’s Joint Staff said the 229th has “done a lot of great things” in this state, including building the Grant County Fairgrounds race track in Lancaster and a runway at the Prairie du Chien airport.
Veterans Honor Roll Committee member Mike Myers read statistics of the 229th’s service, the most sobering of which was encountering 41 Improvised Explosive Devices.
Myers quoted Maj. Jesse Augustine, commander of the 229th, and his call for his soldiers to “Tell your moms and dads and your spouses how you blew through the birthplace of the Taliban, how you recovered downed aircraft, how you built forward operating bases in the face of the enemy, how you recovered missing soldiers so they could go home to their families. How you trained and mentored the Afghan army to stand on their own feet and fight their own battle. Those are your stories, and you should tell them.”
“I know very well that some of those stories may be a long time before they’re told, or may not be told,” said Myers, who told the crowd to “spread the word to all these vets — thanks for your service, and welcome home.”