Other than the fact they both were in Platteville, what do the 1998 Mickey Mouse Parade and the 2009 visit of the Vietnam Moving Wall have in common?
The two events inspired the creation of the Veterans Honor Roll at City Park. The official unveiling will be Independence Day at 10 a.m. (See page 1 and the Veterans Honor Roll section in the June 27 Platteville Journal.)
The statues were displayed in sponsoring Platteville businesses and featured at the UW–Platteville Harry Nohr Gallery before moving to City Park in late June.
“I’m pretty impressed,” said John Dutcher of Building Platteville, for whom the term “fundraising co-chair” doesn’t begin to describe his contribution to the effort. “Sometimes we can get full of ourselves with how good we are. There has been a hell of a challenge to go up to see the sculptor two or three times a week, and you think this is pretty cool.
“But when you see the engineers and contractors digging a hole well under the frost line … when you have one of the contractors come up to you and say he’d like to donate $10,000 in concrete … when you get Helker Jewelry to donate all the plaques for the statues … anybody I asked for anything, with no exceptions, they always did it.”
Twenty-seven people made up the Veterans Honor Roll Committee.
“There are two big patriots in the city of Platteville — one is Kathy Kopp and the other is Mike Mair,” said Dutcher. “Mike has never been in the military, but he’s more patriotic than 90 percent of the veterans I see. Kathy has a long history of service in her family and the family she married into. I would say those two, even though they may not realize it, were major catalysts in this.”
Kopp is the president of the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce. Mair, owner of Lifeline Audio Video Technologies, is the son of John Mair, who served aboard the USS Mississinewa, the only American ship sunk by a Japanese manned torpedo in World War II. Mike Mair is the author of Oil, Fire, and Fate: The Sinking of the USS Mississinewa (AO59) in WWII by Japan’s Secret Weapon.
“There were always rumblings in the beginning about a veterans’ memorial,” said Dutcher. “They were the fuel that drove the train.”
Dutcher, 69, was drafted in 1963, but before his reporting date, he went to an Army recruiter and signed up so he could serve in Germany. He was a cryptologist and high-speed radio operator for three years. He was on his way to Vietnam when the plane he was on had to return to its airfield due to mechanical problems.
Dutcher and another soldier ended up not going to Vietnam because they had less than 180 days remaining in their enlistments. The remaining soldiers on the plane went to Vietnam. Their names are on the Vietnam Moving Wall and are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Dutcher graduated from UW–Platteville in 1969. He joined the Army Reserve in 1984 and became the state emergency preparedness liaison in 1988, retiring in 2002.
Another inspiration was the veterans’ memorial on U.S. 61 in Potosi. “The word on the street was if a little town like Potosi can have a beautiful monument in front of their fire department — all these small towns have these memorials — why couldn’t we do something like that,” said Dutcher.
The Veterans Honor Roll surrounds the memorial dedicated in 1948 to those from Platteville who died in World War I and World War II. The memorial was rededicated in 1988 with a plaque for Platteville’s two Korean War and one Vietnam War dead.
The idea of selling engraved blocks in City Park to raise funds came from Gary Tuescher of Tuescher’s Photography. Bricks were sold to individuals starting at $60, and to businesses for $500 to $1,000.
An exploratory meeting to consider a veterans memorial had “a pretty good crowd there,” said Dutcher. Susanna Sigwarth of Platteville sketched a proposal for what became the Veterans Honor Roll, to list every known veteran from Platteville.
“They decided what they wanted, and they liked what they saw,” said Dutcher.
Dutcher commissioned David Oswald of DWO Fiberglass in Sparta to create fiberglass catfish for the Giant Platteville Cats art project in the late 2000s.
Oswald grew up on a dairy farm near Sparta. He is not a veteran, although his son is in the Marine Corps and his daughter is a retired Air Force nurse.
“You saw so many animals, maybe that gets to your mind to sculpting free-hand,” said Oswald. “I always had art in my background.”
Oswald, 68, started working for $1 per hour for Young Sign Co. in Sparta, which had just purchased a Minneapolis company, Sculptured Advertising.
Young Sign owner Vere Young “probably did more for me than any other person in my lifetime to support me,” said Oswald. “For somebody like me, you couldn’t ask for better conditions. Anyone who’s interested in going into art should go to a sign company for a while, just to get that experience.”
Oswald’s varied résumé includes working for nine years with Alex Jordan, the creator of the House on the Rock near Spring Green. “He was really good to me,” said Oswald. “I had 10, 12 people there for several years, and he kept us all busy.”
Oswald’s most famous Wisconsin work might be the 180-foot-long walk-through muskie in Hayward. He also designed the bull — “20 feet long, 13 feet wide, eight feet high,” he remembers — in front of the Black Steer Restaurant off Interstate 94 in Osseo. He also designed the Herefords in front of the Sirloin Stockade restaurants from Iowa to Kentucky to Texas, the Big Boy for Big Boy Restaurants in the Midwest, and the Happy Chef restaurants in the Midwest.
From drawings or photos that show all possible angles, Oswald uses projectors and “lasers sometimes” to create a three-dimensional model. Molds are created with cardboard and foam, and fiberglass is sprayed on. For more detail, such as faces, clay or plaster is used.
“I’m still old-fashioned,” he said. “We’re very accurate. We aren’t even thousands of an inch off.
“Each one was free-handed — there’s no mold for those. The trouble with fiberglass is it looks like vinyl. You have all these fibers going all kinds of different directions, and the resin binds the fibers, and that’s where you get your strength.”
Oswald estimates he spent 200 hours working on each statue.
“Time is the thing with this,” he said. “I felt very comfortable good backing. If it weren’t for [Dutcher], it probably would have been a lot tougher. He was very good guidance.”
Oswald’s next projects are doing bear heads for the Chicago Bears, two statues for the Grant County Courthouse in Lancaster, an American Revolution project for an East Coast community, three buffaloes for an Iowa buffalo farm, and a war horse for an Indiana museum.
The seven statues honoring wartime veterans include the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf wars. The eighth statue honors women in military service.
Dutcher commissioned Oswald to create the Revolutionary War statue, which then prompted interest in sponsoring the other statues.
“The statues were very hard to do, because you’ve got to get an image of the person’s face,” said Oswald. “I really enjoyed doing the statues. I was very honored to do it for the town and for veterans.”
The display includes an obelisk with the insignia of the Army, Army National Guard, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Air Force, along with a listing of every military conflict for which Congress appropriated funds, beginning with the naval war with France from 1798 to 1900 and ending with Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo from 2007 to 2010.
The listing includes the wars with which most Americans are familiar, along with lesser known military missions, such as “West Florida” in 1813 and “Spanish Florida” in 1814, Oregon in 1818, Greece in 1827, the Falkland Islands in 1831–32, Smyrna in 1849, Ryuku and Bonin islands in 1853–54, Tangier in 1904, “Soviet Russia” from 1918 to 1920, Newfoundland in 1940, Palestine in 1948, Zaire in 1978, Guinea–Bissau in 1998, and Cote d’Ivoire in 2002.
“I kept getting questions from people about what was going to go in the ninth slot,” said Dutcher. “I remember a number of years ago I was the keynote speaker for Memorial Day, and I mentioned a couple events in my lifetime, and a couple vets came up and mentioned, ‘Why didn’t you have my little soiree?’
“Every war that Congress has authorized since 1789 — that’s the reason I put that there. We wanted to hit the highlights, but we didn’t want to leave anybody out.”
“I don’t think there’s too many places in the Midwest — this is going to be a mark of excellence,” said Dutcher. “It’s going to be a pretty nice statement and recognition of these people.
“A lot of us were drafted; we didn’t run off to Canada, we served our country.”