PLATTEVILLE — Perhaps the most poignant comment at the Veterans Honor Roll Dedication Ceremony came at the very beginning.
“I’m proud to be a veteran,” said Mike Myers, a Vietnam veteran who chaired the Veterans Honor Roll Committee. “I wasn’t proud to be a veteran for many years. I am now.”
More than 300 people, including many veterans, packed City Park on a scorching Independence Day morning as the eight statues and obelisk commemorating Platteville military service were dedicated.
“Every time I come to Platteville, someone says thank you for serving,” said Tim Hall, preacher of Rolling Thunder, the motorcycle group that rode into downtown about a half-hour before the ceremony began. “This is the only place where someone will always say that to me. I can’t tell you how much that means.”
The ceremony ended with the unveiling of the 3,564 names from A (Carl F. Abing) to Z (Richard J. Zirk), representing all of Platteville’s known veterans. Additional names will be added each Veterans Day under the Women in Service statue.
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Independence Day than to honor the people who make our nation free and keep our nation free,” said City Manager Larry Bierke, who called the memorial and statues “a sign of what our community values.” The Veterans Honor Roll “serves as a reminder of the sacrifice of our loved ones.”
Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center) noted that his father was a World War II Navy veteran. The two went to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., which Schultz called “the most poignant moment in my life” other than the birth of his daughters.
“This is a story of sacrifice … a sacrifice of body and heart in meeting the most extreme circumstances of life. Never will you hear a veteran say ‘I’m a hero.’ They will simply say ‘I was doing my job.’ Our military men and women give everything when they are in uniform. … Every independence day we need to recognize the price we pay for freedom and to realize that freedom isn’t free.”
“I am so thankful for what you have done for us,” said Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City). “It’s no secret that we live in a society where people take our freedom for granted. Events like this remind us that there is much more that unites us than divides us.”
A personal perspective on veterans’ service came from Michael Trepanier, executive assistant for the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.
Trepanier was born in South Korea and abandoned shortly after birth, rescued by an orphanage. He was adopted by a Vietnam War Navy veteran and his wife.
“South Korea is also where America came to save democracy in a forgotten war,” he said. “Without the good example of servicemen in Korea leading to the adoption boom, I would not be here today, and I would have not have had the opportunity to put on the uniform.”
Trepanier served with the Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom II. He worked with an Iraqi translator who wanted, he said, to “step one foot on American soil — he was willing to give his life, which ultimately did happen.”
Trepanier said he recently visited a Korean War memorial and heard veterans discuss the prosperity of South Korea since the war. “That’s what America is about to me — servicemembers setting tone of why America is so great.”
He noted the deployment of the National Guard’s 229th Engineer Company, “a reminder of the people who are going to continue to keep the country great.”
The ceremony included the introduction of Virgil and Barbara Splinter of Platteville, parents of Army Maj. Christopher Splinter, a Platteville High School and UW–Platteville graduate who was killed in Iraq on Christmas Eve 2003.
“War is a difficult thing to swallow,” said Hall. “But it takes war to maintain freedom in this land.” Maintaining freedom requires “dedication — volunteering, serving their country — and it’s going to take people not volunteering to get on their knees and pray for our country.
“I served two tours in Vietnam. Someone was praying for me, and that’s why I’m here today to talk to you.”
“My hope is that these will be the last statues we need to place here,” said Rev. Jeff Pedersen of Peace Lutheran Church. Pedersen said veterans’ service made Americans free to be peacemakers, “nations that prosper together.”
Afterward, Myers said, “Oh my goodness. I’m honored and humbled and awestruck at the turnout.”
“I’m in awe. I really am,” said Kathy Kopp, who cochaired the fundraising committee. “Our end product was even more than we could have imagined. Just incredible.
“One of the things I’ll take from this is the community really came together. I just think it’s about time; we have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of veterans still living in the community.”
Kopp was one of the “civilians” on the Veterans Honor Roll Committee Myers mentioned who “truly have a sense of what it means to be a veteran.”
“I just have a connection,” she said. “I had a brother in Vietnam, a number of uncles, and my cousin Ellen, her father is a World War II pilot” who was in the same prisoner of war camp with Robert Johns of Platteville.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in the Army with all your equipment on seeing your family and not knowing when you’re going to see them again,” she said.
The Veterans Honor Roll seems likely to become a veterans memorial for other places to emulate.
“We’re just known for it,” said Myers. “I think it’s been ever since we had the Vietnam Moving Wall here. It’s growing. More veterans are getting more involved. It’s just been an honor to be involved.”