By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Etc.: 19671970
Placeholder Image

For this week’s column, one day after yet another fractious election and six days before Veterans Day, go back first to the Oct. 1 SouthWest page, where the photos of the 15 Grant County soldiers who died in the Vietnam War were printed.

Those 15 who gave their lives were memorialized in a ceremony in Lancaster last month.

The first was Navy Hospitalman William Beyer of Platteville, on Feb. 1, 1967. The last was Army Staff Sgt. Edmund Richardson of Potosi, on Sept. 13, 1970.

Beyer was the only one from Platteville. Richardson was the only one from Potosi. There were three from Boscobel, three from Cassville, three from Fennimore (two of whom died within three days of each other), two from Livingston, one from Dickeyville, and one from Muscoda.

The youngest was Army Private First Class Larry Welsh, of Muscoda, who was just 18. Richardson was the oldest, 27.
Beyer, from the Navy, and Marines Davidson and Bendorf were the only non-Army soldiers. One wonders how many of the remaining 12 were drafted, and which volunteered.

Most of the last names are familiar Grant County names, at least for those who have been in this county for a while.

Private First Class Paul Gerlach of Livingston died Jan. 30, 1968, the first day of the Tet Offensive. I used to work for someone whose last day in Vietnam was that day. He was leaving on an Army transport as bombs were exploding where that wasn’t supposed to happen, as he put it.

The worst day of the war from Grant County’s perspective was Aug. 25, 1968, when Army Cpl. Francis Mulvey of Fennimore and Private First Class Leland Radley of Boscobel were killed. Within one week, they would be joined by Army Private First Class Allen Novinska of Fennimore, on Aug. 28, and Army Sgt. Maurice John Haas of Cassville, on Aug. 30. That must have been a horrible week to be a Grant County newspaper editor and have to report that news.

Beyer’s name is on the memorial surrounded by the Veterans Honor Roll in City Park, along with the names of Joseph and Dale Howell, who died in the Korean War, plus the 30 who died in World War II and the 10 who died in World War I.

You look at the photos, and with the possible exception of Welsh, they all look older than they actually were when the photos were taken, even those you assume were photographed when they were in high school. Perhaps that’s because of the black and white photos, or because most who are not in uniform are not dressed as kids, but as adults. And yet none of them got much of a chance to be an adult.

Joseph Campbell defined a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” To me “something bigger” isn’t only the flag or something that symbolizes our country (say, the First Amendment); it’s all the things, great and small, that make up our way of life, including, for instance, this weekend’s Platteville Hillmen trip to the WIAA State Volleyball Championships. Life is, after all, made up of the accumulation of all those things.

This time of year, someone always yearns for the day where there won’t need to be soldiers or war dead. But the idea that war is something that can be eliminated if we just all resolve to get along assumes that human nature can be defeated, and that there’s no moral difference between sides. You would think World War II would have erased that Utopian and misguided notion.

John Stuart Mill wrote that “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

Or, put another way by my favorite Founding Father, Ben Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Another of my favorite observations about war and the war dead is a poem written by Jack Buck, a Battle of the Bulge veteran who went on to a long career in sports broadcasting. Buck wrote this poem after seeing visitors to the cemetery in Normandy, France:

They chatter and they laugh as they pass by my grave
And that’s the way it should be.
For what they have done, and what they will do, has nothing to do with me.
I was tossed ashore by a friendly wave
With some unfriendly steel in my head.
They chatter and they laugh as they pass by my grave
But I know they’ll soon be dead.
They’ve counted more days than I ever knew
And that’s all right with me too.
We’re all souls in one pod, all headed for God
Too soon, or later, like you.