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 November 26, 2010


Mobilizing Soldiers honor Sparta veterans on Veterans Day

By Sgt. Brian Gordon, 197th Fires Brigade Public Affairs Office

When New Hampshire Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Ken Brown listened to his father talk about his days as a sheet metal worker on Army helicopters, he never thought he’d meet someone else with the same skills, especially in Wisconsin.

But on Nov. 11, he found himself having lunch with a Vietnam veteran who did the same thing.

"In order for us to be successful in our upcoming mission, we have to able to appreciate what these men and women did before us."    

Capt. Ken Kruger,
197th Fires Brigade

Brown was one of about 35 Soldiers from the 3643rd Camp Command Cell, 197th Fires Brigade, who volunteered to spend Veterans Day with a group of veterans in Sparta, Wis., and help the local Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) with its annual commemoration.

The brigade, about 2,400 Soldiers representing battalions from West Virginia, Michigan, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, has been stationed at nearby Fort McCoy for the past two months training in preparation for a deployment to support Operation New Dawn.

The observance was held on the grounds of the Monroe County Court House and included speeches, patriotic essays and a three-gun salute to honor the fallen.

Lt. Col. James Challender, the 3643rd commander, delivered the keynote address.

As the ceremony came to a close, the Soldiers marched off in formation, only to have their cadence drowned out by a spontaneous and lasting applause from the several-hundred people gathered at the event.

A short time later the Soldiers lunched with veterans at Sparta VFW Post 2112. Each veteran was escorted to the meal by one of the Soldiers.

“In order for us to be successful in our upcoming mission, we have to be able to appreciate what these men and women did before us,” said Capt. Ken Kruger, who earlier in the week called the Sparta VFW to ask if his unit could support any Veterans Day events. “It was just the right thing to do.”

Although communication was difficult for some veterans, others had no problem talking about their past service while they dined on a hot meal of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. One veteran, Charles Bickford of New Lisbon, Wis., noticed a set of air crewmember wings on a Soldier’s uniform and nonchalantly mentioned that he had been a pilot in Vietnam and had been shot down three times.

“I was lucky over there,” said Bickford.

It was clear that both the current and past generation of servicemembers were enjoying their time together.

“The post members absolutely love this,” said Don Schroeder, the VFW commander. “It’s great that you guys came out.”

During the meal, Kathy Schmitz read a poem written by her late uncle, Pfc. Everett Snell of Vernon County, Wis. He wrote it during World War II while stationed in Europe. Called “The Ruined Village,” it captures a timeless theme of war.

“Quiet and still as the dead are silent, where once was music and laughter before. Skeleton walls are the remnant of houses; blank windows are soul-less, like dead men’s eyes; Long fingers of chimneys protesting the outrage, barren and naked, still point to the sky. Oh, people who worry about ration book coupons, gasoline and tires and taxes and such, Thank God that it’s here, and not there we are fighting; thank God that your village has never been touched.”

After the meal, the Soldiers escorted the veterans back to their rides home.

“What I really liked was when the nurse, who accompanied the veterans, came up to me and said that a lot of these folks don’t smile or laugh very much anymore, and we got them chatting and happy,” Brown said.

Which meant as much to Brown as the connection he made with the Vietnam veteran and his father.

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