Fort McCoy News May 23, 2014

Open House returns for 2014, attendance soars

STORY & PHOTOS BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

Thousands of visitors returned May 17 to Fort McCoy for its first Armed Forces Day Open House in two years.

Photo 1 for Open House article
Children participate in the first stage of an obstacle course designed to test their skills in physical endurance.

The open house was held all around the post's History Center and Commemorative Area where people were able to walk back in time to see reflections of what installation life was like during its 105-year history.

"It's just wonderful to come and see this," said retired Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Fisher of Cross Plains, Wis. "My wife and I come here nearly every year there is an open house, and we really missed it not happening last year."

Fisher, who spent three years on active duty in the 1950s and another 27 years in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said he enjoyed seeing a "beautiful" Commemorative Area that took him back through his own career.

"Coming back and seeing what's here always brings back fond memories," Fisher said. "I've spent many years here (at Fort McCoy), and I trained here throughout the years. The way the history has been preserved here is amazing."

While some were at Fort McCoy to see history, others came to present history.

Photo 2 for Open House
Children have their faces painted in Army camoflauge colors by Soldiers.

Retired Sgt. 1st Class John Ong of Madison, Wis., has come to the installation for several decades to be a presenter of World War II-era firearms and equipment he has from his personal collection.

As a presenter, the 85-year-old Ong, clad in his 1940s-era Army uniform, answered questions from visitors. He said in past open house events he would come with many of his fellow veterans.

"In the early days, there would be a bunch of us who would come here and have a much bigger display than what I brought," Ong said. "Many of them are gone now, but I still like to come here and show these historical items. Also, it is always fun to see all the people who attend the open house."

The open house offered more than history. Camouflage-face painting, getting personalized ID tags, shooting in an interactive marksmanship gallery and filling sandbags to build a mock defensive position were a few favorites.

Lori LaPorte, from Adell, Wis., came to the open house with her husband and son and daughter.

Photo 3 for Open House article
Open house visitors tour the Fort McCoy History Center.

"We never realized how big of a place Fort McCoy really is until we came here," LaPorte said. "We wanted to travel here and take part in this since we haven't done so before. My dad was also a Marine, so it was a fitting place to come on Armed Forces Day to spend a beautiful day outside."

The weather did help make things more enjoyable, according to many visitors, with sunny skies and temperatures reaching above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

It allowed for many to thoroughly look through the military vehicles on display, participate in fire and crime prevention displays by the post's fire and police departments, move through a simulated obstacle course and to walk through the Fort McCoy Equipment Park where dozens of past military vehicles are on display.

Many people also could be seen taking photos of everything taking place and by areas such as the Veterans Memorial Plaza.

"We loved that this open house was outside, and that we could walk around and see everything," LaPorte said.

Photo 4 for Open House article
Visitors view Veterans Memorial Plaza.

Hundreds of visitors also took time to take a 45-minute guided bus tour, which traveled to many areas throughout the post to view facilities as well as training areas.

"It was a very enjoyable tour," said Robert Bailey of Black River Falls, Wis., who attended with his Family. "Some of what you have here for the troops is wonderful."

Many tour-takers said they enjoyed seeing the Combined Arms Collective Training Facility.

"It's mind-boggling to see the size and scope of this place," said Donald Ennis of Reedsburg, Wis., who attended the event with his wife, Wilma, and other Family members.

"My father worked here in the early days as a carpenter's apprentice, so that gives a reason for us to come out for the event. My son also works here, and it's also good to see where he works."

Fort McCoy Public Affairs Officer Linda M. Fournier said the 2014 open house was an overall success once again.

"The Armed Forces Day Open House is a day when people from throughout the region can learn about Fort McCoy's past and present mission," Fournier said. "It was great to see so many visitors spend the day with us."

Armed Forces Day is always on the third Saturday in May. Planning is under way for the event to be held May 16, 2015.

For more information about the event, call 608-388-2407.