Lest we forget…
They came from places with names like Tripoli, Siren, Chili, Florence, Cazenovia, Glenbeulah, Luxemburg, Shiocton, De Soto, Balsam Lake and Maiden Rock. Including those nearer and better known to us: Salem, Walworth, Delavan, Elkhorn, Burlington, Palmyra, Pell Lake, Genoa, and Lake Geneva.
There were 1,162 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen from Wisconsin who would be called upon to make the supreme sacrifice in a far off place called Vietnam.
The first to give his life was Lieutenant Tom J. Cress, USN, on January 6, 1961. The last was Staff Sergeant Todd M. Melton, USAF, 11 years later, on February 5, 1973. Both from Milwaukee.
All would spill out the sweet red wine of youth and forever be held in the cold embrace of immortality. Each would become part of the chiseled epitaph that is the long, low black wall making up the Vietnam Memorial, located in Washington, D.C.; joined by some 57,000 of their comrades-in-arms.
The men and women who left to join the armed forces were not just from different places, they were from a different time. The character of their parents had been steeled by the Great Depression and then the World War.
Unlike the current generation, those who went to Vietnam expected to serve. Today only 1 percent wear the uniform. For those coming to adulthood in the 1950’s and 60’s there was something called the draft, born out of a national policy of readiness and as a desperate response to the Cold War.
The expectations of that earlier generation were built on a foundation of meeting one’s obligations. The fathers of those youngsters were almost all veterans of World War II or Korea, or both. It was nearly impossible to look these veterans in the eye and tell them you didn’t think you wanted to repay the debt you owed your country.
The following is the roll of the honored dead from southeastern Wisconsin who died in Vietnam, called out in the order of their final sacrifice: 1Lt John S. Schmid, USMC, 12/28/65, Salem; PFC Gene B Spencer USA, 6/23/66, Walworth; LCPL Thomas V. Madison, USMC, 7/23/66, Delavan; PFC Michael H. Stoflet, USA, 11/1/66, Elkhorn; Hospitalman Dell C. Geise, USN, 1/26/67, Burlington; PFC Daniel G. Patrick, USMC, 4/5/67, Salem; PFC Carl R. Hallberg, USA, 5/18/67. Delavan; PFC Johnnie D. Sanderson, USA, 9/27/67, Burlington; SSGT Allen L. Van Keuren, USA, 12/14/67, Elkhorn; SP4 Timothy J. Kennedy, USA, 12/26/67, Burlington; PFC David A. Cramer, USMC, 2/22/68, Burlington; PFC Charles F. Deuel, USMC, 3/1/68, Palmyra; PFC Francis J. Capezio, USMC, 3/6/68, Pell Lake; SP4 Larry W. Swiggum, USA, 8/7/68, Burlington; CAPT Robert H. Hering, USA, 8/19/68, Burlington; PFC Thomas D. Walker, USA, 12/26/68, Elkhorn; SP5 Jack P. De Lange, USA, 3/5/69, Elkhorn; 1st Lt. Roy W. Dunbar, Jr. USA, 5/16/69, Elkhorn; CPL Louis A. Pavlacky, Jr., USA, 3/14/70, Delavan; SGT Kent Longmire, USA, 4/20/70, Walworth; LCPL David W. De Laat, USMC, 6/11/70, Burlington; SP4 Dennis D. Chamberlin, USA 6/26/70, Elkhorn; CPL Thomas J. Roberts, USA, 8/22/70, Burlington; CWO Robert W. Grebby, USA, 9/21/70; Walworth; and in memoriam, Private First Class, Timothy J. Smith, US Marine Corps, 9/9/68, Lake Geneva.
On this Veteran’s Day let us revere the memory of the fallen, each of whom took their place in the line and stood their watch, without dereliction or fault.
Forever remembered for their courage, the honor they bequeathed to us all and the unstinting devotion to country that marked their lives.
Ammon, a longtime lakes area resident, has written a book entitled “State of the Union: Observations on American Life.”