Fischer, Joan (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 51, Number 3 (Summer 2005)
Hayes, Paul G.
Hallowed ground, pp. 29-36
~n1dipr~~ hnm~ Building 1, Headquarters (1896), was the main office of the VA center until 1942. It currently houses offices for local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) posts; the Veterans poppy shop; Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War; and the Soldiers Home Foundation, which is trying to pre- serve the campus and its buildings. treasurer, says the foundation is con- centrating on six buildings: The towered main domiciliary (1869), the chapel (1889), Ward Memorial Theater (1881), Headquarters (1896), Wadsworth Library (1891), and the old hospital and convalescent wards (1879). While the library still functions and the headquarters are used by veterans groups and the foundation, the others are in serious disrepair. The domiciliary is used mainly for storage; the interior of the theater is rapidly deteriorating, its stage littered with plaster. Several years ago, the group raised funds that, when matched by VA money, helped shore up the chapel's foundation. Congress acted in 2004 to provide $20 million a year for restoration projects at 11 historic VA sites. The Milwaukee site alone could consume that and more. Ward Theater restoration has been esti- mated at $6.5 million. At the same time, the federal government said that the best hope for restoration was to find new, commercial uses for the buildings. That's controversial, as attested to in an article by respected architectural critic Whitney Gould in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gould quoted an American Legion officer as saying, "Once you open the gates to develop- ment, how do you define appropriate use? Where do you draw the line? Would you put a Starbucks in the White House?" Lynch's group keeps the flame of hope burning. Each summer, the foun- dation sponsors an annual "Reclaiming Our Heritage" event at the Soldiers Home. This year's took place in early June and included reenactments of Civil War and World War experiences, lantern-lighted night walks of the ceme- tery, and a visit by the 118th Medical Battalion of the Wisconsin National Guard, which served in Iraq. Also, it is finishing an application to list the entire historic district as federal historic landmarks. At present only the theater is so listed. That this place remains hallowed ground is evident. Last year the National Cemetery, which since 1996 had been turning away requests for new burials on grounds that it was all but filled, was directed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to identify sites for graves of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then there have been a dozen or so such burials. The first was that of Michelle Witmer, one of 20-year-old twin sisters from New Berlin then serving in Iraq, who was killed when her military police vehicle came under attack. WISCONSIN ACADEMY REVIEW SUMMER 2005 35 s soldiers, home
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