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Fischer, Joan (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 51, Number 3 (Summer 2005)

Hayes, Paul G.
Hallowed ground,   pp. 29-36

Page 35

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Building 1, Headquarters (1896), was the main office of the VA center until
1942. It currently houses offices for local American Legion and Veterans
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 
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 
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. 
s soldiers, home 

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