Veterans Wall preaches respect for alumni service
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The words of John F. Kennedy during his inaugural address called on Americans to serve and to sacrifice. Over the decades, Oshkosh citizens have answered that call. To show support of and respect for Oshkosh Alumni, West has constructed the Veterans Wall, commemorating all who have served. Army veteran and social studies teacher Andrew Schaller has led the project into its final stages, with the reveal ceremony scheduled for Saturday, November 11.
“The theme of the event is ‘Welcome Home,’ which is a two way perspective: welcome home as in from your service as well as back to Oshkosh High or Oshkosh West. Often times, we lose track of our alumni and this is a way to bring them back,” he said.
To show the upmost respect for those who served, a large ceremony will be held so people can come and show their support.
“We are holding a massive commemorative ceremony, almost like the big ribbon cutting of the honor wall,” Schaller said. “We are hoping to pack the house with about 1,400 people to show the support of the veterans.”
With a 60-foot section reserved for the wall located between the O and F-rooms on the athletic side, a large number of veterans from West can be accommodated.
“We have thrown out nominations and advertised on social media, with 1367 veterans so far that we have found and the number is growing,” Schaller said. “Our hope is still 1500.”
Adjustments throughout the process were made in order to accommodate specific circumstances throughout history.
“At first, it was just those who graduated from Oshkosh High or Oshkosh West, but we ran into the issue of those who dropped out during World War II and the Vietnam War to join the service before they graduated,” Schaller said. “Back then, a high school diploma wasn’t necessary in society and other obligations called for other actions.”
Among these accommodations was the addition of those still serving.
“We are taking those who are currently serving as well, but when they are no longer serving they will have to report their discharge date to us in order to change the plate,” Schaller said.
For each veteran, a plaque has been engraved with the details of their service.
“The honor wall itself will have a nameplate that is two by three inches with their rank, name, graduation year, branch of service and the dates they served,” Schaller said. “This plaque will be placed under their service branch seal.”
With servicemen being honored ranging from as far back as the class of 1894 to those still currently serving, each has a story behind a name.
“One gentleman is a World War II veteran and is 92 years old and has never been recognized for his service. He is bringing 16 family members,” Schaller said.
When contacted to design a background for the wall, the art department members decided to make time in their busy schedules to finalize the background mural by October 27.
“It was a great idea and we are very happy to be a part of it,” art department chair Linda Geffers said. “We started with a bunch of ideas other schools had done with some being super elaborate and others being super simple, and we chose something in between that was doable with the deadline.”
Because of individual projects students had to work on in their art classes, their involvement was limited.
“We had some seniors that were done with their projects help out. For this year, it has mostly been Mrs. Brydon, myself, Mr. Ryf and Mrs. Spanbauer painting.”
To scale the mural to fit on the wall correctly, artistic problem solving was needed.
“We used the cinderblocks as our grid lines to draw it, painting a picture of the flag and transferring it through gridding while trying to keep the flag proportioned,” Geffers said.
Minor conflicts were solved beforehand in order to map out the plans for honor wall.
“It is a difficult painting to put on that large of a scale and takes a lot longer than one thinks. We have worked on it every single day, using all the free time we have to finish it,” Geffers said.
Despite their artistic abilities, help was needed to maintain accuracy within all aspects of the mural. Specifically, they needed to make sure that the final details of the various pieces were properly executed.
“We picked an image off the internet for the two soldiers and the girl originally had a ponytail, but someone let us know that females soldiers never wear their hair in ponytails; it is always in a bun,” Geffers said. “Everyone has an idea of what it should look like or what we should add. The intent is really good; that’s the main thing.”
The addition of the other symbols to emphasize the American flag are extensions of patriotism, according to veteran and math teacher Ami Messner.
“Starting with the flag as the backdrop and then using the statue of liberty and the bald eagle are patriotic, and then the soldier silhouettes with the way they are posed is a way to pay respect to those who did lose their lives overseas with supports of their fellow soldiers,” she said.
Since the project’s beginning last year, it has developed into an inclusive remembrance connecting the past with the future.
“Another way to look at it is that it gives our students today the perspective of a larger world; we have what we have here in our country because of what people do,” Schaller said.
Messner agrees with her fellow veteran, emphasizing the importance of being a globally aware student.
“It can help remind students about those who have served our country,” she said. “It’s been awhile since there has been a world war, making it harder to remember those sacrifices of not only those who have died, but also the families that lost people.”
Freshman Kaitlyn Benson, daughter of two military parents, believes the Veterans Wall provides an opportunity for students and citizens alike to recognize veterans.
“I think making this honor wall is pretty cool, it is letting us know that they are putting their lives at risk for us and that we should honor and respect that. They didn’t have to do it,” she said.
West graduate MacKenzie Warner wants to honor those who have served.
“Veterans should be acknowledged for their service to our country as they dedicated their time and life to protect our nation’s rights and freedoms,” she said.
In addition to the nominees and their guests, a wide variety of politicians and well-known speakers will be attending the ceremony.
“We also have an outstanding speaking line up that shows the governmental support for our veterans,” Schaller said. “The fact that we can get Senator Tammy Baldwin, Senator Ron Johnson, Representative Glenn Grothman, State Senator Dan Feyen, Assembly Member Gordon Hintz all in one place at one time within our polarized political environment is an awesome testament of support to our veterans.”
In keeping with the spirit of the Veteran Wall, the keynote speaker for the ceremony is a West alumni.
“Our keynote speaker is Chaplin Brigadier General Steven Shike, from the class of ‘76 and he works at the Pentagon right now,” Schaller said.
Further incorporating West and its surrounding community, Schaller notes that local groups will also be performing at the ceremony.
“After the ceremony the choir is going to sing the national anthem,” he said. “After the ceremony there will be a social that allows people to converse.”
Schaller sees other benefits to the wall.
“These men and women joined the service to protect our rights and freedom and I’m hoping by bringing this memorial into the school that students see that they might not have to go to college because this could do a lot for our country and society,” he said. “Maybe they go to college and then go into the military, it’s something different than we perceive as a path after graduation.”
Messner also agrees with Schaller’s vision of the wall influencing students.
“It can definitely plant a seed in someone’s mind in regards to being patriotic and having those feelings of wanting to serve their country because they like the freedoms they have and want to keep them,” Messner said.
In order to maintain accuracy, Schaller has formulated a place to update the information of the Veterans Wall.
“The nomination form and website will stay up and running to help us update the wall between two and three times a year,” he said.
Schaller looks to the future.
“We are calling it the living wall because it is never going to die,” he said. “As long as the school is here, we are always going to find new veterans and make sure they are honored for their service.”