Sunday, January 17, 2021
Surrounded by bricks and tiles with names of local veterans, Tomah High School band director Charlie O'Brien plays Taps. Herald photos Bob KliebensteinCol. Jelora Coman was one of the speakers at the Veterans Memorial ceremony. Seated to her left are committee members Tom Flock and Jim Steele. Committee member Bob Handy is seated behind Coman.

Blue skies and sun set the tone for Tomah Veterans Memorial event

The event at Tomah's Memorial Park was not an official change of command ceremony.

It could be considered more of a change of responsibility. But for the significant crowd that gathered on a sun splashed pre-Veterans Day Saturday, the event likely held similar significance of a change of command ceremony for a crowd consisting of veterans and their families.

On Saturday members of the Tomah Area Veterans Memorial Committee turned over care and upkeep of the memorial to the Tomah Parks and Recreation Department.

The Tomah Area Veterans Memorial Campaign was formed by local veterans to honor military veterans and the community's military heritage. The memorial was erected in 2011 with a ribbon cutting and dedication Sept. 10, 2011.

The memorial consists of a large gray granite monument as the focal center piece. There are three walls between four pillars that surround the back and sides of the monument, each covered by granite tiles or mason bricks carrying messages from the projects donors. There are two black granite monoliths in front of the memorial, one is the dedication market and the second represents Tomah's Killed-in-Action roll call.

If additional tiles or bricks are ever needed another pillar would likely have to be constructed on either side of the memorial wall.

Committee member Pete Peterson noted the memorial consists of 394 bricks and 838 tiles with names of area veterans.

"This is a tribute to all veterans and the community," Peterson said. "Our mission is complete. For everything we (committee) persevered, it was worth it."

The event featured music from members of the Tomah High School band, with Taps played by band director Charlie O'Brien. The ceremony also included a flyover by a Blackhawk helicopter engulfed engulfed in blue sky to start the program.

Committee member Ted Schleicher said he was concerned if he could maintain his composure as he settled behind the podium.

"Being involved with this was a super honor," said Schleicher, who worked at the Tomah VA over 30 years. "We all had our own reasons."

Schleicher's involvement focused on numerous names of friends and family he listed who served in the military and were killed in action.

"They were the reasons I got involved with this," Schleicher said.

Committee member Jim Steele said he was the 'numbers cruncher' for the project, joking that keeping track of numbers was not one of his better skill sets. But when word of the project began to spread, the committee knew its scope would be larger than anticipated.

"It started with a small number of submissions, but it was not long before we knew we had to go back to the drawing board. It was a blessing to be involved with this," Steele said.

It was a drawing board that involved countless numbers of volunteers and donations, said committee member Tom Flock. The group was extensive as Flock listed name after name. A granite plaque at the memorial recognizes individuals and companies.

Another granite plaque acknowledges the committee, Peterson, Schleicher, Col. Jelora Coman, Flock, Bob Handy, Chris Hanson, Jim Oliver, Mike Prissel, Joe Protz, Steele, Marty Waltemath and deceased members Nello Felton, Frosty Mades and Harlow Fox.

Originally the plan was to hold the ceremony on Memorial Day, but it was later decided to wait until Veterans Day. Flock recalled the dedication in 2011 with an approximate crowd of 1,000 people. It was evident in the tone of his Flock's voice. He was equally proud of the attendance Saturday.

Coman noted Wisconsin's strong military history and more specific the local effort to build the memorial.

"Tomah, you should be proud of everything you have accomplished," Coman said.

Protz said over the years the park was known by many names. After Saturday its name is official, Memorial Park.

"The Veterans Memorial is a "great centerpiece for our parks system. We will do our best to keep it up," Protz said.

And with a smile, Protz added, "I know the committee will be watching."

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