Madison museum is all-year tribute to military veterans

vets-museumThis presidential election sure felt like a nationwide battle, regardless of whether you think we won or lost, and that is what compelled me to visit the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison on the morning after votes were tallied.

Here live the stories and artifacts of wars beyond words and ballot boxes.

I needed to be reminded of what starts, defines and fuels real war – and what consequences real people pay for keeping America safe. Millions have lost lives, limbs or lucidity for causes that we want to believe are noble.

The cost of war? Wisconsin spent $12 million on troops during the Civil War – $150 for every man, woman and child in the state at that time – but the cost then, and now, is nothing short of priceless if it is your son or daughter who dies in service.

One day a year, Veterans Day honors the work of men and women in the U.S. military. The museum for veterans acknowledges the circumstances behind the sacrifices all year.

Dioramas of soldiers in formation, at rest and at risk acknowledge the Civil War through Operation Iraqi Freedom. Expect military tanks to mannequins in fatigues and combat gear. Under glass are many somber relics: a slave whip from the plantation of Jefferson Davis to an Iraqi bayonet acquired by a U.S. colonel.

“The Art of Persuasion: Mobilizing the Masses in World War I” adds the perspective of how important it is for average citizens to buy into the need for war. The mission of “shaping public opinion” under President Woodrow Wilson almost one century ago was described as “the world’s greatest adventure in advertising” by George Creel, who headed the effort on behalf of American involvement in World War I.

Poster after poster admonishes civilians to sign up to fight, buy war bonds, not waste food. As anti-German sentiment swelled at home, symphonies refused to perform works of German composers, schools dropped German language classes and demands grew to drop “German-American” references from business titles.

What an especially uncomfortable time for Wisconsin, where 30 percent of the population had been born in Germany and many felt torn allegiances.

Consider it one little war story of many, with consequences that soften, heal or are forgotten as more time passes.

My weekday field trip ended with a walk across the street, to the State Capitol, up one flight of stairs to the west wing and “Wisconsin Remembers: A Face for Every Name,” a temporary tribute to 1,161 Vietnam War casualties.

Filling 17 banners is one picture for each soldier killed, arranged by county of residence. The many faces of war are quietly overwhelming.

“You see these beautiful faces and how young they are, but how old they look for their age,” noticed Joy A.E. Morgen, who was slowly examining the photos, one by one. She is a retired teacher who spent 30 years in Germany, educating the children of American military families.

“Look at the different ethnicities, some from second-generation immigrant families, who had to pull together in respectful ways to support each other” during war. “So many people … and so many people who deserve our respect.”

Our encounter was brief but left us both teary-eyed.

Admission is free at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, 30 W. Mifflin St., Madison. wisvetsmuseum.com, 608-267-1799

The “Wisconsin Remembers: A Face for Every Name” exhibit remains in the west wing of the State Capitol until Monday (Nov. 14). The 1,161 names come from The Highground Vietnam Veterans Memorial, four miles west of Neillsville on U.S. 10. thehighground.org, 715-743-4224

There is no cost, outside of shipping, to show the 17 indoor “Wisconsin Remembers” banners at your city or school. For details, contact Greg Krueger at 608-261-0541.

Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum made the exhibit possible.

“Feed your hunger, feed the mission” is the mantra at Troop Café, 3430 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, which serves breakfast and lunch to the public. Sandwich choices include the Cuban Pickle Crisis, a ciabatta with smoked pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickle slices and mustard.

The business also provides foodservice and hospitality training to homeless and under-employed veterans through vocational school and internship programs. When U.S. military veterans under the guidance of chef Greg Bautista opened the business in 2013, it was the first of its kind in the nation. Greg says the United Kingdom was in contact about using the business model for their veterans and opened a Troop Café in Wales in 2015.

The Milwaukee Troop Café is inside of Veterans Manor, which provides apartments and support services for vets. The nonprofit restaurant is open 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. It is one mile west of Marquette University, also operates a food cart and caters box lunches to wedding receptions. troopcafemke.com, 414-763-7490

For an inkling of what goes on in the mind of a military veteran affected by war, head to the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, which opened 20 years ago. You’ll find plenty of raw, haunting and engaging perspectives in the artwork of veterans, triggered by their combat experience, especially during the Vietnam era.

At least 250 artists are represented in the 2,500 paintings, photos, pieces of poetry and other renderings. The nonprofit endeavor exists to help the rest of us understand the impact of war. The National Veterans Art Museum, 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave., is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free. nvam.org, 312-326-0270