For those who have never served in the U.S. Armed Forces, it’s impossible to truly understand the experiences of America’s veterans and active-duty service members. While it’s impossible to fully repay them for their sacrifices, tributes to the military can be found all across the state. From gorgeous, reverent memorials to events centered around honoring those who have served, here are a few place you can pay your respects and learn the stories of America’s veterans.
It’s impossible to miss this massive museum located on a frontage road along Highway 41 in Oshkosh. What started with five WWII veterans wishing to preserve their own personal artifacts has now grown into an extensive collection of artifacts and displays from all major military conflicts in United States history.
But the true gem of this museum is the colossal, airplane hangar-sized room in the back housing the largest motor pool of military vehicles in the state. Gun trucks, tanks, medical jeeps and more military vehicles fill this room, most of which are still in working condition thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers. The amount of military history here is astounding, and visitors could easily spend hours reading the stories attached to these displays.
The Military Veterans Museum’s motor pool is on display all year round, but volunteers frequently take the vehicles out to events, festivals and parades throughout the year as well. During EAA’s Airventure every summer, the museum puts together an entire military encampment using its vehicles and other authentic equipment and supplies. Reenactors show what life was like on a WWII military base, and visitors can get a closer look at the daily lives of soldiers during WWII.
Dedicated to all things aviation, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), dedicates itself to upholding the spirit of aviation and innovation in flight. With more than 200,000 members around the world, EAA provides guidance for recreational pilots, educates the public on different aspects of flight and houses one of the largest collections of airplanes and aviation exhibits in the world. Exhibits range from the history of flight to space exploration to home-built aircrafts. A large portion of the museum is also dedicated to military aircraft and innovations in aviation that came about because of military needs.
Every July, hundreds of thousands of people from more than 80 countries travel to Oshkosh for EAA’s Airventure for the ‘World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration’. For a full week, visitors enjoy spectacular air shows, speakers, workshops and thousands of aircraft on display. One of the biggest draws is the Warbirds: fighter jets, bombers and other military aircraft from the 20th century and beyond. Military airplanes and helicopters are on center stage at Airventure, and oftentimes, pilots are around to answer questions and maybe even let you take a peek inside. You never know who you may meet at Airventure; just ask the DW Crew, who were lucky enough to meet Lt. Col. James Harvey III – one of the original Tuskegee Airmen!
Rising up from the rolling hills of the Neillsville area, The Highground Veterans Memorial Park would not look out of place in Washington D.C. More than 15 tributes spread out on over 150 acres provide a calming and beautiful place for people wishing to honor all those who have served and sacrificed for the United States. In addition to the military tributes, The Highground also works to provide resources for veterans their families from mental health counseling, retreats, fundraising for veterans causes and other supportive programs. The Highground is open 24/7, 365 days a year, so anyone can come at any time to reflect or pay tribute.
Throughout the year, the Highground hosts a number of events and fundraisers to support its veterans programs. During the Heroes Ride, riders travel to The Highground during a multi-day bicycle trip along five different routes throughout Wisconsin. And the annual Ride to Remember motorcycle rally brings riders from all over the state to The Highground in honor of those who have served in all five branches of the military.
As one of three standalone military air bases in in the Air National Guard, Volk Field hosts a number of high-end tactical training exercises with soldiers from all around the country. But for over 130 years, Volk Field has served as the training sight for the Wisconsin National Guard. Both the history of the base and the Wisconsin National Guard are on full display for visitors to check out at the Wisconsin National Guard Museum, including retired military vehicles and other equipment along a self-guided, outdoor tour.
Just off I-94 south of Tomah, is the small village of Camp Douglas. A community with a long and proud military history thanks to its proximity to Volk Field Air National Guard Base just across the highway. Camp Douglas is a military community to its core, and its support for those serving is undeniable, especially during its annual Armed Forces Day celebration. Even though Armed Forces Day is just one calendar day, Camp Douglas pulls out all the stops for a full weekend celebration, including a Color Run, Bluff Mudder obstacle course, tractor pulls, sports tournaments, a parade and an incredible concert lineup. The Saturday night concert draws some of the biggest names in country music year after year, including Rodney Atkins, Jo Dee Messina and Mark Chesnutt.
Jennifer Ingish is a producer of Discover Wisconsin. Watch the show on Fox Sports Wisconsin every Saturday at 10am or on Roku, Chromecast, Smart TV, Amazon Fire, and Apple TV.
There's also a new Gold Star Mother's Statue at the Rothschild Veterans Park on the Blue Star Highway. The memorial statue is one of only 4 official tributes to Gold Star Mothers in the U.S. Not a big park, but also honors Medal of Honor recipients and Viet Nam veterans.