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Memorial park in Neillsville helps veterans heal

WAOW Television

The Highground Veterans Memorial Park in Neillsville has a simple, yet important mission: Honor, Educate and Heal.

Chris Pettis, a 23-year veteran of the Marine Corps, is the one in charge of carrying out that mission.

He's organized programs, given tours, and swapped stories with countless veterans who come to the park to find something, whether that be healing, validation or just someone to listen to.

The 155-acre park welcomes veterans, their families and more from all over the country, and even all over the world.

For Chris, his time at the park has given him something he sorely needed.

"It gave me a sense of purpose after service. Something I couldn't find after I retired in 2014," he said.

While many programs are aimed at education and honoring, many more are put into place to help veterans heal from those battle wounds we can't always see.

Chris has felt that healing firsthand.

"This job brings me closer to veterans. People that have walked in the same boots, in the same countries, have the same ideas and love for the country. I think this place is just as healing for me as it is for other veterans," he said.

His time as executive director hasn't been without its challenges. COVID and inflation are among the many he's faced.

During those rough times, he finds solace in the park he oversees.

"Sometimes day to day operations is a struggle. I come down here and spend a couple minutes in front of this tribute, and you kinda get that little kick in the butt."

And what brings him back every day?

"The stories," he said. "The letter that you get in the mail thanking you for that day they were here and you took the time to walk them around and talk about the property, and concerned about them and their welfare. Or the fact that some Vietnam veterans feel that they were ever appreciated or they're even home. When you get that letter thanking you for providing them such a wonderful experience, those things bring you back."

The Highground is open 24-7-365, and also features a gift shop and museum.

If you'd like to learn more about the park, its history and the programs they offer, you can click here.

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