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Large crowd attends veterans memorial dedication

Dean S. Acheson photo

PRESQUE ISLE – An eternal flame now burns brightly in the small town of Presque Isle, as it honors all servicemen and servicewomen who served the United States during its conflicts both here and abroad over the last 250 years.

The eternal flame is part of the Wilderness Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated in a formal ceremony Saturday, Oct. 14 with about 400-450 people attending the event held in Pipke Park.

Winegar American Legion, Post 480 and the Wilderness Veterans Memorial Flame Foundation, Inc., (WVMMF) hosted the event. After the ceremony, Vietnam veteran and WVFMF president John “Larry” Gorrilla outlined the purpose of the memorial and what the foundation hopes it accomplishes: “I think the general public who doesn’t have a member of their family in the military will develop a respect for the veterans and our military by coming to a memorial such as this and seeing what our young people have given to keep this country free, and give us the freedoms we have today,” he said.

In addition to the large granite memorial with the eternal flame, there are several smaller granite monuments along the pathway. “All of our monuments leading to the main memorial show the different conflicts that we have been involved with, starting with the War on Terror and moving all the way to the Revolutionary War,” Gorrilla continued. “So it’s a history lesson for children from school that come here. They can learn about our country's development, through our conflicts, if you will. And that way we are encouraging the schools to bring students here for Veterans Day, Fourth of July, different things like that.”

It was an emotional ceremony Saturday, as Tom and Susan Holmquist fought back tears as they spoke of their fallen son, Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, who lost his life in a July 16, 2015 domestic terror attack on the Navy-Marine reserve center in Chattanooga, Tenn. Three other military personnel were killed by the gunman. Master of ceremonies Brian Jopek, who also lost his son, Army Sgt. Ryan Jopek while serving in Iraq in August 2006, stepped forward to comfort the Grantsburg couple. Keynote speaker Mike Biszak, Vilas County veterans service officer, spoke of the nation’s military’s devotion to duty and honor. “When the world is threatened, it calls on the United States of America,” Biszak said. “And our country calls upon our troops. Because of them our country’s principles and way of life have endured. Our nation stands as the world’s foremost example of freedom and opportunities because of servicemen and servicewomen like those inscribed on the wall or present today as they have ensured our security for the future.” He pointed out that the eternal flame reminds us to be “vigilant day and night,” and that it stands as a “beacon of hope for all.” Of the memorial and grounds, he said he saw granite, steel, oak and rock, all symbolizing the strength of the nation’s resolve. Further, he urged the young people in the audience to “learn about the heroes on the wall, learn about the places they fought, and preserve this place for future generations, for it is yours.”

Larry Gorrilla, who has been a key figure in the drive to complete the project, said the cost to develop and build the memorial was $350,000, all raised through donations of cash and labor. The bulk of the funds came in donations ranging from $100 to $1,000. The North Lakeland School student government raised $1,556 last year for the project. A separate monument honors underwriters who donated $1,000 or more to the project. While the memorial has been paid for, they still need donations to establish an endowment fund for the eternal flame, upkeep of the grounds and other monuments, he said. During his remarks to the audience, Gorrilla thanked the foundation board, Post members, other volunteers, donors and other supporters who helped make the project a reality. “Memorials exist to acknowledge our unique culture and values,” he said. “They capture our history and function to preserve and shape our national identify. Memorials give physical meaning to how we have evolved as Americans.”

Following the ceremony, the attendees walked the paved path to view the inscriptions on the conflict memorials, as well as those on the main memorial wall. Currently, there are 414 veterans’ names etched into the walls of the granite memorial. There is an open invitation to add other veterans’ names, no matter their original hometown. There are veterans from 15 states represented on the wall. Above the memorial and monuments, flies the U.S. flag, as well as the six branch service flags of the military, POW/MIA flag and Wisconsin flag. (The foundation conducted a separate fundraiser to purchase the Wisconsin flag and flagpole, which were dedicated in memory of Sgt. Carson Holmquist.) A visitor on a clear night will see the North Star glittering above the American flag. At the foot of the service flags are benches, each engraved with the emblem of the associated service branch. The center bench faces the U.S. Flag, the two panels and the eternal flag. At the start of the ceremony, Capt. Ryan Freckmann, Lt. Michael W. Gorrilla and student Greta Johnson helped raise the U.S. flag over the site. Laurie Timm sang the National Anthem. Chaplain Bob Kriehn led the prayer followed by Commander Joel Green who led the Pledge of Allegiance. Student Gavin Melzer of Winchester, accompanied by his mother Kelly, lit the eternal flame, and followed by a three-volley gun salute and Taps.

After the dedication, food and refreshments were served at the Legion Post, and the Campanile Big Band provided musical entertainment. At the kiosk near the underwriters memorial, visitors with smart phones can access the foundation’s website via a quick response code to view the inscribe veteran’s name to see his or her biography and photo. To learn more about the memorial, visit www.wildernessvetsmemorial.org or call 715-686-2517. Donations may be sent to P.O. Box 83, Presque Isle, WI 54557.

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