DEFOREST, WIS. — For the first time in its 15-year history, the Wisconsin Army National Guard Hall of Honor inducted three Medal of Honor recipients alongside retired Soldiers during a formal ceremony May 3 at DeForest High School.
Medal of Honor recipients Sgt. Kenneth Gruennert, Staff Sgt. Gerald Endl and 1st Sgt. Elmer Burr —along with retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Michael Kreisler and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Lynn Ryan — joined the ranks of 52 Hall of Honor inductees.
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, deputy adjutant general for Army and the Wisconsin Army National Guard's top officer, said the Hall of Honor began to recognize Wisconsin Army National Guard members who had received significant federal awards for valor last year with 1st Sgt. Gregory Fulton's induction.
"We talk about legacy, we talk about service," Anderson said, "but it's the legacy behind what they accomplished while in service."
Capt. Brian Faltinson, who emceed the ceremony, said the Hall of Honor program "recognizes Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers, and others, who have distinguished themselves through exceptional achievement and devotion to duty. They have exemplified the core values of military service in the Army. Moreover, their exceptional service over many years brought great credit to the state of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Army National Guard. Their legacies to the Wisconsin National Guard are enduring."
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general and commander of the Wisconsin National Guard, also spoke about legacy.
"Our legacy is one of the citizen — the citizen at the core — raising his or her right hand and saying they will defend our community, our state and our nation from all enemies foreign or domestic,"
Dunbar said. "At the same time, we'll be there if there's a problem here at home, if the governor should call us out for a fire or a flood or a terrorist attack. It's the legacy we all share as members of the National Guard. It's a phenomenal legacy, and every man or woman who's ever worn the uniform shares this legacy with us.
"But not every man or woman who's ever worn the uniform will be so honored as the five members we honor today," he continued.
Dunbar compared the National Guard's legacy to a well-written, well-bound book detailing the tradition, contribution, sacrifice and setbacks of the National Guard — with gold leaf in the center to denote the most important, compelling stories.
"When you flip to that gold section, you find those who were the best the National Guard had," Dunbar said. "That's what today is all about — the Wisconsin Army National Guard choosing, through a rigorous process, men and women to put into our Hall of Honor."
Sgt. Kenneth Gruennert, a member of Company L, 1st Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment, for his actions on Dec. 24, 1942 near Buna, New Guinea. Gruennert was second in command of a platoon tasked with breaching the enemy line and reaching the beach to split the enemy position. When the platoon encountered two hostile enemy fighting positions, Gruennert advanced alone on one position and put it out of action with hand grenades and rifle fire. Sustaining a serious shoulder injury, Gruennert bandaged his wound and, under extremely heavy fire, advanced on the second enemy fighting position. He forced the enemy from the position with hand grenades, but was killed by enemy sniper fire. His inspiring actions cleared the way for his platoon to attain the beach.
Gruennert's neice and nephew, Joann and Jim Gruennert, attended the ceremony.
"We'd like to thank you for honoring our uncle," Jim said. "Company L that he was part of came from Jefferson, Wisconsin — a small town. My wife's father was with Kenny that day. It's a small group of men that went from Jefferson. As family members, we got to know Kenny's heroics through the stories of those men when they came back and raised families. We grew up with their kids.
"I think of something my grandfather wrote about Kenny," Jim continued, his voice growing thick with emotion. "He said he had a chance to carry the ball, and he did so to the utmost of his ability, strength, fearlessness and courage."
Staff Sgt. Gerald Endl, of the 32nd Infantry Division's 128th Infantry Regiment, for his actions on July 11, 1944 near Anamo, New Guinea. Endl was in the lead platoon of a company advancing along a jungle trail when the unit encountered an enemy force supported by heavy rifle, machine gun fire and grenade fire. When the platoon leader was wounded by enemy fire, Endl took charge of the platoon and pressed the attack. In doing so, he detected more enemy troops moving to surround the unit. With wounded Soldiers at risk of being annihilated by the enemy, and with another advancing platoon at risk of being ambushed by enemy troops, Endl went forward alone and for approximately 10 minutes engaged the enemy in a furious close-range firefight. This allowed his men to crawl forward and rescue three of the wounded. Endl himself brought back the remaining wounded one at a time. As he brought the last wounded man back, he was killed by enemy machine gun fire. His actions saved all but one wounded Soldier and allowed two platoons to withdraw with their wounded and reorganize with the rest of the company.
1st Sgt. Elmer Burr, a member of Company I, 127th Infantry, for his actions on Dec. 24, 1942 near Buna, New Guinea. During an attack, Burr saw an enemy grenade strike near his company commander. Burr threw himself on the grenade, smothering the blast with his body and saving the life of his commander.
Col. Mike Rand and Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, commander and senior enlisted advisor for the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team — the successor to the famed 32nd "Red Arrow" Division — accepted the plaques and proclamations on half of Endl and Burr. Conde noted that someone asked if they would do those things if they were in the situations the Medal of Honor recipients found themselves in.
"That's hard to say," Conde admitted. "We train hard, we think we're ready, but when something happens and we need to save our Soldiers and the life of our friends, we don't know how we're going to react. I am humbled to be up here to accept these awards on behalf of these individuals."
Michael Kreisler enlisted in the Army in 1971 and joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard in 1974, serving seven months. He rejoined the Wisconsin Army National Guard in 1978, achieving the rank of sergeant first class before being commissioned as a warrant officer in 1987. His contributions as a personnel warrant officer were significant and critical to the Wisconsin Army National Guard's success in transitioning from a peacetime footing to the global war on terror. Learning from mobilizing 1,000 Soldiers in 1991 for Desert Storm, Kreisler oversaw the mobilization of more than 8,000 Soldiers after Sept. 11, 2001. He continually improved the Soldier Readiness Process, resulting in less than three percent of mobilized Soldiers unable to deploy — a national benchmark for mobilizing National Guard Soldiers. He expertly handled nine Wisconsin Army National Guard combat deaths, including the first female National Guard Soldier combat death since World War II, allowing the family to deal with the high-profile death with dignity and honor. He retired from the Wisconsin Army National Guard in 2010 after more than 34 years of military service.
Kreisler thanked the service members he encountered during his time meeting with bereaved military families.
"They provided me with so much support, so much guidance, so much knowledge that I don't deserve this award — they deserve it. I'd have never been where I'm at today, no matter how hard I try, without them being there," he said. "I accept this award on their behalf."
Lynn Ryan enlisted in the Wisconsin Army National Guard in 1974 as a unit clerk, achieving the rank of master sergeant before being commissioned as a chief warrant officer 2 in 1986. As a warrant officer, Ryan served in positions of increasing responsibility, including property book officer, military personnel technician, personnel services branch chief, equal employment opportunity officer, and deployed to Kuwait as a military personnel technician with the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in 2005. She was promoted to chief warrant officer 5 in 2006, and served as the Wisconsin Army National Guard's command chief warrant officer, a position she held until her retirement in 2011. In this role she was instrumental in establishing a reserve component warrant officer candidate school in Wisconsin, and implemented a proactive communications and recruiting plan to retain and grow the warrant officer corps in the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
"It is important to remember that we are part of an organization that is steeped in deep, deep tradition," Ryan said. "It's also our job to ensure that legacy is maintained. I think our Hall of Honor does a wonderful job of ensuring that tradition remains alive. Thank you so much for this incredible honor — it's overwhelming."