MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin National Guard Officer Candidate School candidates were humbled as they learned about the people whose names are etched in black-granite at the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center.
An eternal flame illuminates the 3,481 names on the Honor Roll of service members from Milwaukee County who died at war from World War II to present day. The War Memorial Center is now trying to put faces to the names and tell their stories. Officer Candidate School Class 61 recently spent a day assisting with the Honor Roll project.
Part of the Officer Candidate School program aims to build servant leaders who will soon become the next generation of leaders for an organization with a dual mission as Wisconsin’s first military responder and as the primary combat reserve of the Army. Along with self-development, each class conducts a service project together. Class 61 chose the Milwaukee area since it was central to the candidates.
“When I heard from the Milwaukee War Memorial Center about this new project they were just getting started for 2019, I knew that it would be a great opportunity to help memorialize those service members who came before us,” said Officer Candidate Jamie Nigito.
The candidates were split up into three groups; one to photograph and organize sections of the Honor Roll; one to scan pages from a scrapbook of historical documents; and one to conduct research on individuals named from World War II.
Nigito was in the group researching service members from World War II. The names of the war dead from World War II far exceeds those from any other conflict on the memorial, which put things into perspective for her. She said that most of the names she came across were lower enlisted and very young.
“This really makes you think about how they didn’t even have a chance to live life, have a family, or become something other than a Soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Nigito said. “Because of that, it is more important to memorialize them with more than a name engraved in stone.”
Nigito somberly reflected that these service members were somebody’s child, sibling, or parent, and could easily be “one of us or any of the Soldiers we serve with in the near future.”
At times, it was a challenge to find information on the service members.
“I was shocked at how little information exists on the men and women who fought for our continued freedom,” Officer Candidate Danielle Geier said.
Geier used to work as an English teacher, teaching her students tricks to researching when information isn’t easily accessible. She said that researching the fallen was a difficult task for her.
“These were men and women who were at the grinding stone every day, and we know more about a celebrity who is still alive than we do Soldiers who died defending us,” Geier said. “That concept really resonated with me,”
Officer Candidates Jason Permann and Zachary Lauridsen spent their time scanning newspaper clippings and reflecting on the lives of Milwaukee County’s heroes.
“These men came from every walk of life,” Lauridsen said. “Some were farmers, others were business owners, and everything in between. Many were just 20 years old, others had 15 or more years of experience in the military.”
Both Permann and Lauridsen were grateful to be able to help preserve the memories of the fallen.
“Seeing a list of names is one thing, but seeing the faces of young men and women that own those names made everything real,” Permann added.
While the class said they felt like they made a dent in the project, there is still much more to be done.
“It is the hope of the War Memorial Center’s Honor Roll project leaders that more groups like ours get involved and continue to stay involved to accomplish the project goals,” Nigito said.
The War Memorial Center has asked for volunteers to help with the project, as well as submit service details, personal information, and photos and letters for each of the names listed on the Honor Roll.
For more information on the Milwaukee War Memorial Center and the Honor Roll Project, visit www.warmemorialcenter.org.