Thursday, March 6, 2014

Day 298 - Visiting the Wisconsin Veterans Museum


I have never been to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. Honestly, I don’t know why I have never made a trip to visit this landmark at the heart of Madison. Since war touched my life directly in my early adulthood, I have maintained a deep respect for the sacrifice and commitment my veteran friends and family members gave for the sake of the American idea. In my eyes, the men and women that chose that path have always been a better person than I could ever hope to be, and I have quietly showed my respect for their efforts in my own ways over the years. That stated, I never took time to visit the Veterans Museum paying homage to their work and the work of those who came before them. As a result, I decided my first trip the Wisconsin Veterans Museum would become a part of my “I have never...” journey in hopes I would learn more about veterans history in my home state and walk away with a renewed appreciation for the way their selflessness helped form my nation.

It's about time...

Despite this perspective, scheduling conflicts and the limited hours of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum resulted in me putting off my plans to experience the location up to this point in my “I have never...” year. Fortunately, a planned trip to Denver later today provided me some free time to follow through with today’s “I have never...” experience this morning. In turn, I had a long awaited opportunity to finally make the trip to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum before catching my flight to Denver this afternoon. With my camera in tow, I found my way down to the capitol square this afternoon and prepared for what I knew would be a touching experience.

Background on Wisconsin in the Civil War

The Battle of Antietam


When I arrived at the Veterans Museum I was quick to find my way to the exhibits just beyond the building’s basic gift shop lobby. As I passed through the doors to the main halls of the facility I was greeted by an array of Civil War era memorabilia spanning the breadth of the nation’s most brutal war. Relics from passing moments on the battlefield to turning points in the conflict lined displays at the center and walls of the room, flanked by recreations of scenes from life in a country torn by war. Looking over the displays of items and the stories that accompanied them, I was silent as I moved from one exhibit to the next. The history before me made that time of bitter conflict seem real in a way that I had never experienced before. It was somber in a way, but it proved insightful in a way that went beyond what I ever expected.

A snapshot in history

Aged but still vibrant

Quotes from the Civil War

Nice to see you again, Abe

Moving deeper into the museum I wandered through more rows of history that told tales of the nation healing from Civil War and engaging in conflict sparingly to advance the idea of democracy. As the displays branched into unfamiliar stems of United States history, I took time to absorb what I could from the stories detailing American efforts in Central America and the South Pacific during the turn of the 20th century, all the while amazed at the astonishing risk and hardship faced by the soldiers bound to such moments in time. That aspect of the experience made it impossible not to draw comparisons between that life and the one of ease I lead, which only left me feeling lucky in the face of such facts. That perspective was the last thing I expected to encounter during my visit today, but I recognized its importance almost immediately as my feet carried me through the annals of history.

War in the 20th Century

Looking back at WWII

The Battle of the Bulge

Entering the final leg of the museum, I came upon a wide open space that laid out displays covering World War I to the modern era of conflict in the Middle East. The space provided a deep look at the rise of the United States to its status as a world power, with the immolation of individual men and women paving the way to the advancement of that cause. Although the individual recollection of soldiers’ individual efforts was certainly admirable, I couldn’t help but feel the defense of freedom that claimed victory in World War I and World War II somehow got distorted by the end of the chronological walk through history. What was necessary sacrifice seemed to turn into an unnecessary injection of American lives in isolated foreign conflicts the further I walked.

Looking at the capitol from a different point of view


By the time I reached the end of the museum, I couldn’t help but try to fill in the gaps between conflicts that created such an undesirable result. That transition from the defense of freedom to the imposition of American ideals left me wondering about the value in wagering American lives for a vague end game. Heavy hearted, I took a last look over the space as I forced my way through the museum exit door and back into the lobby. There I met a plaque recognizing the spectrum of veterans that had served the United States. Moved, I slowly ran my hand across the embossed lettering at the base of the relief and thought about the meaning in today’s experience. “You’re better people than me,” I said quietly, staring into the plaque, “I just hope we can prove to you it was worth it.”

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