At the Highground Veterans Memorial Park, it’s a place that pays tribute to the dead and honors veterans, their service and their sacrifice.
The idea was born in 1965, when a man named Tom Miller wanted to honor a friend he lost while serving in Vietnam.
“For 20 years he tried to gain some traction. It was a very difficult time in Wisconsin and throughout the United States for those coming and returning home from Vietnam. In 1984 he was finally able to get a few people behind him and gain some support,“ said The Highground Veterans Memorial Park Executive Director Jon Weiler.
That year, they visited the Highground site just three miles east of Neillsville.
“The first reason is that they wanted to have a park where veterans could come to, spend a couple of hours driving, spend a few hours here and then get home. Many of them didn’t want to go to a place where there’s a lot of people,“ explains Weiler. “The second reason was it reminded them, to those veterans that were picking the site, it reminded them of the terrain and the vegetation when they were flying over Vietnam in a helicopter.“
The signature piece at the Highground is the Vietnam Veterans tribute known as Fragments.
But the original group who helped put the now 160-acre park together knew they couldn’t stop there.
“Originally when this park was started it was started by Vietnam veterans for Vietnam veterans and immediately upon them getting this thing going they realized, those Vietnam veterans, and the original board of directors was also some Korean War veterans and some World War II veterans on the original board of directors. They realized that they wanted to make sure that no veteran ever got treated the way they did,“ said Weiler.
Currently there are tributes to every American conflict from World War I to present day.
The Highground has become a destination to spend a few hours or an entire day.
“Actually we have visitors from all over the world that come here. We do believe that we are about 200,000 plus a year visitors of people who come here to central Wisconsin. People just don’t realize how big we are. They don’t realize the feeling, the serenity that you have here. The feeling of peacefulness,“ said Weiler.
The park is open to visitors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In addition to all the war tributes, there is also a learning center with changing exhibits, media center and library, four miles of walking trails, meditation areas and much more.
“It’s not only for veterans, it’s not only for the veteran’s family, it’s for everyone. It’s for the entire community. And Neillsville and our local surrounding areas, most of them know that but there are still people right here who do not know about that,“ said Weiler.