The Milwaukee County War Memorial Center’s new Wisconsin Medal of Honor exhibit opens to the public on August 17. The world-class display was designed to honor the 64 Wisconsin residents who received the highest and most prestigious military decoration in the United States.
Wisconsin still has three living Medal of Honor recipients, Harold A. Fritz, Robert J. Modrzejewski, and Gary G. Wetzel. Kenneth E. Stumpf passed away in April before the exhibit began final production.
Members of the local media were invited the War Memorial Center on August 16 for a preview of the exhibit before the official ribbon cutting. That was followed by a private gathering to celebrate the exhibit, which included living family members of the Medal of Honor recipients and local supporters who made the project possible.
Special recognition was given to Denis John Francis Murphy, originally an immigrant from Ireland. He was Wisconsin’s first recipient of the Medal of Honor, for action during the Civil War 160 years ago. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Second Battle of Corinth, where he continued carrying his regiment’s colors despite being wounded three times.
“It’s impossible to overstate how revered our Medal of Honor recipients are in the veteran community and the nation. This medal is only awarded to those who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their life above and beyond the call of duty,” said Dan Buttery, Iraq War Veteran, and President and CEO of the War Memorial Center.”
The recognition is so exclusive that Medal of Honor recipients are invited to every presidential inauguration. Buttery said it was past time for the Wisconsin recipients of such a great achievement to be recognized. The new permanent and engaging display would ensure that future generations never forget their bravery.
All 64 Medal of Honor recipients from Wisconsin had their names etched in stone quarried from Sussex, and included Peter Anderson, Jefferson Coates, Richard H. Cosgriff, James E. Croft, Alonzo Cushing, John S. Durham, Horace Ellis, William Ellis, John Hayes, Benjamin Hilliker, John Johnson, Arthur MacArthur Jr., Daniel B. Moore, Dennis J.F. Murphy, Albert O’Connor, John T. Patterson, George F. Pond, James B. Pond, William H. Sickles, Thomas Toohey, Edwin M. Truell, Francis A. Waller, George Albee, Joseph A. Cable, Theodore F. Goldin, Frank E. Hill, Richard J. Nolan, Marcus M. Robbins, Clarion A. Windus, Oscar Brookins, Hugh J. McGrath, Frank A. Young, Guy W.S. Castle, Abraham De Somer, John O. Siegel, Clayton Slack, Harold C. Agerholm, Beauford T. Anderson, Richard I. Bong, Elmer J. Burr, Gerald L. Endl, Kenneth E. Gruennert, John L. Jerstad, Douglas MacArthur, Andrew Miller, Charles E. Mower, Beryl R. Newman, Truman O. Olson, Oscar V. Peterson, Benjamin L. Salomon, Franklin Van Valkenburgh, Cassin Young, Stanley R. Christianson, Melvin O. Handrich, Einar Ingman, Mitchell Red Cloud Jr., Jerome A. Sudut, Leslie A. Bellrichard, Harold A. Fritz, Robert J. Modrzejewski, Lance Sijan, Kenneth E. Stumpf, and Gary G. Wetzel.
Captain Lance P. Sijan, a Bay View native, is one of the featured recipients in the exhibit to have a collection of historical artifacts on display. His younger sister, Janine Sijan Rozina, has been the gatekeeper of Lance’s legacy.
“I provided the things for Lance’s exhibit, and they are very special to me. So when I walked in today I knew what the contents were going to be,” said Sijan Rozina. “But whenever I see others recognizing him, I’m so touched. It’s emotional for me. I know that my parents are beaming with pride. I know my brother Lance is saying in his humble way … this isn’t necessary. But I love him so much, and he continues to guide my path. To consider that others may be guided by him and his example is really comforting.”
Sijan Rozina provided a flight suit that he wore, a bomber jacket, his Bay View High School football team emblem, and some imagery. She said that the 64 individuals who were Medal of Honor recipients had relatable stories, much like many of the people do growing up with families in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.
“When we hear about athletes and entertainers being called heroes, I think they are wonderfully accomplished but I don’t think they’re heroes. So when my hope is that children will come here and experience some of these inspirational stories,” added Sijan Rozina. “Experiential learning is where we really start to absorb that kind of recognition and connection with an individual. That’s what I want to see happen when people finish their visit. We can’t imagine ourselves being capable of doing what they did, but I want them to take an assessment of their own lives and realize what the human spirit is actually capable of.”
Since World War II, more than 60% of the recipients died and received their Medal of Honor posthumously.