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Our Heroes

Please enjoy the virtual gallery of all our heroes who have been inducted into the Madison VA Hall of Heroes.

1st Lt. Marcia Gates

Marcia Gates
Learn more about this hero.

The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison inducted 1st Lt. Marcia Gates into our Hall of Heroes on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

U.S. Army Veteran Lt. Marcia Gates served during World War II where she was a prisoner of war in Japan. The 1934 Cambridge High School graduate went on to attend the Milwaukee School of Nursing before joining the U.S. Army Nursing Corps in 1941. Gates and a group of nurses dubbed the “Angels of Bataan” were taken prisoner for over 30 months where they continued to care for fellow internees despite severe shortages of food and medicine.  You can read about her here. There are also a few detailed scrapbooks that her family put together here, which allow you to follow her and her family’s journey. 

Excerpts from a live interview with Lt. Marcia Gates on the “Those Who Serve” WTMJ-WMFM radio show from March 13, 1945.

Army radio operator Cpl. Irving Strobing was the last to tap out a morse code message from Corregidor. “Tell [my brother] Joe, wherever he is, to give ’em hell for us. My love to you all. God bless you and keep you. Sign my name and tell mother how you heard from me. Stand by.” 

Then silence. 

Ms. Greaves (radio host):

That was the message that a stunned nation heard almost three years ago, the message that told the world that Corregidor, impregnable Bastion of the Philippines, had fallen. That was the last page of the first chapter of this war for us here at home. Before it had come Pearl Harbor, Manila, Bataan, but with Corregidor, the curtain was finally drawn. What had happened to the troops, what had happened to the civilians, to the Filipinos? Those questions were to remain unanswered for three years, though we didn’t know it then. Many of us forgot those questions. Guadalcanal, the Marshalls, Africa, Sicily, France gave us new things to think about, but those who had loved ones in the Philippines didn’t forget. Were they alive or dead? No one knew for certain, but as the days and months and years went by, lines were traced on many maps, lines leading to the Philippines showing the advance of our troops and day by day the answers to those questions came closer. 

Today, we know those answers. We know what happened on Bataan, Corregidor, Manila. The story is being pieced together for us by those who have finally come home after three long years. And we find that instead of a story of despair, it is a story of never flagging hope. A story of people who, in enemy prisons, had known that we would win out. Tonight, we are proud to have with us an Army Nurse, a Milwaukee girl, Lt. Marcia Gates who started her tour of duty in the Philippines in October 1941 and who, herself, lived this whole heartbreaking saga of Manila, Bataan, Corregidor, and then prison camp. Tonight, we have asked her to tell the story to you, not with actors and sound effects, although we considered that, but just the plain straight story of three years in the Philippines, from Pearl Harbor to liberation. Lt. Gates, will you tell us your story?

Lt. Marcia Gates:

So that you may know exactly what happened, I think I will start my story from the day that Manila was first bombed. There were quite a number of casualties, as you know, and our medical unit went into Manila and set up emergency hospitals. We set them up everywhere, even in the big night clubs and went to work caring for the wounded. A short while later, we learned that the Japanese had landed on Luzon and that Manila was about to be made an open city. This, of course, meant that all of us connected with the Army had to leave. We went by boat over to Bataan peninsula and our medical unit set up a hospital at Little Baguio in an old Philippine scout barracks.

The casualties from the Bataan fighting started to arrive almost immediately and before long we were forced to extend our hospital out into the jungle, placing the cots right out in the open air with nothing but mosquito nets for protection. This wasn’t as bad as it might sound because the dry season was on, and the weather was quite pleasant. One thing was very fortunate, we had plenty of supplies. Store houses had been prepared against just such an emergency, and they were filled with just the things we needed. We did notice, though, that almost everything carried the date, 1917.

Of course, none of us thought that the fighting would last more than a few weeks. We felt certain that American reinforcements would arrive at any moment and then we would go back to Manila and carry on as we had for months before. There was a very tall tree near the hospital that we used to use as a look-out. From the top of it you could see all of Manila Bay, and we used to climb it constantly. One of the fellows would come down with the report that he could just see what he thought was the American Battle fleet coming over the horizon to the south. Then someone else would go up and say, ”you’re crazy, there’s nothing to the south, but I’m sure I see ships coming from the west.” Even the nurses use to go up and we saw ships, too… American ships… but, of course, they were imaginary.

All this time the fighting was coming closer, and the casualties were getting heavier. We missed blood plasma terribly, of course. We didn’t have it in those days. But the men themselves made up for that lack. Every day, dozens of them came into the hospital to volunteer their blood. We would take it gratefully and then watch them head back to battle.

Gradually the battle got closer. We could hear that shells day and night, and then the bombs. You see, the guns on Corregidor were firing over our heads and the Japanese were also firing over us at the Rock. We had several hits on the hospital, too. Two of them a direct hit on a ward that killed quite a large number of wounded men. The first time they hit the hospital the Japanese sent us an apology, “So sorry. please it will not happen again.” But it did happen again. Finally, about April 6th, we could see our own troops streaming by us on their way to Mariveles for a last stand. As they passed, they’d shout at us. “Come on, you’d better get going. The Japs are only two kilometers up the road.”

And finally, we did evacuate the hospital. We were taken down to the dock at Mariveles to wait for a boat which would take us over to the Corregidor. The boat was supposed to come at night so that we could cross without the danger of bombing, and we stood there on the dock all night waiting for it. At last, it arrived early in the morning, and we were packed on board. Of course, the Army stayed on Bataan and most of the medical staff. In our group, only the nurses and one surgeon were taken to the Corregidor. The Japanese bombed and strafed our small boat as we crossed, but luckily, they were very poor marksmen, so we made it safely.

As soon as we arrived on the Rock, we went to work in the tunnel caring for the wounded. They had a complete hospital setup underground where it was safe from the shelling and bombing. For the first few nights we could see huge fires on Bataan where our Army was busy burning their supplies and ammunition. As soon as they surrendered, the Japs turned the full effort of their artillery barrage on Corregidor. Then it wasn’t safe outside the tunnel at any time. We had no air support, as you know, so Jap bombers had a regular field day.

I shouldn’t really say no air support… we had one P-40 that did come over once in a while, and I remember that we used to kid about him. We talked about sending a letter back to Washington saying, “Dear Mr. President, please send us one P-40. Ours is getting worn out.” You see, we were still able to kid about things like that because we were still sure that reinforcements would arrive at any moment. In fact, during the whole three years there was never a time when we gave up hope, never a time when we didn’t expect help within a few days.

But to get back to the story, the Fourth Marines beat off the first two Japanese landing attempts on Corregidor. But it was a hopeless fight, and finally word was sent around that General Wainwright was going to surrender. We were told to stay in the tunnel and await orders from the Japanese.

Our first contact with them came the day they took over the Rock. A number of officers and men came down into the tunnel to inspect the hospital. They didn’t molest us at all, but they did manage to take most of our cameras, watches and things like that. They seemed to be fascinated by any kind of mechanical gadget. We were ordered to continue just as we had been, taking care of the wounded and running the hospital and the only difference being that we were confined to the tunnel except an occasional hour outside each day. Some of the nurses had been taken off the island by plane and submarine so that at this point there were just 65 of us.

One interesting thing about the Japanese regulations was the fact that if any Japanese soldier molested one of the girls or did anything he wasn’t supposed to and we reported it, he was immediately shot. But they also shot the person who reported it. As a result, you can be sure we did very little reporting.

We stayed in the tunnel until July. Then word came that we were to be shipped out. By that time, we didn’t care much where we were going so long as it was in the open air and not underground. They loaded us all in a boat with the wounded in the hold and the nurses on deck, and at that point a complete change came over their attitude. They refused to let us go down to see the wounded, or even speak to them from then on.

When we arrived at Manila, they unloaded the wounded in cargo nets just like a bunch of cattle. Then they put them in trucks and with the nurses in another group of trucks they started out. We assumed, of course, that we should stay together and were horribly shocked when we saw the trucks carrying the wounded heading towards Bilibid while we continued on in the direction of Santo Tomas. Those boys hadn’t had any attention since the night before and we knew how badly they needed us. We could have wept, but I guess we were beyond weeping by that time.

When we got to Santo Tomas, which had been a university, as you know, we received a perfectly tremendous welcome from the internees there. You see, the people interned at Santo Tomas were civilians from Manila and they had been there over since January, when Manila fell. They had not had any word except rumors from Bataan or Corregidor and they were wild for news. When the Japanese saw this joyful reception, they immediately took us out of Santo Tomas and locked us up in a seminary outside of the walls. We were kept there for six weeks with only a short exercise period outside each day, but the food was good, and we were happy to get the rest.

Finally, they allowed us to go back into Santo Tomas. Then we, of course, went right to work. They had an improvised hospital there at camp and they needed nurses very badly. The whole camp was under the supervision of Japanese civilians, many of them educated in the United States and the treatment wasn’t bad. Filipinos were permitted to sell us food and we managed to contrive a pretty fair diet.

There were some things the Japanese would not permit us to have. For instance, a certain popular brand of cigarettes had a victory message on the package. Another thing was one brand of cheese. We were permitted to have the cheese, but the red, white, and blue wrapping was removed by the Japanese before they gave it to us. Apparently, they didn’t want us to see anything which would raise our spirits. But it’s a funny thing, we still felt that it would only be a matter of weeks or months at the most before we were rescued. We never gave up that hope. That was probably the reason we were able to keep going.

I know you wonder how we got the news. Well, there were actually four ways. One was the Japanese printed newspaper which was sent to the camp each day. Of course, it was a propaganda paper always reporting great successes. But we could read between the lines enough to know that things weren’t going too well for the rising sun. Our second news source was notes thrown over the wall by the Filipinos from the outside. And the third came from daring internees who went over the wall at night to see what was going on and then came back to report. 

Our fourth source of news was very interesting and takes a little explanation. We had a clever electrician in our camp, and the Japanese were fascinated by his ability to repair electrical gadgets, especially radios. Each time he would repair a radio for the Japs, he would calmly announce, “You have two burned out tubes in this set” or “a burned-out transformer, you will have to bring in a replacement.” By doing this he managed over a period of many months to collect enough radio parts so that he could build himself a receiver. He built it up in the roof of his shack where it wouldn’t be found and each night, he listened to news reports from San Francisco. Of course, he didn’t dare give the news reports to the internees. There were too many Japanese spies among us. But he was kind enough to tell me and a few of the others he trusted. So, we did manage to keep up with the news pretty well. We heard about advances in the Solomons, D Day in Europe, and some of the other good news that people at home were getting. That helped an awful lot to keep our spirits up.

Things went on this way about two years, then came a complete change. The Japanese military took over the camp. Apparently, in the early days, when Japan thought she was winning the war, they figured they could afford to be fairly decent to us. But as the tide of battle began to turn, they dropped all efforts to be considerate.

When the soldiers moved in, we had more guards and fewer privileges. We were forced to bow to the Japanese when we saw them, and the food – there’s hardly any point in trying to describe the food because no one who hasn’t experienced it can realize what it was like. It consisted almost entirely of a thin, watery mush made with rice, with occasional greens and once in a great while a few little dried-up fish. Yes, and I have eaten dog and cat too. You may not believe it, but I was so hungry that I can remember crawling around on the floor searching for one grain of rice that I had dropped. Most of us had beriberi and dysentery, of course, from this diet. They tried giving us some soybeans to counteract this, but it didn’t help very much. I don’t think there was one person in camp that was well, but we had to keep going. 

Once in a while, to celebrate a special occasion, we would buy some delicacy from the Japanese guards. I remember one time we paid $20 for a little jar of jam not more than a couple of inches high. Another time, $40 for a can of peaches. And when we got that can of peaches, we thought we had the most wonderful thing in the world. For sugar and tobacco, the internees traded anything they had: watches, jewelry, rings, even false teeth were traded for bits of food. 

Cigarettes were almost unknown. If you found out that someone had a cigarette, you’d take her aside and whisper, “Where are you going to smoke it? At what time? And how many have you invited?” Six was considered to be the maximum number that could enjoy a cigarette and one of us would light it and pass it around. A puff a piece until it was gone. And still the internees kept up their spirits, and I repeat, there wasn’t one of us that didn’t know the United States would win. We would be rescued soon. When the news came that Leyte had been invaded, the camp went crazy. Any day now, we thought, any minute. But the weeks dragged on and on and the food got less and less.

Then came the landing on Luzon. Again, that wild excitement, and again, long days of waiting. When the Japanese guards realized that the Americans were coming, they left the camp in a great hurry and then returned in just as great a hurry. When they got outside, they found that the Americans were too close for comfort, and I guess they figured they would be treated better if they were captured in the camp.

Finally, one evening, about 7:30, we saw flares just outside the wall and heard tanks and jeeps. We didn’t know what it was at first, but all of a sudden, a voice hollered “Are you Americans?” Evidently, they thought it was some kind of a trap. So, we shouted back, “Yes, come on in!”

By this time, the Japanese guards had disappeared into and under the buildings where they could snipe at our soldiers. All of a sudden there was a crash, and a huge tank came rumbling through the gates. We still weren’t sure they were Americans, but when we heard a voice shout, “Get that damned jeep out of the way”, we knew that rescue had finally come.

As you know, the American unit that rescued Santo Tomas consisted of only 800 men. They had heard that we were to be taken out of camp, so they just took off through the Japanese lines and cut a path right to us. We could hardly talk to the men. Everyone was weeping with joy, and we were almost unable to believe that it had finally happened. Word went around the camp that tomorrow morning the mush would be nice and thick. We won’t be able to drink it, we’ll be able to eat it with a spoon. In fact, it will be so nice and thick that maybe we’ll be able to eat it with a fork. There had been some casualties among the American rescue party, and we took them immediately to the hospital. The next morning, when breakfast came around, the mush was thick, and we thought it was simply wonderful. We hadn’t tasted anything like it in nine months. But when we gave this delicacy to the men, they took one taste and turned up their noses. One said, “What in the world is this stuff? Nobody could eat anything like this.” But we had been eating it for six months.

When we finally did get real American food, we were all as sick as dogs, but we didn’t care. We kept right on eating just the same. 

Three days after our liberation, the Japanese started shelling the camp very heavily, and we had more casualties to take care of. We were all happy to do the work, but when a hundred Army nurses arrived from Leyte, we were very willing to let them take over and get some rest.

That’s almost the end of the story. Shortly after, all of us nurses were taken to a field where there was a hidden plane and flown to Leyte. From there, we were flown back to the states. I would like to mention, though, that while I was on Leyte, I met two Milwaukee nurses. One of them had been a floor supervisor while I was in training at Milwaukee hospital, so we really had quite a reunion.

You probably want to know if all the nurses came through okay. I’m happy to say that they did. Of course, we lost considerable weight. I remember that one of the girls gained 20 pounds in three weeks after liberation. I didn’t do quite that well, but I gained 12 pounds after losing 22.

We have 60 days leave with our families right now. After that we will go to a rest camp and then back into action. I hope that I will get foreign duty again.

You all know how badly nurses are needed on the battlefronts, but nothing that anyone could tell you would picture the real urgency of that need. All I can say is that I’m going back and that I hope, in fact, I’d like to ask very sincerely, in the name of our fighting men, that you registered nurses of Wisconsin join the Army Nurse Corps and come along. Nothing else you will do in your lives will mean so much to so many.

Col. LaVerne Griffin

LaVerne Griffin
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The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison inducted Col. LaVerne Griffin into our Hall of Heroes on Wednesday, Nov 8, 2023.

A Portage High School graduate, U.S. Air Force Col. LaVerne Griffin flew hundreds of missions over North Korea, Siberia, Vietnam and parts of Europe as part of the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron. In 1954, he led the first top secret military reconnaissance overflights of the Soviet Union for which he earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses. He retired in 1974 after 28 years of service and passed away in December 2019, five days after turning 91. 

Excerpts from:
The Story of LaVerne "Griff" Griffin
(as recounted by his daughter Mary Griffin on 10/12/2023)

My dad loved to fly. He did something that takes a very skilled pilot to do, but it wasn't until 50 years later that anyone knew about it. He led three top secret overflights into the USSR and took photographs of Soviet air bases in Siberia. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for each of those missions, but what they were awarded for was a secret too.

When the documents and photos finally did get declassified, they had a symposium about the overflights in Washington, D.C., and my dad got to go. He was very proud of the fact that he took the first photos from those flights, but I also know that he thought it was just part of his job. A cool part of his job, but
his job was flying. It wasn't until relatively recently that people started saying, "Oh! He's a hero." But I don't really think of my dad that way.

He was just such a straight-up guy. There wasn't anything phony about him. He'd look you in the eyes, shake your hand and expect you to do a good job. He didn't want to hear about the little stuff. And people in turn would do a good job for him. They'd rise to the occasion for him, because he just assumed that you were going to do your best. Not perfect, but your best.

Mom and Dad met when he was stationed at March Field, California. She was married to a friend of his at the time. That friend later died in Korea when his plane went down, and Dad would check in on her and her two girls when he came home to visit his parents. They ended up getting married. Dad adopted her daughters - Martha and Nancy - and he and Mom proceeded to have three more kids: my brother Jack, my older sister Janet and me. We were pretty much all in a row.

My dad was close to all his siblings. There were four of them in a bunch and then, twenty years after my dad, came my Aunt Ruthie. After everybody retired, they'd fly from all over the country just to spend time with each other. For the pleasure of each other's company. They were NOT a dysfunctional family [laughs], they were a very functional family.

Once he retired and moved back to Wisconsin, he discovered curling and just finessed the hell out of that. Every 10 years, the U.S. goes over and competes with the Scots, and he was on the senior men's team that went to Scotland. It's not like a team that's competing around the world, but it was a big honor to be chosen.

He coached high school kids in Portage in curling. He didn't have any connection to those kids, and he didn't need to give them his time and energy. He taught the kids next door how to curl. They love it, they're both really good curlers. He helped kids get interested in flying. I know he helped somebody get a scholarship to flight school.

He died in December of 2019, five days after he turned 91. In September of that year, he bought a new Pitts acrobatic plane, a two-seater. He was going to teach all the guys in his aero club to fly aerobatics. He didn't really have time to do that. He took off for Europe in early October with his wife. He came back and went to my daughter's wedding in early November. He was still walking two miles a day. And he was still curling in early December. He watched his weight, and he could still fit into his pilot's uniform - his "party suit."

During Dad's eulogy my brother Jack talked about how many times he heard people say, "Oh, your dad was so much help," or, "Your dad made this happen for me." With personal and professional problems, my dad helped all kinds of guys who worked for him, with all kinds of things.

Capt. Tyrone “Tony” Paulson

Tony Paulson
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The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison inducted Capt. Tony Paulson into our “Hall of Heroes” on Thursday, May 25, 2023.

A Whitehall, Wisconsin native, Capt. Tony Paulson served the U.S. Army during Vietnam as part of the 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry Regiment. The decorated Vietnam Veteran went on to serve as the operations officer for a basic training battalion at Fort Lewis and as a dispatch supervisor for the Wisconsin State Patrol for 31 years.

U.S. Army Capt. Tyrone “Tony” Paulson was born in Whitehall, Wisconsin, to Theron and Anna Ruth Paulson. He is the oldest of four children: a sister, Rogene, who passed away in 1964 at the age of 14, and brothers, Ronnie and Verlyn.

The 1966 Whitehall Memorial High School graduate wrestled, played football and woke up at 5:30 a.m. to milk cows on the family farm. He spent a year and a half at Eau Claire College before being drafted into the Army in 1968.

After basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, he qualified for Officer Candidate School and was eventually sent to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, for truck driving school.

“We drove in the mountains and the desert,” Paulson said. “For one test, I had to drive down a mountain with two-by-four sticking out. There was a two-inch clearance and you had to drive down without knocking them out of the truck.”

In October 1969, Paulson was deployed to Vietnam with the 1st Battalion 46th Infantry Regiment at Chu Lai where he became a platoon commander in Bravo company. “I was smart enough that I listened to the Veterans who had been there a while. They said if you make it the first 30 days, you’d be pretty good.”

After Charlie company suffered numerous officer losses, Paulson was transferred in as company commander. Since he was good at reading maps, he spent 11 months in combat instead of the usual six.

On December 12, 1969, an attack took the life of one of his soldiers, two legs from another and one more lost 1/3 of his brain. An award-winning film was produced documenting the attack. Each year on the anniversary, Paulson talks with the soldier who lost his legs.

On June 12, 1970, a mortar attack claimed 18 of his 23 platoon members. One of the explosions sent Paulson flying into a foxhole. The five who walked away went back to the landing zone, picked up additional soldiers and headed back into the valley to continue the fight.

“Being an officer, I didn’t want to show fear. Sometimes you bottle up your emotions; you don’t want to show them.”

Although never wounded in battle, Paulson came dangerously close several times. “I had eight bullet holes through my clothes that year. Once, I was sitting on a log doing my business when a grenade landed between my legs but it didn’t go off. I learned that I could run very fast with my pants around my ankles.”

These days, Paulson and his wife, Susan, enjoy visiting warm places like Arizona, Hawaii or
Florida especially in February or March.

Sgt. Akira Toki

Akira Toki
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The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison inducted Sgt. Akira Toki into our “Hall of Heroes” on Thursday, Nov 10th, 2022.

Born in Madison, Wisconsin, Sgt. Akira Toki served the U.S. Army from Feb. 12, 1942 – Dec. 5, 1945. During World War II, he was part of the 100th Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and fought in Southern France, Germany and Italy. The battalion earned multiple Presidential Unit Citations for heroic actions. Toki earned the World War II Victory Medal; American Theater Ribbon; European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with 3 Bronze Battle Stars, 2 Overseas Service Bars, 1 Service Stripe; Good Conduct Medal; and Purple Heart Medal for injuries suffered near the end of the war in Italy.

He started volunteering in 1951 at the Madison VA Hospital the year the hospital first opened, volunteering over 23,000 hours until 2010 prior to passing away in 2012 at the age of 96.

Excerpt from Wisconsin Veterans Museum Research Center
Oral History Interview with Akira Toki, Infantry, Army - World War II, dated 1996

Mark: In a unit such as yours that was so highly decorated and involved in so much combat, was there, did you see much combat stress or battle fatigue as it was called at the time? I mean, did many guys crack up under the stress and that sort of thing?

Toki: Well, I think there was one or two I know but not on whole, we held up because, see, we were more of a buddy system. We were always had somebody with us, see. Even when we dug a hole in the ground, there was always two of us in the hole, so I think that kind of supported each other. See, we were not alone at all.

Mark: This was the first time you had run across a German.

Toki: Yeah, yeah.

Mark: What was your reaction? I mean, the Nazis, the enemies. For someone whose been through a grueling combat campaign and then to see the enemy. I mean, what is, well, I can only ask you your personal reaction but what was yours?

Toki: Well, I think some of the guys had real bad feeling about it. To me, I had a feeling they were human beings. He wanted to live, and I want to live. It’s him or I, see. So, no I, he was doing something for his country, and I was doing something for our country, see, and we had our orders to do it. Just like I said before, it was him or I, see. So, if he’s going to get me, I’m going to get him, see. But it’s kind of sad and pathetic to do it that way ‘cause everybody’s a human being.

It was something that had to be done or we had to do because the reason why we were so highly decorated and got put in places where nobody else would go, well, we had our pride, we had our guts, and we had to prove something, see. To prove that we were loyal Americans because, you know, some of the boys’ parents and family were incarcerated in camp back home so I think a lot of boys had that idea in their mind when they done it.

1st Lt. Norman Marozick

Norman Marozick
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The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison inducted 1st Lt. Norman Marozick into our “Hall of Heroes” on May 31st, 2022.

As a forward observer for artillery fire in the 4th Infantry Division, Marozick spent six months fighting against the German occupation of Europe during World War II earning a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.  

Norman Marozick in his own words 

June 6, 1944 brought the D-Day landings in Utah & Omaha beaches in Normandy. I joined the 4th Infantry Division a few days later replacing an artillery officer who had a mental breakdown after just a few days as a forward observer in combat. 

My first day in combat was a day I will never forget. I knew no one in the 4th Division. I had to get acquainted with the three enlisted men completing our team, while closely following our attacking infantry company. One man carried the receiver/transmitter on his back; one man carried the BA pack on his back; the third man had a direct artillery fire whenever and wherever the company commander needed artillery support. 

So, we are walking along, and we hear shells coming in. We drop flat on the ground while shells explode around us. We pick ourselves up and I hear one of my men babbling away scared stiff. Shell fragments had ripped the musette bag off his back so that only torn canvass straps remained. But none of us was hurt! 

That evening, while digging my fox hole, I heard more shells coming in. I dropped into my partially dug hole. Once, a shell landed between me and the next fox hole. Fortunately, my hold was dug deep enough for me to be unscathed. My carbine and canteen did not fare as well. To make digging easier, I had removed my pistol belt and laid it (canteen attached) at the base of a tree and leaned my carbine against the tree. My carbine stock was shattered, and my canteen multi-penetrated.  

In my prayers that night I thanked God for bringing me safely thru my first day in combat. It had not taken long for God to show me that he was protecting me and that I needed only to place my trust in him to continue his protection. And he did, day after day; 5 months later in mid-November ’44, I was again shown how he was protecting me. While walking back to the battalion command post to get a fresh BA for my receiver/transmitter, shell fragments penetrated my left knee area. It became infected and 51 shots of penicillin were needed to save my leg. I was still hospitalized in England in December of ’44 when the Germans made their desperate counterattack – the “Battle of the Bulge.” Another patient who arrived from that battle told me that the 4th Division was in the thick of that battle and F company was completely cut-off and captured by the Germans. This was the company to which I was usually assigned to be their F.A. forward observer.  What if my knee injury had not taken me out of combat before this strong German counterattack took place? 

When the hospital released me, I was given 6 months limited duty. I was in Verviers, Belgium, when the war in Europe ended. At this time, many GIs were being reassigned to the war in the Pacific. My limited duty rating kept me out of the Pacific. I was assigned to a reinforcement department in Schwabach near Nuremberg. When a point system for sending troops home was started, I went with the first or second group. I had accumulated points for the length of service for serving in four major battle campaigns plus my Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart added more points. 

On Oct 25, 1945, movement orders came thru which sent me home on a Liberty Ship for discharge at Ft. Sheridan, IL. Now I want to back up and tell you about a humorous incident that occurred when the Germans were retreating in vehicles, and we were chasing them in vehicles. I was in my jeep, and we were passing them in a French or Belgian town. The street was lined with townspeople cheering us on. Our column stopping moving and suddenly an old woman rushed over and threw her arms around me and said, “You Polack? Me Polack too!” I must have been wearing my Polish face that day! 

Sgt. Thomas Feeney

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The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison inducted Sgt. Thomas Feeney into our “Hall of Heroes” on November 10th, 2021.

Thomas Francis Feeney was a member of the Delavan Legion Post 95 (Delavan, WI), Edwin Frohmader VFW Post & Auxiliary 1879 (Fort Atkinson, WI), and Veterans of World War I Barracks No 2099.

He was born to James and Ann Kane Feeney on March 12, 1896 in Mayo County of Ireland.

He fought a six-month battle with cancer here at the Madison VA Hospital. After hours of surgery his first words to the nurse were “How are you ma’am?” Finally, one day he told his daughter our mother, “I’m ready to talk to God now.” So, he knew the fight was about over, and on the date of his wife’s birthday, March 14, 1980 grandpa passed away. On March 17, an honorable Irish father was buried on St Patrick’s Day of all days. I think God said… I’m here!

You know, some things that VA doesn’t know about their patients, like the time Thomas got dressed and went for walk down Regent Street until he found a “pub” to find gents to talk to for a while and then walked back to his room.

He always liked to walk. He walked tall and straight like one learns to walk in military formation, something you never seem to forget once you’ve been there.

His mother died when he was only three and he was not treated nicely by his stepmother. You could say life started early, training his character for battles.

Ireland’s potato blight forced many to seek new jobs, including Thomas. He attempted to join the English Army at age 17 but they quickly learned he was too young, so he journeyed to America (by ship) coming into New York. Here he joined the Army and served two consecutive terms from September 1917 to June 1920.

It was during his second term with Company C, 60th Infantry, part of the 5th Division, that he earned his Silver Star Medal. In the battle, to reduce the St Mihiel Salient and the massive Meuse-Argonne Offensive, his valor won him the Silver Star.

As one man wrote to me in Fort Atkinson giving information regarding this. “For Thomas Feeney to have earned the Silver Star as he did in that battle as an “enlisted” man, speaks volumes of this man’s courage and leadership skills.” I couldn’t agree more.

Upon completing his service, he worked as a mason contractor. Later, he farmed along with Henrietta Peterson, who he married in 1928. She was a teacher, and a hard-working woman who lived to age 89. Together, they had one daughter, born in 1929, who is 92 years old, in good health, and here with us to witness this great opportunity to honor her father, our grandfather, for his bravery so long ago.

His daughter Ruth worked for Jefferson County Human Services while her father was hospitalized here, yet she came here every day to visit him, missing maybe ONE day. She never got to know his brothers that were spread throughout the United States, so he was the only family left. I found a small note she wrote him back in ’79 while he was here sick with cancer.

May 29, 1979, Tuesday morning, “Dear Dad, Hope this finds you having a better day than yesterday. Also hope you had a good supper. Not eating all day would promote your weakness. Had wanted to stay and visit but you seemed to be in a hurry to get in bed and rest, so I’ll just come and see you tonight. I really enjoy the pretty ride to Madison: so many pretty fields.

Don’t you ever feel that it’s a bother because it’s not. There isn’t anything I’d rather do. Tomorrow mother will be gone six years. I miss her so much and wish I could talk to her again. I will miss you equally as much someday when you depart from this earth. I’m so lucky to have been blessed with parents that really loved me and taught me many valuable lessons. Have been so proud of you both so many times and will always be. Have a good day Dad – call me anytime you would like me to bring you something, I love you…..Ruth”.

Then one Father’s Day card she had saved she added to the end “to a Dad I’m very proud of, Love Ruth”.

We were kids growing up, grandkids, and even though our grandparents lived with us they aged and had their own portion of the house. Well as kids you kept busy most of the time, but we all learned from this man’s spirit of generosity and kindness towards others. We learned how to play rap poker and how to do the Irish jig and speak a little Irish blarney, like “Lassie, ‘till the sun sets on the Galloway Bays shall we tarry once more ‘till the hour of midnight?”

He was a man that could look in another’s face and say, “That person’s not too happy today.” He didn’t have much money, not at all, but if you needed a dollar, he’d give it.

I no longer have my 6th grade autograph book, but in my heart his words are yet written as only an Irish man could…You have a heart of gold and a lady carrying it around and if ever it should seemingly falter, I’d be willing to lean a helping hand to you carrying it around…

We are proud of Mr. Thomas Frances Feeney for the heroic act of valor he demonstrated on the field of WW1 in accomplishing a mission he was in without any further loss of life. 

Capt. Scott Alwin

Scott Alwin
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The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison inducted Capt. Scott Alwin into our “Hall of Heroes” on May 28th, 2021.

Born and raised in Wisconsin as a "preacher's kid", Capt. Scott Alwin served five tours in the 68th Assault Helicopter Company (the "Top Tigers" and "The Mustangs") in Vietnam, from 1967 to 1972. A documentary called 'Honor in the Air' tells the story of his heroism and casts a new light on the forgotten feats of so many veterans who fought with bravery and gallantry in an unpopular war. 

Captain Scott R Alwin is believed to have been awarded more Air Medals than any pilot in any branch of the service: Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, or Coast Guard, in the entire history of military flight. His official Army records show 136 Air Medals awarded, Battalion records indicate over 200 earned; either number is the record. He served five tours in the 68th Assault Helicopter Company (the "Top Tigers" and "The Mustangs") in Vietnam, from 1967 to 1972.

Scott was the eldest son among 15 "preacher's kids" born and raised in Wisconsin. He earned an appointment to the Air Force Academy but resigned. However, as the conflict in Vietnam escalated, he soon enlisted in the Army to fly helicopters. He refused repeated invitations to fly gunships during his first tour and stayed with the slicks. He finally transferred only because he believed doing so might save the life of a less experienced pilot. Early in his career he developed a counter-rotational maneuver to counteract tail-rotor failure and perfected it with the unit safety officer. It is still standard training for all pilots and has saved innumerable lives.

He was awarded the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster, Purple Heart with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, and numerous other commendations. His fellow veterans said he was nominated twice for the Congressional Medal for volunteer missions and that Hanoi Hannah placed the highest bounty for any American pilot on his head.

He married his wife, Tess, and brought her and his son and daughter back to the US. Like many soldiers, he was dismayed by the way we left Vietnam. In protest, he resigned his commission and returned to Chief Warrant Officer Status. He was killed shortly after the end of the War by a suicidal drunk driver while on his way from Fort Benning to a meeting at the new War College in Washington, D.C. He was 31 years old.

He is buried in a tiny rural cemetery next to a small red-brick Country Church in the middle of Marathon County, Wisconsin. A documentary, 'Honor in the Air' is being filmed to tell the story of his heroism and cast a new light on the forgotten feats of so many veterans who fought with bravery and gallantry in an unpopular war.

From Bien Hoa, he wrote to his sister Penelope, "I know what I do sounds scary, and believe me, I understand the danger, but when I get up there, up into the air... I’m in my element. Be happy for me."

His gravestone bears the famous quote he copied into his final journal from The Last Temptation of Christ: "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free."

Staff Sgt. Daniel Busch

Daniel Busch
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The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison inducted Staff Sgt. Daniel Busch into our “Hall of Heroes” on November 10th, 2020.

During his 7 year career with the United States Army, Staff Sgt. Daniel Busch was assigned to Company B, 3rd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, Georgia and 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment - DELTA (Airborne), Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Baraboo, Wisconsin native was also a combat veteran of Operation Just Cause (Panama). 

Staff Sgt. Daniel Busch was killed in action during the Battle of Mogadishu on 3 October 1993 from wounds sustained while defending the crew of Super 61. When the MH-60 helicopter he was in, call sign Super 61, was shot down by enemy fire, Staff Sgt. Busch immediately exited the aircraft and took control of a key intersection. He then provided suppressive fire against overwhelming enemy forces; thus, protecting the lives of and ensuring the survival of his fellow team members. It was during this battle that Staff Sgt. Busch received his fatal wound and later died at the medical aid station. In his heroism, Staff Sgt. Busch left behind his young wife, Traci, and his infant child, Mitchell.

On 7 August 1986, Busch entered the United States Army at Fort Benning, Georgia. He completed Basic Combat Training; Advanced Individual Training; Basic Airborne Training; and Ranger Training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Daniel Busch joined the Army right out of high school in 1986. “Something about serving God, country, and fellow man appealed to him,” his mother says. Although, he still had plans of getting out in September 1994 when his term of service expired.

Staff Sgt. Busch, known as “Ram Busch” to his high school buddies from Portage Senior High School, took leave to visit his mother in Baraboo, Wisconsin in the summer leading up to the life changing event. He had a heart-to-heart talk with her to explain that his unit, Army Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., was being deployed on a mission.

“He told me his unit was going someplace later that summer, but he couldn’t say where,” his mother, Ginny Johnson, says. “He just told me not to worry.” She also recalls him saying, “I know this job is dangerous, but remember that it keeps me close to God. A Christian soldier is just a click away from heaven in this type of work.” Ginny says she understood and states, “He was always trying to reassure us, because he could never tell us exactly what he did.” After that talk, they went fishing, something Busch always looked forward to.

That visit was the last time Ginny saw her son. The 25 year old light weapons infantry specialist was killed a few months later in Mogadishu, Somalia, the bloodiest single battle for American troops since Vietnam.

He successfully completed the following military courses of instruction: Assault Climber, Basic and Primary Noncommissioned Officer, Medical Technician, Pathfinder, Jumpmaster, Advanced Land Navigation and Military Freefall. In recognition of Daniel’s outstanding career, he was promoted to the Staff Sergeant on 1 March 1991.

During his distinguished career with the United States Army he received the following awards and decorations: The Silver Star, The Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, and The Army Commendation Medal. The Army Achievement Medal (3rd Oak Leaf Cluster), The Army Good Conduct Medal (Second Award), The National Defense Service Medal, The Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with Arrowhead Device and Service Star, The Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (#2), The Army Service Ribbon, The Combat Infantry Badge, The Master Parachutist Badge, The Parachutist Badge with Bronze Star, The Pathfinder Badge, and The Ranger Tab.

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Reneau

Thomas Reneau
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The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison inducted Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Reneau into our “Hall of Heroes” on November 8th, 2019.

As a Beloit, Wisconsin native, Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Reneau served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. Sgt. 1st Class Reneau stayed in the Army after returning from Vietnam and retired in 1985. By the time he retired, he had earned many awards including the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart. 

A hero’s letter home

September 14, 1967

Dear Mom,

I’ve got something to tell you, I feel you should know. The night of the 12th, about 8:15 p.m. my platoon, the 1st Platoon, was hit by a Viet Cong ambush. We had a tank in the lead, APCs and two tanks at the end. The tank I commanded was the very last tank.

The lead tank was fired at with an RPG-7 (an anti-tank weapon) but was missed. Then fire started coming from both sides of the road we were on. Mom, I don’t want you to get all upset and worry so I’m not going to tell you the rest of what happened.

I will tell you this, because of what I did. I was promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant, E-6, by the Commanding General of the division personally. I also received the Silver Star, the nation’s second highest military award, and my crew received the Bronze Star, the nation’s fourth highest award. So, I guess you may say we were heroes, in a way.

The tank commander of the tank in front of me that night wrote up an eyewitness report of what happened that night. When I get a copy of the report, I will send one to you. Don’t worry Mom, my men and myself got off of the tank and to safety okay.

Mom, your prayers and everyone else’s prayers, timely were answered that night. I said a little prayer that night before I went out, as I usually do, smile. 

Well Mom, I may just as well tell you what happened. The tank was hit five times, caught fire but we stayed and fought until the last minute. But before we had to leave the tank, we were able to get out 9 of the 12, 90 mm main gun rounds at the Viet Cong. In all, the platoon killed 10 Viet Cong. The crew of B-15, my tank, was given credit for killing 3 of the 10 Viet Cong. Just as we got off the tank, it started to blow up. So, now you know what happened.

Love always,

Pfc. Ralph Warner

Ralph Warner

Sgt. Joshua Brennan

collage of awards

2nd Lt. James Morgan

James Morgan collage

Sgt. Harry Dickerson

harry dickerson collage

Pfc. James Anagnostopoulos

photo collage

2nd Lt. James Duncan

award collage

Sgt. David Brenzel

award collage

Cpl. James Stephenson

award collage

Capt. Donald Heilliger

award collage

Sgt. Robert Botts

award collage