“Memories of Service:” Memories, Memories of Wisconsin Veterans

Madison’s Wisconsin Veterans Museum is opening a new exhibit focused on items we hold dear, showing a side of the military we rarely see.

“It’s their story. These are their experiences, ”said Kevin Hampton, curator of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

Spanning 160 years and featuring veterans from across the state, “Memories of Service” highlights objects that stir memories.

“When we think of military history, it’s very easy to get lost in the statistics or the material of war – the tanks, the planes, the weapons,” said Hampton.

Curator of Wisconsin History Veterans Museum Kevin Hampton

It’s more about the hula skirts, sightseeing, and knickknacks that came home in gym bags and backpacks. Like the Dutch clogs from Milwaukee, WWII veteran Chester Budish picked up in Holland and the Eiffel Tower statuette he got in France.

“It’s the humanity behind the story,” said Hampton. “Or the faces behind the facts that make the difference.”

There are also displays that allow veterans to tell their stories directly to you, like Milwaukee resident and Vietnam veteran Thomas Schmitz.

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“He was cleaning the magazine and found a bullet in the magazine hanging right in the middle of his chest,” said Hampton. “Our museum is the microphone and the veterans are our voice.”

The pictures on the wall lean more towards tourist attractions than guided tours. The display will remain on for two years and periodically rotate in different memories.

“Because that’s what memories are,” said Hampton. “Memories always change and come back where something new triggers them. Or a birthday, maybe.”

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The exhibit opens just in time for Veterans Day.

“I really hope we can look at Veterans Day this year and see the meaning of it – it’s not just ‘thank you for your service” – it’s understanding them as people, “said Hampton.