Exhibit in Capitol honors Wisconsin veterans killed during Vietnam War

By: - November 11, 2022 7:00 am

Kenneth R. McGuire, an Army member from Rib Lake, Wis., died in September of 1968. Photo by Baylor Spears/Wisconsin Examiner.

The photos of 1,163 Wisconsinites killed during the Vietnam War are on display in the Capitol Rotunda through the weekend for Veteran’s Day, honoring those who lost their lives during the 20-year conflict. 

The “Wisconsin Remembers” exhibit puts faces to the names of the veterans who are listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., which bears the names of over 58,000 Americans killed during the war. It’s the 40th anniversary of the D.C. memorial. 

The Wisconsin exhibit — created in collaboration with Wisconsin Public Radio, PBS Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum — was showcased in the Wisconsin State Capitol once before in 2016, the year it was created. 

The photo exhibit returns to the Wisconsin Capitol this Veteran’s Day with a few changes. It features the photos of two additional Wisconsinites, whose names were added to the D.C. memorial in recent years after family members petitioned to have them added.

“It’s really a great time for us to kind of reconnect, not so much with the numbers and the names but it’s really a tribute to lost potential,” said WPR marketing and communications director Jeffrey Potter. “Who might these men — and they were all men in Wisconsin — who might these men have become? What contributions would they have made to society, to their families, to their places of work or education?”

Kenneth R. McGuire, an Army member from Rib Lake, Wis., died in September of 1968. Thomas P. Olson, a member of the Marine Corps from West Salem, Wis., died in Quang Tri on March 27, 1971. 

The exhibit has traveled all across the state including to university campuses, libraries, and trade shows. There are three copies and any community is able to request the exhibit. 

“When you’re confronted with all of those faces staring back at you, it’s moving whether you knew somebody who served in Vietnam or not,” Potter said. 

Potter said the national effort to put faces to the names of deceased Vietnam veterans started during the 2000s after the creators realized that the names didn’t have as much impact on younger visitors. Wisconsin was the fifth state to find photos for every name on the wall.

The Vietnam War affected Wisconsinites deeply, with the over 1,000 Wisconsin veterans who died in combat hailing from 71 of the state’s 72 counties. 

“What the people who built the wall discovered is that younger audiences, school groups that came, they were just names on a wall,” Potter said. “They didn’t see them, as friends and fathers, brothers, uncles and sons, like an older generation might have because they knew somebody who served in the war.” 

Prior to the physical exhibit, the search for faces to add to the names started with an online national photo archive. In 2016, WPR, PBS Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum decided to create this physical version of it. 

Bryce Kelley, a former teacher from Medford — along with his students — made a significant impact, helping to find more than 600 of the photos featured in the exhibit. 

“Collecting the photos for this project was a moving, life-changing experience,” Kelley said in a release. “Seeing the finished project for the first time brought a flood of emotions — the faces of all of them, from each of our Wisconsin cities, towns, and villages, put together in one place, is so powerful and so moving, it is beyond words. Wisconsin Remembers will ensure that the lives of these men are forever remembered and that their stories will always be told.”

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Baylor Spears
Baylor Spears

Baylor Spears is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner. She’s previously written for the Minnesota Reformer and Washingtonian Magazine. A Tennessee-native, she graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University in June 2022.

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